Morning depression is also known as diurnal mood variation. It’s a subtype of depression with severe depressive symptoms that peak in the morning and resolve as the day progresses. If you have morning depression, you’ll notice your symptoms are worse in the morning than at night.
Understandably, morning depression can cause significant disruptions to your morning routine. Here we provide an overview of what morning depression is, how it occurs, and how you can overcome it.
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Morning depression is depression that’s worse during the morning than at night. As the day progresses, you notice that your symptoms diminish or disappear.¹
Many people with major depressive disorder (also called clinical depression) can link the severity of their symptoms to a particular time of day. It's common for people to notice that their symptoms are worse during the evening or at night. However, some people notice their symptoms of depression are worse in the morning.
Depending on when your symptoms strike, they can impact your daily life in a different way.
Your body clock, also called the circadian rhythm, is a 24-hour cycle that your body follows. It's a natural timing device that ensures your body carries out particular biological processes at certain times.²
Your body clock regulates various functions, including hormone release, eating habits, digestion, and body temperature. Evidence also shows that the body clock plays a significant role in mood regulation, so your mood may change when your body clock is disrupted.¹
If you have morning depression, you usually wake up in a low mood. You’ll notice that your symptoms of depression are worse in the morning than at any other time of the day.
You may feel hopeless or unmotivated to start your day. Simple tasks such as getting out of bed, taking a shower, or cooking breakfast can feel overwhelming or pointless.
As the day progresses, the low mood fades and may even disappear. However, getting through the morning can feel challenging.
Morning depression is a subtype of major depressive disorder. Based on the DSM-IV criteria, the symptoms of major depressive disorder are:³
Depressed mood for most of the day, recurring daily
Diminished interest in your favorite activities
Loss of pleasure
Unexpected and significant weight loss or gain
Difficulty falling asleep (insomnia)
Oversleeping in the morning or sleeping too much (hypersomnia)
Agitation or feeling restless
Fatigue, tiredness, or a lack of energy
Feelings of sadness, emptiness, irritability, worthlessness, or guilt
Inability to concentrate
Thoughts about death or suicide
Because morning depression is a subtype of major depressive disorder, you’ll experience the same symptoms that anyone else with depression would experience. The only difference is that your symptoms are more severe in the morning.
Because these symptoms occur in the morning, you may notice specific symptoms. For example, you may have a greater tendency to oversleep or wake up feeling irritable.
Currently, no diagnostic criteria exist for morning depression. However, since it shares symptoms with major depressive disorder, your doctor or healthcare professional can use those criteria instead. If your doctor determines that your depressive symptoms are worse in the morning, they may diagnose you with morning depression.
If you wake up feeling depressed, it’s important to find a way to help yourself feel better. Otherwise, it may interfere with your morning and make you late for work or school.
One thing that may help is sticking to a consistent morning routine. This will help to keep you on track so that you don’t miss any important events due to your depression. As you work through your morning routine, you might feel more motivated, which could boost your mood.
Good components of a morning routine include:
Waking up at the same time every day
Allowing yourself enough time to get ready so you don’t get stressed from rushing
Eating a healthy breakfast
Turning on your lights or opening your curtains to help you feel more awake
Starting your day with a mindfulness technique (such as meditation) if you find this helpful
If you consistently don’t get enough sleep, then this can increase symptoms of depression. Maintaining a consistent sleep/wake schedule can be helpful. Ensure you’re spending enough time in bed each night; around eight hours works well for most people.⁴
Making considerable differences in your morning routine can feel overwhelming. It often helps to make just one small change at a time.
For example, waking up early when you aren’t an early bird can be difficult. So instead, you could try waking up 10 minutes earlier than you normally would until you adjust to that new time. Then keep putting your alarm back until you find your ideal time for waking up.
If you’re not used to eating breakfast in the mornings, you may also struggle with this. For the first week, try eating something small and increasing your portions gradually.
Many people find that making just one or a few small changes is more beneficial in the long run than making too many changes suddenly. That's because more minor changes are easier to manage and will make you feel less overwhelmed. This helps you stay consistent and sustain your new habits over the long term.
Studies have linked a tendency to wake up earlier with a lower risk of depression. This doesn’t necessarily mean that forcing yourself to wake up earlier will reduce your risk of depression. Researchers believe genetic factors are linked to a tendency to wake up earlier and to a reduced tendency to become depressed.⁵
If you naturally wake up later, forcing yourself to get up earlier won’t change any underlying genetic predisposition.
It’s still important to have a solid morning routine to ensure you can accomplish everything you need, despite how you may feel. This may entail getting up earlier to make sure you have enough time for your morning routine.
If your depression is becoming overwhelming or challenging to manage, contact your doctor. If changing your morning routine doesn’t help, your doctor can suggest other treatment options.
There are a few different options for treating depression. The most common treatments used are therapy and medication. In general, the same treatments are used for morning depression as for other subtypes of depression.⁶
Antidepressants treat various types of depression. As a first-line treatment, your doctor may prescribe a medication from one of the following groups:⁷
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
Selective serotonin noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)
If the above treatments aren’t successful, you can try other options, including:
Adrenergic alpha-2 receptor antagonists
Monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors
Selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (sNRIs)
Selective noradrenaline/dopamine reuptake inhibitors
Medication isn’t necessarily the right answer for everyone with depression. For those with moderate to severe depression, medication may help. However, the risk of side effects must be weighed against the potential benefit of the medication. Your doctor will explain their recommendations in your case.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is most commonly used for depression. This form of therapy aims to alleviate depression by altering unhealthy thought patterns or learned behaviors.⁶
Your therapist will help you uncover the beliefs and thought patterns you’ve developed over time and replace them with new, healthier thought patterns. They’ll also help you develop healthier coping mechanisms for challenging emotions.
Morning depression is a subtype of major depressive disorder in which the symptoms are worse in the morning than at other times of the day. You may find waking up and getting ready for the day difficult.
However, various techniques can help you overcome your low mood in the mornings. Don’t hesitate to speak to your doctor if your symptoms are severe or persistent.
Your low mood could be a result of major depressive disorder. Other factors, such as a disrupted body clock, not getting enough sleep, or low-quality sleep, could also contribute to your low mood.
If you have serious concerns about your low mood, always speak to your doctor first. However, you can try various treatments, therapies, and techniques to reduce morning depression symptoms.
Training yourself to wake up earlier and waking up at the same time daily keeps your body clock regular. For some people, this can positively affect their mood.
Circadian rhythms | NIH: National Institute of General Medical Science
Treatments for depression (2006)