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Why Is My Depression Worse in the Morning?

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Photography by Olga Rolenko/Getty Images

Photography by Olga Rolenko/Getty Images

by Clara Siegmund


Medically Reviewed by:

Nicole Washington, DO, MPH


by Clara Siegmund


Medically Reviewed by:

Nicole Washington, DO, MPH


Morning depression is a very common symptom of depression. Here’s what may cause it and some tips to help cope.

For many people with depression, symptoms and their intensity change depending on the time of day. If your depression symptoms are worse in the morning, you may be experiencing a symptom of depression called “morning depression.”

Morning depression is not a clinical diagnosis but rather a common symptom of mental health conditions, including depression. In medical circles, morning depression is also known as a form of diurnal mood variation or diurnal variation of depressive symptoms.

Diurnal mood variation characterizes how depression symptoms can change in severity throughout the day. People who experience diurnal mood variations may also have more severe depression symptoms in the afternoon or the evening — not just in the morning. The time of day during which depression symptoms are most severe depends on each individual.

If your depression tends to be worse in the morning, you’re not alone. Research has shown that people with depression tend to experience diurnal mood variations as more severe depression symptoms in the morning. And just like with other depression symptoms, there are ways to help combat morning depression.

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What are the symptoms of morning depression?

For people who experience morning depression, general depression symptoms are more severe in the morning.

Morning depression symptoms and their severity can vary from person to person. However, some of the symptoms that tend to be particularly elevated include:

For people experiencing morning depression, things like getting out of bed, making coffee, or eating breakfast can seem daunting or even impossible. Activities that may bring you joy at other times of the day can suddenly seem uninteresting or aggravating. Mood symptoms like intense sadness can feel completely overpowering.

It’s entirely understandable — and normal — to feel overcome by morning depression. When depression symptoms are at their most severe in the morning, it can be very difficult to get your day started, and that can have a considerable impact on the way you’re able to function.

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What’s behind morning depression?

Current medical understanding suggests that morning depression and other forms of diurnal mood variation are related to a person’s circadian rhythm.

The circadian rhythm is your sleep-wake cycle over the course of a 24-hour day. In other words, it determines when you go to sleep and when you wake up.

Your circadian rhythm is influenced by factors like:

  • Light and darkness: This tells your brain when you should be awake and when you should be sleepy, then your brain sends corresponding signals to your body.
  • Hormones, like cortisol and melatonin: Cortisol makes you feel awake, and your body produces more of it in the morning. Melatonin makes you feel sleepy, and your body produces more of it at night.

Your circadian rhythm is also influenced by external factors such as your work or school hours, stress, anxiety, and exercise.

In addition to sleeping and waking, the circadian rhythm influences functions such as:

  • body temperature
  • metabolism
  • hunger
  • physical healing
  • memory consolidation
  • mood
  • emotional coping

If your circadian rhythm is disturbed, it means your sleep-wake cycle is thrown off. This can lead to issues like insomnia, fatigue, brain fog, mood swings, and various mental health issues.

A 2009 systematic review notes that people with depression frequently have disrupted circadian rhythms. The systematic review also finds that irregular circadian rhythms appear to trigger diurnal mood variations, causing depression symptoms to worsen in the morning in particular.

According to a 2022 systematic review, mood state and diurnal mood variations (including morning depression) are linked to circadian rhythms. The systematic review also reports that disrupted circadian rhythms can lead to negative mood changes, which, like the 2009 systematic review finds, are generally felt more strongly in the morning.

Tips for coping with morning depression

Like with other symptoms of depression, there are ways to combat morning depression. Here are just some of the areas where you can try making changes or incorporating new strategies.

Sleep hygiene

If morning depression is related to your circadian rhythm, then realigning your internal clock with your circadian rhythm may help to decrease diurnal mood variations.

The following strategies focused on improving your sleep hygiene may help regulate your circadian rhythm and alleviate morning depression symptoms:

  • Time your medication: If your medication makes you sleepy, take it at night. If your medication wakes you up, take it in the morning.
  • Eat earlier at night: Leaving your body time to digest your dinner before going to sleep may help bring on tiredness earlier in the night.
  • Turn off screens: The blue light in electronic screens disturbs your sleep cycle. Stopping your screen time an hour before bed (or earlier) can help you feel tired sooner.
  • Establish a sleep schedule: Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help your brain and your body find a rhythm and stick to it.
  • Reduce stress (at least before bedtime): Calming your mind can help prepare your brain and body for sleep.

Bright light therapy

Bright light therapy, commonly used as a treatment for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is also increasingly used experimentally to treat nonseasonal depression.

A 2016 study involving 122 participants with major depressive disorder (MDD) found bright light therapy to be an effective and well-tolerated form of treatment for depression symptoms, both on its own and in combination with the antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac).

People employing bright light therapy generally sit near a light box containing a white light early in the morning. Treatment sessions last anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the intensity of the light.

Bright light therapy is used to help correct circadian rhythms, among other things. Correcting circadian rhythms may, in turn, help alleviate symptoms in people experiencing morning depression or other forms of diurnal mood variations.

As with any form of medical treatment, consider talking with your doctor about bright light therapy before incorporating it into your treatment regimen.

Exercise and movement

Getting your body moving may also help counteract the effects of morning depression.

A 2021 systematic review examining the effects of exercise on dopamine notes that physical activity can stimulate dopamine levels, which can in turn improve mental health.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that acts as a chemical messenger between neurons in your brain, influencing things like motor function and decision-making.

Dopamine also plays a role in mood regulation. Low levels of dopamine are one of the conditions associated with depression. High levels of dopamine, on the other hand, can contribute to feelings of happiness and motivation.

Even activities like walking or dancing can help your body produce dopamine, which may in turn help ease morning depression symptoms.

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The bottom line

It’s well documented — both clinically and anecdotally — that many people with depression experience more severe symptoms in the morning.

If you find that your depression feels worse in the morning, consider talking with a medical professional about strategies to help cope with your symptoms.

Just like other depression symptoms, morning depression is treatable with help. You’re not alone, and you don’t have to live with your symptoms alone, either.

Medically reviewed on July 24, 2023

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About the author

Clara Siegmund

Clara Siegmund is a writer, editor, and translator (French to English) from Brooklyn, New York. She has a BA in English and French Studies from Wesleyan University and an MA in Translation from the Sorbonne. She frequently writes for women’s health publications. She is passionate about literature, reproductive justice, and using language to make information accessible.

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