This past year we've seen mental health concerns skyrocket as one of the many secondary consequences of COVID-19.
A new study from the University of Colorado at Boulder that was published on May 26, 2021, found that waking up an hour earlier each day could reduce a person's risk of depression by 23%. This genetic study looked at 840,000 people and found that a person's specific chronotype – the usual time the body wants to sleep and wake up – has a direct influence on that person's risk of developing depression.
Why is this so interesting to the psychology community? It's one of the first studies to provide strong evidence proving how a relatively little and concrete change can have a direct impact on an individual's mental health.
Pandemic has produced later sleepers & an increase in mental health concerns
If you're like me, the closed-in lifestyle of the pandemic in combination of working from home resulted in my regular morning routine creeping a little later than usual. Many people in Fort St. John, especially those students who struggled to get up for remote learning last Spring, have had similar struggles. In turn, we've also seen a spike in mental health calls over the past two years in Fort St John, as RCMP Inspector Tony Hanson reported in March during a city council update.
Maybe Fort St. John needs to turn the clocks back after all!
Psychology researchers have known for a while about the connection between sleep and depression, but it's exciting to see that this study offers a quantitative number that people can change to reap the benefits. Because it's a genetic study, they had access to a very large sample and the genetic data results in no external variables that may have impacted their findings. What does that mean? That their results have a lot of truth to them when they suggest that rising at least one hour earlier can have a significant impact on their happiness.
How does this connect to my genes?
One of the cool things about more people signing up for ancestry sites is that the world is slowly building up a bank of DNA information. The researchers in this study accessed the database from 23 and Me, as well as the biomedical database UK Biobank that analyzed people's "clock gene" PER2, which has an impact on when you naturally feel the need to wake and go to bed. Those with specific genetic variants that predisposed them to being an early riser also showed a much lower risk of depression. However, they also found that we're not destined by our DNA – if you go to bed one hour earlier to wake up one hour earlier the next day also gain the same benefits!
What can I do to change my routine?
According to the researchers, keeping our night's dark and our day's light can help with changing your schedule. So don't bring those electronics to bed with you and in the morning whip open those curtains to enjoy that early Fort St. John summer sun.
A.M. Cullen lives and writes in Fort St. John.