There’s a difference between that “I don’t want to get out of bed” feeling and that “What’s the point of getting out of bed?” feeling. Everybody has a day or two when they’d rather stay under the covers.
But if you consistently can’t get out of bed, have no motivation to start your day, or feel a great apathy or sadness that melts away by the afternoon, you might have morning depression.
Waking up to negative thoughts, physical pains, and sometimes uncontrollable emotions is extremely unpleasant — but you can get through it. The covers will still be cozy (they’re called comforters for a reason!), but with a little help, you can start your day without morning depression standing in your way.
Morning depression is more than an “I hate Mondays” meme. Technically, morning depression (known in scientific terms as “diurnal mood variation with early morning worsening”) is a symptom of major depressive disorder (MDD).
But while MDD can make you feel bad at any time, morning depression specifically makes you feel worse in the mornings, and that feeling usually fades over the course of the day. Not everyone who deals with MDD will experience morning depression.
Reading the news is enough to make anyone want to hide in bed for all eternity, but with morning depression, getting up can genuinely feel like lifting a giant weight. With severe emotions, fatigue, lack of desire, and sometimes physical pain, the pull to stay in bed can be incredibly strong and hard to fight.
Thanks to “Inside Out,” we know depression is more than just sadness. It can come in the form of extreme sadness, crying spells, anger, irritation, frustration, mood changes, or complete apathy and malaise.
If you’ve been feeling any of these emotions more intensely than usual and if these emotions are more intense in the early hours, then you could have morning depression.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, any of these symptoms could happen during a depressive episode:
- persistent feelings of emptiness
- consistent feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- difficulty concentrating or remembering things
- lack of energy
- weight loss or gain
- physical symptoms that don’t respond to treatment
Depression isn’t simply mental — it has physical effects, including headaches, backaches, and a decreased pain tolerance. And research has found a connection between depression and gastrointestinal symptoms.
It’s a good idea to see your healthcare provider if you have extreme cases of any of these symptoms. But if your provider can’t find a physiological cause for the discomfort, your depression might be a literal pain.
Fortunately, if depression is causing fatigue, fogginess, constipation, or general pain, those symptoms will lessen as your morning depression is treated.
What can you do to treat morning depression? It’s more complicated than just “get out of bed every morning.” But prescription and at-home treatments can get you through the worst episodes and take morning depression off your recurring character call sheet.
What the doctor ordered
Therapy is often the best treatment for morning depression. Though it isn’t perfect for everyone, discussing all your thoughts and feelings with a trained professional is a great way to understand your depression and the best ways to get through it.
Going to therapy might feel scary, but even just a couple of sessions could give you much better coping mechanisms for those days you don’t want to get up. If you don’t have the cash to see a therapist, there are low cost options out there. Go to https://www.mentalhealth.gov/ for more information about the resources near you or check out this handy dandy article.
For some people, antidepressant medication is the best option, although there’s no pill specifically for morning depression.
It can take a while to find the right medication and dosage for you. If your pills are causing side effects that are worse than the depression, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about trying a different medication. They can make adjustments until you get the balance you need.
Some studies also suggest that light therapy, in combination with medication, may help with depression.
Bright light therapy (BLT) is pretty self-explanatory: You shine a bright light at your face for about 30 minutes a day. There are lights specifically for this purpose that give off therapeutic levels of illumination — you won’t get the same effect by shining your iPhone’s flashlight in your face.
More research needs to be done, but there are some promising results that suggest BLT sessions in the morning may be effective in treating depression.
Prescriptions aren’t the best option for everyone, but there are other things you can do to boost your mood.
This tip might not be everyone’s favorite, but it works. With morning depression, you definitely aren’t in the mood to jump out of bed and hit the treadmill. But regular exercise can ease depression symptoms, and it might be especially good for diurnal depression.
Though scientists aren’t precisely sure why morning depression happens, it might be related to problems with circadian rhythm. And guess what can help reset your circadian rhythms? Exercise!
Being more active early in the day can help you get to sleep earlier and improve the quality of your sleep. That will make you feel more rested, which reduces your chances for a bout of morning depression.
More research is needed, and fatigue is certainly not the only cause of morning depression, but there is some solid evidence for the importance of exercise.
Try to take a short walk (or do whatever kind of exercise you actually enjoy) 3 to 5 days a week. It doesn’t have to be in the morning, but do it at least 4 hours before you go to bed. A little working out goes a long way, and you might start to feel your morning depression lift as you stay active.
Get on a schedule
Though a lack of sleep might not be causing your morning depression, getting better sleep never hurts. Maintaining good sleep habits will give you the best possible chance for a lovely night of dreaming.
Try to go to bed and wake up at about the same time every night. This can’t always happen, but if you find yourself staying up late just because you got caught in a YouTube wormhole, try to make yourself go to bed.
Once in your room, make sure everything is dark and quiet. The room should be a comfortable temperature, so you aren’t woken up by heat or cold.
Lastly, avoid caffeine or alcohol. It’s great if you can cut them out completely, even for a little while. If you need that coffee, try to have your last cup in the early afternoon.
Make a friend date
Depression can make you want to isolate yourself, but it’s more important than ever to make time to be with loved ones. Just a text can help.
Having someone to talk to when things get bad can be a great comfort. Even if you don’t talk about your feelings or depression, reminding yourself that people care about you will always make you feel a little better.
When you really don’t want to get out from under the covers, break down the process and reward yourself for the hard work.
First, try not to think about the whole day and all the worries it might bring. When it’s time to get up, see if you can simply sit up in bed. That’s it. Just sit up. Then move on to standing up when you’re ready.
Just those first two steps can feel impossible, so that’s when we move to rewards.
Give yourself something to look forward to at the start of the day. Maybe it’s a cup of coffee, a piece of toast with peanut butter, or a video of robots falling down. You know, anything that brings joy. A tiny incentive can make the process of getting up a little easier.
Remember: Sometimes, you’ll just stay in bed. That’s OK. If you feel completely overwhelmed and need to rest, physically and emotionally, do it. A day in bed every once in a while can help you in the long run.
Morning depression can be extra-tricky because so many of the symptoms lessen as the day goes on. You might wake up feeling awful but go to bed OK.
It’s easy to brush off those feelings and assume you can handle them on your own. But if your morning depression starts getting in the way of your work or social life or if your symptoms get increasingly worse, it’s probably time to see your healthcare provider.
If you go in and just say you’re groggy in the morning, you’ll probably get a shrug emoji of a response. Instead, go in prepared. Make a list of your symptoms ahead of time. Then, tell your healthcare provider you may be depressed and give them all the details you can.
You don’t need to rewrite The Bell Jar for this. Look at the list of depression symptoms above and see which ones apply to you. Then, clearly explain that to your healthcare provider.
Don’t worry that you’re being too dramatic or that it’s “not a big deal.” Depression can be a big deal, and you deserve quality care so you can live a wonderful life without waking up to worry every morning.
Don’t give up! Speak up if you’re thinking about suicide
If you have thoughts of harming yourself or others, take these steps:
- Call 911 or your local emergency number.
- Ask someone to stay with you until help gets there.
- Remove any dangerous weapons or substances.
At any time, you can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also text “HOME” to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.