Are Night Owls More Prone to Depression?

Whether you're tucked into bed before the 10 o'clock news or like to putter around until the wee hours of the morning, you probably never thought your nocturnal habits had any connection to your risk of depression. But a new study suggests that your sleep preferences may be closely tied to the state of your mental health.

Brazilian researchers studied the responses of 200 volunteers who were administered questionnaires on their morning and evening sleep habits as well as their depressive symptoms. They found that so-called night owls, who generally don't go to bed before midnight, had a depression risk about three times that of early birds, who tend go to bed early and wake early. Interestingly, when compared with those whose bedtimes fell somewhere between those of early birds and night owls, the night owls had a risk of depression five times higher. An earlier study of 312 insomniacs conducted at Stanford University found that those with the latest bedtimes also reported the highest levels of distress on a depression evaluation, and spent more time sleeping than those who turned in earlier.

It's unclear whether being a night owl predisposes someone to depression or whether depressive symptoms make it difficult to fall asleep. Research suggests that whether someone is a night owl or early bird is to a large extent part of their hardwiring, and there's a genetic component to circadian rhythms as well. But if you're routinely up past midnight and feel that your sleep/wake cycle is negatively affecting your life and your outlook, it's possible to shift your schedule just enough to make a big difference. To fall asleep earlier, try:

Avoiding daytime naps. They can exacerbate the pattern of going to bed late. Skipping regular naps may make you appropriately tired at your desired bedtime.

Shutting down the computer or turning off the TV at a reasonable hour. Light emanating from computer monitors or TVs can disrupt your circadian rhythms, making it tough for you to fall asleep.

Switching to decaffeinated coffee or tea within a few hours of bedtime. Caffeine is a proven stimulant.

Getting more exercise, but doing it earlier in the day. Working out too close to bedtime can energize you and keep you up.

Sources: National Sleep Foundation,; Hidalgo, M.P., Caumo, W., Posser, M., Coccaro, S.B., Camozzato, A.L., Fagundes Chaves, M.L, Relationship Between Depressive Mood and Chronotype in Healthy Subjects, Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 63 (3), 283-290; Ong, J.C., Huang, J.S., Kuo, T.R., Manber, R., Characteristics of Insomniacs with Self-Reported Morning and Evening Chronotypes, Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 3 (3), 289-294.