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Going To Bed & Waking Up At Different Times Linked To Increased Depression Risk

Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Writer By Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Writer
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, and a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.
(Last Used: 2/18/21) Woman waking up in the morning and reaching for her phone

It's no secret that going to sleep and waking up at the same time is good for your circadian rhythm and overall sleep quality, and according to new research, it may just be good for mental health, too. In a study out of Michigan State University, published in npj Digital Medicine, researchers found that an irregular sleep schedule increased the risk of depression in a group of young adults. Here's what to know.

Studying sleep and wakeup times in young doctors.

For this research, the team analyzed sleep and mood data from over 2,100 young physicians taken over the course of one year. As anyone in residency training knows, those days are long, hard, and don't exactly accommodate a regular sleeping schedule.

To gather the data, the participants wore sleep-tracking devices, as well as reported their mood on a daily basis. They were also screened for depression every few months.

It's worth noting that this sample size doesn't represent the entire population, as the average age was 27, and all participants held medical degrees and were under a fair amount of stress. However, because the subjects were all in somewhat the same boat (as far as demographics and workload go), the study authors were able to test how differences in sleep patterns affected them without too many compounding variables.

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What they found.

According to this research, during periods when participants' sleep schedules were more varied, they were more likely to report depression symptoms in their quarterly questionnaires. They also reported lower mood on a daily basis.

Interestingly, even if they were getting an adequate amount of sleep, if they were going to bed and waking up at different times every day, they didn't fare any better than those participants who got less sleep than them.

As professor and study co-author Srijan Sen, M.D., Ph.D., summarizes in a news release on the study, "These findings highlight sleep consistency as an underappreciated factor to target in depression and wellness."

This tracks with what sleep and health psychologist Joshua Tal, Ph.D., previously explained to mbg: "It's really important to keep a consistent sleep schedule [...] because our natural circadian rhythm may get a bit confused if we're constantly changing our sleep schedule." And a confused circadian rhythm, it seems, can make a good mood feel out of reach.

Moving forward, the Michigan research team hopes their findings can be expanded to the more general population, as we continue to better understand how sleep and mental health are connected.

The bottom line.

Sleep is an essential pillar of our overall well-being, and one of the best ways to make sure we're getting quality sleep—and subsequently minding our mental health—is having a consistent sleep schedule. Consider this research just one more reason you might want to take your bedtime and wake-up time a bit more seriously.

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