Going to Bed Earlier Can Make You Happier, Research Suggests, So Why Don't We All Just Call It a Night Already

VINCENNES, FRANCE - APRIL 19: 'Flag', a Jack Russell terrier sleeps in bed in its hotel room at Actuel Dogs on April 19, 2011 in Vincennes, France. Opened in November 2010 by Devi and Stan Burun, Actuel Dogs is a five-star luxury hotel for dogs with four single rooms and two suites. With the aim of meeting the dogs' needs, the hotel offers activities including doggy walks, doggy rando’(hiking), doggy jogs, doggy velo’(running next to a bike) and other services such as dog massage. The hotel also caters to the needs of people living in small appartments or who don't have the time to walk their dogs. (Photo by Franck Prevel/Getty Images)
Source: Franck Prevel/Getty Images News/Getty Images

People (at least on the internet) seem constantly in search of ways to boost their mood. Supplements, gratitude journals, home decor... the suggestions are endless. But new research suggests that it may have been even easier to improve your mood all along: merely going to bed earlier can make you happier, and there's basically no downside to this life hack. 

Psychologists at Binghamton University in New York polled 100 students at the school regarding the frequency of their negative mental states (like worrying, obsessing, and ruminating). They also asked the students whether they kept normal or late hours, skewed towards waking later in the day and going to sleep later too. As it turns out, "people who sleep for shorter periods of time and go to bed later often experience more repetitive negative thoughts than others... [including] for those students who described themselves as evening types." 

The lead researcher therefore recommends that people who struggle with negative thoughts should try going to bed earlier and/or sleeping for longer periods. But while that might seem simple enough, unfortunately it doesn't look like this study controlled for other factors, like intelligence levels. Other research has established that intelligent people are more often night owls than people with lower IQs. Maybe intelligent people are also just naturally more anxious, and more likely to suffer from intrusive thoughts — a fact that might not be due to their sleep schedules at all.

Sleeping more to feel happier might only work in psychologically healthy people, too. Those suffering from depression characteristically experience sleep disruptions: either stressful and wearying insomnia, or a tendency to sleep too long in a bad way (due to the physical pains of depression, or in avoidance of everyday life). So these would make sleeping earlier either difficult or not helpful. 

Indeed, preliminary research suggests that in people with depression and possibly anxiety, sleep deprivation actually improves happiness levels (at least in the short term). The longer you've been awake, the more a certain chemical, "adenosine," floods your brain. The adenosine makes you sleepy, but it also appears to offer antidepressant effects. When you sleep, the adenosine clears for a while – getting rid of the sleepiness along with the antidepressant effects. Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors, raising adenosine levels in the brain, which might also explain the mood-elevating effects of coffee

As usual, more research into these issues is needed. In the meantime, you'd do well to conduct your own experiments in sleep and happiness. Record your hours per night of sleep and how you feel the next day (of course, there's an app for that). If it turns out that a little more sleep earlier does wonders for your mood, then you've done your bit to confirm the new research's findings. But there's no shame in discovering that your negative moods need more of a mental health intervention, either. In any case, sleep is amazing, so you might as well rest up.

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