Published On: October 19, 2023
Reviewed On: October 19, 2023
Updated On: October 19, 2023
Nighttime depression is common — studies show that sleep disorders are a core symptom of depression. An estimated 75% of young adults with depression experience insomnia, which can create an endless cycle of feeling depressed at night and then having increasingly difficult days.
One reason why depression might ramp up at night is that it’s easy to feel lonely and isolated when our circadian rhythm (natural sleep cycle) causes energy and mood levels to decrease.
Unraveling the mystery behind nighttime depression can help you improve your mental health by enhancing your sleep quality. Often, depression at night results from unmanaged stress and anxiety in your days, so learning coping tools can help alleviate low moods in the evening.
Keep reading to learn more about the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for depression at night.
Recognizing the symptoms of nighttime depression is essential. Although manifestation can differ from person to person, there are several common indicators to watch for.
The most common symptoms of nighttime depression are increased sadness or low mood that intensifies in the late afternoon or evening. Depression can amplify negative thoughts and behavior patterns. Rumination — intense attention or focus on distress without seeking a solution — of events experienced during your day can lead to increased depression at night.
Nighttime depression can trigger frequent or increased negative thought patterns that must be addressed since developing depression symptoms can create a need for immediate mental health intervention.
Anxiety might also play a role in why you feel sad at night. Different types of anxiety disorders can be comorbid (existing simultaneously) with nighttime depression, creating an exacerbated cycle of insomnia and intensifying depressive symptoms.
Difficulty falling asleep, waking frequently throughout the night, or early morning wakefulness are commonly reported symptoms for people experiencing nighttime depression.
The circadian system is an internal clock that plays a key role in controlling our sleep-wake cycles. External elements like light exposure, and internal issues like hormonal imbalance, can cause daytime fatigue and heightened depressive symptoms at night. Studies demonstrate a strong link between circadian rhythm disruptions and numerous mood disorders, including major depressive disorder (MDD).
The exact triggers for developing depression during the late hours are not fully understood, but some key factors seem to play a role.
Rumination involves cyclical thinking of negative thought patterns that might become more obvious at night. Nighttime can offer a reprieve from the daily distractions and business of life, which leaves room for heightened sadness, anxiety, and depression, as unresolved issues and stress interfere with a healthy mindset.
Expert Insight“Keeping busy is a popular avoidance mechanism. When we fill our day with activities, we avoid uncomfortable feelings. We may be avoiding hard conversations, draining relationships, and unmet goals. When we slow down at night, these thoughts begin to surface.”
The circadian rhythm is the 24-hour cycle or internal clock in every person’s brain that dictates when they feel sleepy or alert. People rely on their circadian rhythm to signal their body when to become drowsy, fall asleep, and when to wake up. However, when this biological clock is thrown off balance due to factors like demanding or irregular work schedules, relationship issues, financial stress, or underlying mental health concerns, it can prevent individuals from falling asleep, maintaining restful sleep, or waking up properly.
Disrupting the circadian rhythm significantly can lead to further mental health issues and even sleep disorders.
Expert Insight“According to the National Institute of Health, ‘The circadian disruption is associated with a number of health effects, including mood, metabolism, cancer risk and the immune system.’ There has been an increase in depression, cancer diagnosis, and lowered immunity which could be attributed to computer and phone screen light at night.”
Studies have suggested a link between light exposure and sleep cycles. Diminished light exposure might interfere with serotonin production. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that’s crucial for maintaining mood stability. An imbalance may trigger depressive states.
While more research is needed, bright light therapy has been successful for some people in treating conditions like seasonal affective disorder (SAD). In theory, light therapy for depression works by realigning disrupted circadian rhythm to promote healthy sleep.
We live in a digital age where screen time dominates massive percentages of our days. The impact of screen time on mental health is something we can’t overlook. The blue light emitted from our devices is known to suppress melatonin, the hormone responsible for inducing sleep. Excessive screen time in the evening can worsen insomnia and increase the chance of developing negative feelings and a depressed mood. Additionally, the compulsion to constantly check our phones and the habit of “doom scrolling” through negative or distressing content, makes it even harder to put the device down and get a restful night’s sleep.
Dealing with depression at night is possible if you have the right tools and coping mechanisms.
Addressing negative thought patterns might be beneficial in combating nighttime depression. Identifying the negative thoughts that seem to worsen in the evenings can decrease depressive symptoms and bouts of insomnia. The key is to recognize harmful thought patterns and actively seek solutions or alternative perspectives that will transform your thoughts into positive ones.
Go one step beyond addressing negativity. Create positive thought patterns that play an integral role in learning to manage your depression in the evening hours.
Simple ways to create healthy thought patterns include:
Keeping a healthy sleep pattern and schedule will impact your mood and ability to cope with stressors. Regular sleep schedules help regulate your body’s internal clock to promote better sleep quality and lessen depressive symptoms at night.
Tips for creating and maintaining healthy sleep habits:
Expert Insight“I am particularly concerned with the developing brain of children and teens taking their cell phones to bed and watching content instead of getting 9 or 10 hours of sleep. We may be seeing an increase in depression due to this practice. (More research needs to be published in this area). Set a time when all cell phones and computers, even TVs in the house, are shut down. A set time for bedtime with lights out can be a practice that is good for our mental and physical health.”
Mindfulness meditation promotes relaxation, which can improve symptoms of depression and help you get a good night’s sleep. Regularly working out is good for more than just your body. It can increase endorphins, which boost mood, ultimately decreasing the likelihood of nighttime depression.
Ways to practice mindfulness and exercise include:
Nighttime depression can be an overwhelming experience related to emotional and external elements. The solitude of the evening can heighten negative emotions, and these calmer hours offer fewer distractions that might otherwise divert depressive thoughts.
Recognizing the symptoms of depression at night is vital. Remember that you’re not alone if you’re experiencing anxiety, hopelessness, or irritability that worsens as the day progresses. There are ways to cope with depression— managing stress levels effectively, adopting positive thought patterns, and practicing good sleep habits can all be beneficial in mitigating the effects of feeling depressed at night.
If you need professional help navigating any type of depression, consider online therapy with Talkspace. Talkspace therapists can guide you toward an understanding of why you get depressed at night and offer you effective coping tools that will improve your mental health.
Join Talkspace to start your journey toward restful, peaceful nights and productive and healthy days. Get started with therapy for depression today.
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Dr. Karmen Smith is a board-certified Clinical Social Worker in the state of Nevada. She has worked over 20 years for Clark County Family Services with abused and neglected children in the shelter, adolescents in juvenile detention, and adults who have suffered severe trauma. Dr. Smith is a shamanic teacher and minister of metaphysics and her doctorate is in Pastoral Counseling.