Why Am I Depressed Only at Night?

The Link Between Depression and Nighttime Rumination

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For several months now it seems like every night I start feeling depressed, spending a lot of time crying and thinking about all the bad things in the world and in my life. During the day, especially in the morning, I feel pretty normal though. It's only at night that I start to feel bad. I do have some problems in my life, but I handle them pretty well most of the time. Why am I depressed only at night?

Depression and Rumination

People, particularly people with depression, often go through a process called rumination in which they repeatedly mull over past events and issues that concern them, trying to make sense of them or imagine them having a different outcome. Since depression causes the tendency to focus on negative events (for example, mentally reliving a fight with a friend), rumination can fuel your feelings of depression and anxiety.

Not too surprisingly, you tend to be more prone to rumination when you're alone and free from distractions, which tends to be at night for most of us. End-of-the-day fatigue can also make us more prone to feeling down. Though rumination is normal, it can be extremely unhealthy, particularly if it's causing or worsening your depression or anxiety.

Breaking the Cycle of Nighttime Rumination

In order to stop this cycle of nightly negative thoughts, try the following:

  • Engage in activities that create positive thoughts. Some examples are participating in a hobby that you enjoy, such as writing, playing an instrument, drawing, or painting, and meditation or prayers. Basically what you're trying to do is to fill your mind with positive things so that there's no room for the negative thoughts to creep in and occupy space.
  • Problem-solve the negative events. People who ruminate tend to not only replay events but also engage in thoughts such as, "Why does this always happen to me?" and "What's wrong with me that I can't cope?" These types of thoughts lead to feelings that nothing can be done about the situation. Instead, take a moment when you're thinking clearly and identify at least one step you can take to overcome your problems. This can even be something as simple as calling a friend to try and brainstorm a solution. This helps you regain power over the situation and feel less helpless.
  • Build up your self-esteem. What are you good at? What do you enjoy? Think of some ways to build up your sense of self-worth, such as taking a martial arts class, starting a new hobby, picking up that musical instrument you used to play, or taking a night or online class in a subject that fascinates you. Feeling good about yourself and what you're accomplishing helps keep rumination at bay.
  • Don't go to bed until you're really tired. This gives you less time to start thinking about all the problems and negative events in your life. If you aren't sleepy, try reading a novel or magazine until you are.

Therapy for Rumination

If self-help strategies like these fail to help you with your rumination, a type of psychotherapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is also an option to help you deal with this problem.

Rumination-focused CBT is a type of therapy that's specifically geared towards helping patients with rumination, though studies are still being done on its effectiveness.

Sources:

Nolen-Hoeksema S, Wisco BE, Lyubomirsky S. Rethinking Rumination. Perspectives on Psychological Science. September 2008;3(5):400-24. doi:10.1111/j.1745-6924.2008.00088.x.

Takano K, Tanno Y. Diurnal Variation in Rumination. Emotion. Otober 2011;11(5):1046-58. doi:10.1037/a0022757.

Watkins ER. Depressive Rumination: Investigating Mechanisms to Improve Cognitive Behavioural TreatmentsCognitive Behaviour Therapy. 2009;38(S1):8-14. doi:10.1080/16506070902980695.