Many people experience shifts in mood throughout the day, and into the evening and night. Although not much scientific research has been conducted into why this might be, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest depression at night is a common phenomenon.
Low mood or depression?
First, it’s important to discern whether you are feeling depressed, or whether you have symptoms of clinical depression (Major Depressive Disorder).
Symptoms of clinical depression include:
- Depressed or irritable mood
- Diminished interest or loss of pleasure, even in previously pleasurable activities
- Significant weight changes or appetite disturbance
- Sleep disturbance
- Psychomotor agitation or retardation
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Inability to concentrate; indecisiveness
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
Five of these symptoms must have been present for at least two weeks in order for a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder to be made by a medical or mental health professional. Find out more about the symptoms of depression in The Center • A Place of HOPE’s dedicated article.
You could also take our online Depression Test. While it’s not a substitute for a professional diagnosis, it should help you to decide when you need to seek treatment, support, or advice.
Feeling depressed at night
Feeling depressed at night – whether due to clinical depression or not – can be distressing, particularly when it happens frequently.
So what are the possible causes of nighttime depression?
Are you up with the lark, or a night owl? Do you like to wake early, or do you prefer to sleep in? Scientists refer to these different types as chronotypes, and have found evidence that eveningness is related to depression symptoms feeling worse at night.
A 2021 study found that eveningness increases risks for depressive and anxiety symptoms. In addition, higher prevalence of insufficient sleep among evening-types elevates the risk and severity for many of the mental health outcomes. They concluded that improving the sleep among evening-types could help to improve mental health.
If you think you might be an evening-type, take a look at your sleep patterns to see if there might be room for improvement. There are suggestions for improving sleep-wake patterns later on in this article.
2. Stress hormones
Another study looked at the relationship between levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, at different times of day and depression in adolescents. They found that those with higher levels of cortisol in the evening were more likely to show signs of depression alongside feelings of stress and anxiety.
These sorts of studies identify the links (or correlations) between factors, but they do not identify causation. So while it’s not possible to say that high levels of stress hormones in the evening cause depression, it’s reasonable to explore whether reducing stress might reduce symptoms of depression.
If you notice you worry about a lot of things, then finding ways to stop worrying might be a helpful approach for you.
The Center • A Place of HOPE has a Stress Reduction Treatment program that is proven to be highly effective. Contact us today to learn more.
3. Sleep and the circadian rhythm
Circadian rhythms are the cycles that govern the body’s internal clock. They play a significant role in sleep, appetite, and mood regulation.
The most well-known circadian rhythm is the sleep-wake cycle. From a neurobiological perspective, the internal clock within our brain is regulated by the amount of light we receive during the day.
Since the invention of the electric light over a century ago, humans have been able to override the natural pattern of being active during waking hours and resting during darkness.
Instead, we are now more wakeful during the evening and night which disrupts our sleep-wake cycle.
This disruption has been proven many, many times in a multitude of scientific studies, and the impact is apparent in a range of ways, including low mood and mood disorders.
4. Distraction and habits
The busyness of the day can distract us from feelings of depression or low mood. We may be surrounded by other people, hard at work, or busy with children or in the home.
Come evening, when some of this noise is likely to have quietened, we might have the space for our feelings to surface. When activity ceases, rumination can creep in. If these feelings are difficult or unwelcome, it can feel as though they have arisen in the evening despite them being present – but unheard – during the day as well.
Think of it like a ticking clock. The noise of daily life might drown this out during the daytime but, at night, when things slow down and become quieter, the ticking sounds louder.
Likewise, when we begin to notice these difficult feelings arise in the evening, we might start to dread this time of day. Associating the evening with depression then becomes habitual.
In either case, you might find it helpful to speak to a mental health professional who can help you make sense of what’s happening for you, and help you develop tools and strategies to manage your emotions.
How can I manage my depression at night?
There are several approaches to take if you’re suffering with depression at night. Process of elimination should help you to figure out what is helpful to you, but be sure to give each of the following ideas a couple of weeks to establish. This will afford you the best chance of success.
1. Regulating your wake-sleep cycle
The symptoms of depression include fatigue and sleep disturbance, but the relationship between sleep and depression is a Catch-22 because lack of sleep can affect mood.
One of the most impactful ways you can improve your wake-sleep cycle is to get a few minutes of natural light as soon as possible after you wake. Ideally, this would be direct daylight rather than through a window or sunglasses (avoid looking directly at the sun).
This tells your brain that it’s daytime. The neural circuit that controls cortisol and melatonin (the hormone controlling the wake-sleep cycle) is triggered, re-connecting wakefulness with daylight hours.
A few minutes of daylight towards the end of the day is also helpful as the twilight hours can also trigger melatonin production.
Keep artificial light levels low, swapping out blue light for more amber tones. If your bedroom isn’t completely dark, consider installing blackout blinds or curtains to eliminate sources of light from outside. Even low light levels such as from nightlights can disturb sleep.
Avoid using electronic devices in the latter part of the evening, and avoid entirely during the night as even a small amount of light can signal to your brain that it’s time to wake up. Enforce a strict ‘no phones in the bedroom’ rule to prevent those red dots from tempting you to click or ‘doomscrolling’ on social media platforms.
A recent term that describes the obsessive urge to scroll through negative news, doomscrolling can lower your mood and leave you feeling helpless. As with feelings of depression, it can be distressing during the day but can feel worse at night.
If your emotions are making it difficult to sleep, see whether one of these 14 tips for better sleep when you’re feeling anxious might help.
One idea for managing evening and nighttime rumination is to keep a journal of what’s happened that day, along with ideas for how you might manage difficult situations. This can help your brain feel as though the difficulties of the day have been dealt with, allowing for a calmer evening and night.
3. Caffeine, alcohol and drugs
Caffeine intake can affect both your sleep cycle and anxiety levels, so it’s a good idea to assess how much caffeine you have every day. Aside from coffee and tea, caffeine is also an ingredient in energy drinks as well as other food, drink, and medication, so make sure to check ingredient labels.
If you do rely on caffeine to get you moving during the day, know that it can stay in your system for eight hours. Work back from when you’d like to be winding down from the day and make sure you drink your last coffee around lunchtime, for example.
Alcohol is actually a depressant, meaning it can negatively impact mood. Pay attention to whether your feelings of depression are worse on nights you’ve been drinking alcohol, and better on nights without. Reducing alcohol consumption is a health-promoting behavior with benefits in many areas of your life, so try to cut down where you can.
Nicotine from cigarettes and vapes is also an addictive substance that can affect mood. Like alcohol, try to reduce your nicotine consumption where possible as this will benefit your mental health, as well as your overall health.
Recreational drugs can affect mood in unpredictable and individual ways – again, review your usage, making changes where possible.
Prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications from the pharmacy might have an impact on mood so always check with your pharmacist or doctor.
If you’re taking medication for depression or anxiety, make an appointment to speak to your doctor or mental health professional. Discuss the feelings of depression at night you’re experiencing, as there might be an alternative dosage or medication that is a better fit for you.
4. Check your nutrition levels
Get your doctor or nutritionist to take blood samples in order to check your levels of vitamins and minerals. Some deficiencies (such as vitamins B and D or minerals such as iron, selenium and zinc) can affect mood.
These are typically easily identified via lab work, and can be remedied through taking supplements.
5. Lifestyle choice
In addition to checking your nutrition levels, take an objective look at your lifestyle as a whole.
Food is an important aspect of well-being that can impact our mood. Considering your eating habits might give you a clue as to what improvements you could make.
What do you eat – is it nutrient-rich food? Do you eat enough or too much? Are you eating regularly throughout the day, or do you routinely skip meals? Do you eat on the fly, or could you be enjoying mealtimes more, perhaps in the company of others?
Likewise, regularly moving your body has a positive impact on mood. Consider what you enjoy and find ways to fit this into your routine if you’re able. This could be a structured exercise class or a more informal way to move your body, such as gardening, or dancing in your kitchen – whatever works for you.
The Center • A Place of HOPE believes in Whole Person Care. It’s an approach to treatment that integrates all aspects of a person’s life:
- Emotional well-being
- Physical health
- Spiritual peace
- Relational happiness
- Intellectual growth
- Nutritional vitality
Meditation is both a relaxing way to end the day, as well as a scientifically-proven method to reduce stress and increase resilience.
Finally, if your feelings of depression at night do not improve, please seek professional help. Of the 20 million people who experience depression every year, around 60% do not seek any kind of help, despite the fact that treatment is believed to improve the symptoms of 80% of depression sufferers.
The Center • A Place of HOPE was ranked number one for depression treatment in the United States in a recent review by the Newsmax organization, based on patient feedback and internet research. They are available to take your call today and discuss what a Whole Person Care treatment program can look like for you.
 Merikanto, I. and Partonen, T., 2021. Eveningness increases risks for depressive and anxiety symptoms and hospital treatments mediated by insufficient sleep in a population‐based study of 18,039 adults. Depression and Anxiety, 38(10), pp.1066-1077.
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