The Mighty Logo

Here Are Some Scientific Reasons Your Depression Tends to Get Way Worse at Night

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor's Note

Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

Picture it: 

You had a good day. You went out and did things with people you love. You ate great food. You were able to look around at the blue sky and green grass with gratitude in your spirit all while staying present in the moment. It wasn’t a good day. It was actually a great day.

Then the sky gets dark, and the warm feeling from the day you just had slowly disappears. Where you were feeling loved, now you just feel alone. Four walls close in around you and you’re stuck with every negative thought your brain can conjure up until you go to bed only for it it to routinely happen again the next night, and the one after that like clock work. 

I refer to this as “sad girl hours.” For years I wondered why, seemingly out of nowhere, I’d get sad as shit the second the sun went down. Then I found a few scientific reasons behind “sad girl hours,” or more appropriately called, night time depression.

Breaking it down:

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a mood disorder that can create feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest in things you do genuinely enjoy. 

Outside of medication, some of the ways my therapist personally told me to fight my depression was to surround myself with love – friends and family that served my highest good, and to find low grade activities that you can do even when depressed. 

This works well during the day, because I can actually do those things, but when all is said and done, I’m left by myself to my own literal devices, aka, scrolling my phone and television.

According to research done in 2013, bright lights (white and blue) keep us awake, but also worsen our symptoms of depression. In addition to that, an additional study done in 2009 found that artificial light can disrupt our circadian rhythm, which can also worsen mood disorders.

To think – I thought I was finding comfort in social media scrolling before bed, but in reality I was actually hurting myself.

Then there are other factors at play – there aren’t any distractions to keep your brain busy late at night which gives space and time to unsavory thoughts. You’re able to play back every negative memory, thought and interaction that you had that day, then as a treat (heavy sarcasm), you may develop debilitating anxiety about it. Without healthy coping mechanisms to process your feelings, you’re able to just sit and stew in your sadness for hours.

Finally, have you ever heard of chronotypes

Your sleep patterns and length determine what your chronotype is. You’ve heard of, and probably know people, who are “early birds,” or people who wake up at the crack of dawn and go to sleep early. That’s one of the three chronotypes – early, intermediate, and/or, late. 

In a study performed on this topic, it showed that the women who had a late chronotype, or were night owls, were more likely to be depressed. Who knew?

OK, so now what do I do?

Over the years I’ve struggled with nighttime depression a lot. I’ve found that certain habits and patterns have helped me.

1. Find night time activities to help you healthily process your emotions 

I journal. A lot. I actually sleep with my journal under my pillow so when I feel myself getting too wound up, I can put the thoughts on the page and keep them there until my melatonin kicks in. Speaking of…

2. Melatonin may be your friend (sometimes)

You have to be careful with sleeping aids, and should always tread with caution/consult a doctor before starting or stopping anything. That being said, it’s very hard for me to naturally find a good sleeping rhythm. 

Sometimes, no matter how long I lay in the dark, I still can’t get my brain to calm down (which could also be my attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder). Taking a melatonin, playing some music and keeping the phone across the room knocks me out immediately, which helps keep the negative thoughts at bay.

3. Find activities that don’t give off artificial light (or even better, that allows your brain to rest)

This is one I still struggle with, but having activities that allow your brain to rest is super important. My ex-therapist told me to read a mindless magazine, or do some mindfulness exercises. I’ll be honest with you, none of those things really work well for me, but I’m hoping to find something soon to serve this purpose. 

Getting through the night can be rougher than getting through the day. I know this all too well. My hope is that through the right routines, we can find ways to cope and not be afraid of the external and internal darkness around us. 



Lead image courtesy of Getty Images

Originally published: January 18, 2022
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home