Everyone experiences sadness differently. Some tend to get overwhelmed and anxious early in the morning, but for many of us, “sad girl hours” are at night as we’re getting ready to go to bed. You may find yourself wondering, “Why do I get sad at night?” In this blog post, we’ll cover the symptoms of depression, the causes of nighttime depression, and some coping skills you can employ to get out of your head and fall asleep at night.
Symptoms of Depression
Depression can cause some pretty severe symptoms that can affect your mood, daily life, and outlook. Your nighttime sadness may not be associated with depression, or it may be.
Besides just feeling sad, depression involves other symptoms, too. The ones to look out for include the following:
- Sleep issues such as insomnia or getting too much sleep
- Eating more or less than you normally do
- Significant weight loss/gain
- Losing interest or pleasure in things you once enjoyed
- Lack of energy
- Difficulty engaging in normal daily tasks like bathing or brushing your teeth
- Headaches or stomach aches with no obvious cause
- Feeling sad and/or anxious
- Feeling worthless, guilty, or helpless
- Feeling hopeless
- Feeling isolated or lonely
- Crying (more frequently than is normal for you)
- Difficulty concentrating
- Suicidal thoughts or thinking about death
Note: If you’re having suicidal thoughts, you can dial 988 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and get support. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.
Why Do You Get Sad at Night?
If you don’t have depression, or even if you do, there can be other causes for your sadness at night. If you find yourself wondering, “Why do I get sad at night,” then consider the following reasons:
Laying in bed waiting for sleep to come can cause you to begin ruminating, or overthinking. This is likely because you spend your day distracted by work, kids, your phone, TV, or any of the myriad other ways we use to distract ourselves.
At night, getting ready for bed, those distractions are finally gone, and your brain starts processing everything that happened to you that day or week. You might feel an urge to pull your phone back out and scroll Tiktok until 3 AM, but this will only cause you to ruminate more the next time you lay down for bed.
Being tired affects you both physically and mentally. It can be way more difficult to regulate your emotions because your mental resources are depleted towards the end of the day, which means it will be easier for you to feel emotions you would otherwise easily suppress, like sadness, loneliness, etc.
Nighttime light exposure
There have been a number of studies done on the correlation between nighttime light exposure and depression. Though it’s unclear why the two are linked, many studies have shown that exposure to light in the bedroom at night and developing depressive symptoms are connected.
It’s possible that the risk for younger people is even higher, due to the fact that younger people have more sensitive eyes. It’s possible that even a little light during the night can interfere with your sleep cycles, which, in turn, will interfere with your mood.
Human beings are social creatures. We crave togetherness, even those of us who say we “hate people” need them in our lives. If you haven’t had any time with friends or family lately, you may feel lonely at night.
If you’ve recently gone through a breakup or loss, you may be grieving, which can share symptoms with depression. Or, if a friend recently started seeing someone and you’re having trouble in the dating world, you may feel jealous, which can, in turn, cause loneliness.
Be sure to make time with friends or family if you haven’t spoken to them recently, even if it’s just a video call.
Passage of time
When the day ends, we can start to feel anxious about how quickly the day went by. There is, frankly, a little bit of mourning in watching the day pass, especially if you didn’t do anything particularly interesting. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard was to do something new every day when you can. Variety and newness can help make time slow down a little, which may help you feel more satisfied at the end of the day.
If you’re falling asleep or waking up at irregular or new times, you may have disturbed your circadian rhythm. This is the internal clock that tells you when to sleep and when to wake up. Going to bed too early can leave you lying awake at night, giving you more time to ruminate or look at your phone and expose yourself to nighttime light.
Conversely, waking up too late in the morning can leave you with less of the day to do things, which can affect how quickly the day goes by and whether you ruminate on that at night.
Mental health conditions
Depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions can affect your circadian rhythm, what you choose to do during the day, your mood, how you regulate your emotions, and a myriad of other things that will, in turn, cause you to feel sad at night.
Be sure to speak to a professional if you suspect you have a mental health condition that is affecting your sleep.
If your evenings were spent feeling unsafe or afraid, you may have some trauma that is causing you to maintain those patterns of feeling unsafe.
One specific example is if you had an abusive parent who came home in the evenings. You may have been walking on eggshells from dinner time to bed time every night for years, and those patterns can be incredibly tough to break out of without help.
Sadness and Sleep
Did you know that insomnia is a risk factor for depression? People who find it difficult to go to sleep or stay asleep may be more likely to develop depression, and if you have both insomnia and depression, it can make your depression more difficult to treat.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, it can also affect your mood and cause you to feel sad even if you don’t have depression. This is because it disturbs your circadian rhythms, causes you to lay awake and ruminate, and may cause you to distract yourself with your phone or TV, creating light in your room.
How to Cope with Nighttime Sadness
Improve sleep hygiene
Good sleep hygiene means that you have built habits that support a restful night’s sleep. Here are some ways you can start to build your nighttime routine in a way that is conducive to sleep:
- Avoid eating two hours before bed.
- Avoid blue light one hour or more before bed.
- Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool.
- Use your bed only for sleeping.
- If you’re having trouble falling asleep, get out of bed and do something else, like reading, for 30 minutes before trying again.
Keep a routine
Keeping a routine can help your mind and body prepare for sleep. It can also keep you busy so you can avoid rumination. This is what my nighttime routine looks like, starting one hour before bed:
- Feed pets
- Plus in electronic devices and set alarms
- Wash face/do skincare
- Brush teeth
- Read for 30 minutes
- Meditate for ten minutes
Do I do this routine every single night without fail? No, but I do find that when I stick to it, my sleep is better. I have a tendency to wake up too early and fall back asleep, but when my sleep hygiene is good and my routine is in place, I sleep through the night.
Learn how to self-soothe
Addressing any negative or sad thoughts is a great way to move past them. Start building neutral, or even positive, reactions to your thoughts now. When you feel sad or lonely, name the emotion.
Remind yourself that it is completely normal to feel uncomfortable, sad, or unsettled at night, and that the feeling will pass. It can feel awkward to do, but the more you do it, the less your sad thoughts will get to you.
Address the source
I mentioned naming your emotions above because it’s important to actually know what you’re feeling before you can work through it. Try to identify where the source of your sadness is.
Are you feeling anxious about the passage of time? If so, why? Do you feel like you’re falling behind? Are you nervous that you made mistakes? Are you cringing at social faux pas you might have made?
Being mindful of your emotions during the day can work wonders to help you figure this one out.
Meditation is one of my favorite ways to chill out for the evening. Your body relaxes, and your mind wanders through emotions, letting them slide past you and along the “river” they’re flowing down. When a stressful thought comes up, acknowledge it gently and then let it go. As you practice, this becomes easier and easier, and eventually you’ll slip right into sleep afterwards!
How to Treat Sadness at Night
If you are diagnosed with depression, an antidepressant can help. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and see if medication is right for you.
Things like working out, eating a well-balanced diet, and making sure you get enough sleep can work wonders on that pesky nighttime sadness. Research shows that all of these things contribute to a greater well-being and lower likelihood of developing depression.
Another lifestyle change you can make is filling your day with activities you love, doing something challenging, or improving at work or a hobby. This will help you feel satisfied at the end of the day so you don’t ruminate quite so much.
One popular way to treat depression and sadness in general is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). With CBT a therapist helps you address your thoughts and change them using different strategies. Over time, you can address your nighttime sadness and change your mindset so that you feel less anxious and sad and more satisfied at the end of the day.
If you’re wondering why you get sad at night and are interested in pursuing therapy, we can help. At Modern Era Counseling, our therapists are trained in multiple techniques to help change negative self-talk and mindsets. Together, you will be able to overcome your sadness at night, as well as any other things that are holding you back from becoming your best self. Give us a call at (704) 800-4436 or click here to get started today.