Why Am I Depressed Only at Night?

The Link Between Depression and Nighttime Rumination

Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Question:  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?

Answer:  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.  Because these people tend to focus on negative events (for example, mentally reliving a fight with friend), rumination can fuel feelings of depression and anxiety.  Not too surprisingly, people tend to be more prone to rumination when they are 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.

In order to stop this cycle of nightly negative thoughts, Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, Ph.D, a psychologist and professor at Yale University, offers two suggestions:

1.  Engage in activities that create positive thoughts.  Some examples that she gives are participating in a hobby that you enjoy and meditation or prayers.

  Basically what you are seeking to do is to fill your mind with positive things so that there is no room for the negative thoughts to creep in and occupy space.

2.  Problem-solve.  According to Nolen-Hoeksema, 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 type of thoughts lead to feelings that nothing can be done about the situation.

  Instead, she recommends taking a moment when you are thinking clearly and identifying at least one step you can take to overcome your problems.  It can even be something as simple, she says, as calling a friend to try and brainstorm a solution.  What this does is to help you to regain power over the situation and feel less helpless.

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.  Several types of CBT, such as Behavioural Activation, Rumination-focused CBT and Mindfulness-Based CBT are specifically geared towards helping patients with rumination.


Law, Bridgett Murray.  "Probing the depression-rumination cycle:  Why chewing on problems just makes them harder to swallow."  Monitor.  36.10 (November 2005):  38.

Nolen-Hoeksema, Susan, Blair E. Wiseo and Sonja Lyubomirsky. "Rethinking Rumination." Perspectives on Psychological Science 3.5 (2008) 400-421.

Takano, K. and Y. Tanno.  "Diurnal variation in rumination."  Emotion.  1.5 (October 2011): 1046-58.

Tartakovsky, Margarita.  "Why Ruminating Is Unhealthy and How to Stop."  Psych Central.  Psych Central.  Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on January 20, 2011.  Accessed:  July 10, 2015.

Watkins, Edward.  "Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy for Depressive Rumination."  Unpublished manuscript, University of Exeter, Exeter (2010).

Continue Reading