What Can You Do About Nighttime Depression? | E-Counseling.com

What Can You Do About Nighttime Depression?

Jennie Lannette, MSW, LCSW
August 17, 2020
nighttime depression

Depression can sneak up on us and attack when we least expect it. Sometimes life events are the root cause but sometimes there is no clear reason.

Common symptoms of major depression disorder (MDD) include feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in usual activities.

Many who suffer from MDD are able to function adequately during the day, but at night, when they try to go to sleep, all of the thoughts and feelings they have been pushing away come to a head and take over.

Such overwhelming feelings can lead to restlessness, inconsistent sleep patterns, and even insomnia. The lack of sleep can consequently exacerbate physical and mental health symptoms. Although it’s not a formal diagnosis, this is sometimes called nighttime depression.

Here are some strategies for how to deal with nighttime depression.

Find Professional Support

If you start experiencing feelings of sadness, mood swings, discouragement, and low energy, consult with your physician. You can start with your primary doctor or see a psychiatrist who specializes in mental health medications.

Sometimes underlying medical conditions such as thyroid disorders, hormone-related issues, or medication side effects could be causing these symptoms. If it is MDD, it can be helpful to receive a diagnosis so you can pursue recommended treatments such as counseling or medication.

Try Cognitive Strategies

Common treatments for MDD include talk therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Cognitive therapies help you better understand where your thoughts are coming from, and how they can impact your mood and overall health.

You can practice thinking in more constructive ways and beat yourself up less. Negative self-talk is another common symptom of depression and related issues. Here are a few examples of how CBT strategies can help you retrain your thoughts.

  • Instead of thinking, “I really messed up on this, again,” reframe that thought to, “I made a mistake, which we all do sometimes, but I see what happened now, and I’m getting better at this.”
  • Instead of assuming the worst about a situation, look for the positive. For example, if you didn’t get a job you’re applying for, think of ways this might actually be a good thing that could lead you to a much better opportunity. Consider times this has happened in the past.
  • Instead of judging your emotions, practice accepting them. If you feel sad or angry, for example, allow yourself some time with those feelings and find ways to validate and express them – whether through writing, art, or talking to a friend or counselor. Then revisit your thoughts and be kind to yourself going forward.

Get Regular Exercise

Exercise has been found to be helpful in combating depression and, according to some studies, is as effective as taking antidepressants. Exercising too late in the evening could interfere with sleep, but regular activity earlier in the day can help you manage emotions, counter symptoms of depression, and sleep better.

Aerobic exercise is most important for mood management. This can be accomplished through simply walking, or any movement activity that you enjoy and like to do often. Fun activities might include dance, swimming, or tennis. Even just taking 15 minutes a day to add in some movement can be helpful, according to Harvard Researchers.

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Eat Healthy Foods

We all know that we feel better and have more energy when we eat a healthy, balanced diet. Cutting back on fats and carbs and eating in moderation can be beneficial to your well-being. If you find that you tend to eat more when you’re stressed, focus on taking care of your whole self, rather than beating yourself up for eating habits. Talk to a counselor about this, if necessary. Self-acceptance can help you make healthy decisions about food.

Practice Mindfulness Activities

Mindfulness activities, whether practiced during the day or at night before bed, can improve sleep and mood regulation in the evening. It’s also shown to help with overall health and physical issues, particularly when it’s combined with movement, such as with yoga. Simple sitting meditations, or guided meditations on an app, can also be effective in helping you manage and reduce your symptoms of depression.

One type of mindfulness activity that has a broad range of benefits is tai chi, which can help with stress management, mood, and even an array of physical health conditions. It can be particularly useful to treat sleep issues such as insomnia. To learn more about tai chi, check out classes in your local community, or find a video series online that teaches the practice.

Keep a Regular Routine

If your routine varies greatly, sometimes the unpredictability of your schedule can confuse your body, making it even more difficult to regulate your mood  and get sufficient sleep. With many people now working from home, it is increasingly difficult to maintain a regular routine. However, if possible, try to go to bed around the same time, get up roughly at the same time, and take care of basic needs such as regular meals and hygiene. Keeping at least a loose routine can help program your brain to respond appropriately during these times of day.

Try Journaling at Night

Sometimes, people report that journaling, especially at night before going to bed, can help with nighttime depression symptoms. If feelings are piling up, or get pushed away during the day, journaling offers a chance to express and process them. Simple stream of conscious journaling, or simply writing whatever comes to mind without any filter or editing, can be a helpful release. Once you get your emotions out, then start to draw conclusions about events you’ve experienced.

Particular types of writing are found to be even more helpful. Focusing on gratitude, for example, and writing about positive things from your day, can help boost your mood, according to recent research.

Once you get a chance to express your emotions without filter, ask yourself leading questions to help you reflect positively on your day. Examples include:

  • What did I handle well today?
  • What positive things happened this week?
  • In what ways were other people helpful to me?
  • What things do I have to look forward to?
  • What new things can I be thankful for?

Writing about positive events in detail allows your brain to relive the experience and get double the benefit. When you have depression, it can be challenging to think positively. However, if you’re able to push yourself to see things in a more positive light, it can be very helpful, and definitely improve your night.

Nighttime depression symptoms can be difficult to live with and can affect many parts of your life. Fortunately, they’re not something you have to accept or live with. Finding support and practicing some proven strategies can help you combat and overcome this disorder.

Jennie Lannette, MSW, LCSW

Jennie Lannette is a licensed therapist who specializes in trauma, PTSD, and related issues. She has trained extensively in multiple evidence-based treatments. She has a decade of experience in inpatient, community, and private practice settings.

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