Why is Grief Worse at Night?

As humans, we tend to process our thoughts and emotions right before going to bed. For some people, this can be a pandora box. One would think that self-reflection improves their state of mind; however, this can lead to rumination, which is anything but beneficial.

Grief, whether related to the loss of a loved one or a mental health disorder, is worse at night, primarily due to rumination. However, other factors can contribute to a higher level of grief at night, such as loneliness, exhaustion, and lack of distractions.

Although rumination is the primary cause of late-night grief, rumination itself stems from the fusion of several factors. Together, they provide an ideal environment for sorrow. This article will provide you with the necessary information to cope or help someone cope with grief.

Causes of Nocturnal Grief

Feeling down at night is not an uncommon concept. Many people, no matter their age, report heightened nighttime depression. Mental health researchers, along with their psychologist colleagues, believe that rumination is irrefutably linked to depression. Even though rumination is conventionally associated with mental health disorders, people who experience the death of a loved one are also susceptible to follow the same pattern during their grieving period.

Rumination is the brain consistency in deep thought about something that can take a person down a rabbit hole of pain and grief.  Let’s be honest, it’s mostly a fancy word for overthinking. While some people overthink more than others, a traumatic event such as the death of a loved one can cause people to reflect on themselves.

Thinking about the happy memories you shared with them can cause a spike in grief. During the day, a person’s mind is distracted with work and human interactions, but lying-in bed with no distractions, allows their mind to process your emotions.

Once one starts mulling over those thoughts, they will keep going deeper and deeper into the recesses of their mind. By the time they realize what is happening, it is often too late to stop the process. They have already spiraled so far down their own thoughts and memories that it is almost impossible to get out. Thus, trapping them into an obscure mindset of grief and pain.

Although ruminative thoughts are a key player in heightened nighttime sadness, other things can also affect mood. Other conditions such as fatigue, sleeping patterns, or lack of mental stimulation can also cause your depression to spike in the wee small hours.

Nonetheless, there are two different types of grief, and even though they share several causes, these causes differ from each other. Self-awareness is the best solution.

Understanding the Difference Between Depression and Grief

Due to their numerous similarities, it can be hard to differentiate these two. The most obvious difference is that grief is usually temporary, and only affects the person when triggered by a memory, or a special date such as the deceased’s birthday.

However, depression, on the other hand, has a more pervasive and long-term effect on its victim. Another differentiating factor between the two is how it affects the person’s daily life. While grief can go through a stage as invasive as depression, that is not usually the case.

People grieving can be distracted when surrounded by other family members or with work, but that is not the case for those who have depression. When depressed, a person struggles a lot with functioning as they should, they have no energy and tend to remain in their mind even when surrounded by friends and family.

Nonetheless, these two share the same development stages, however they vary in intensity and duration.

5 Stages of Development

Depression and grief are not overnight occurrences, they develop over time in stages. The five stages are as follows:

  • Denial- refusing to admit the pain and sadness that is going on in one’s life.
  • Anger- anger toward what you are going through and feeling overwhelmed.
  • Bargaining- you begin to bargain with yourself to avoid believing what is going on in your head.
  • Depression- feeling lost, alone, and hopeless; convinced that there will be no way out of the torment you are enduring.
  • Acceptance- realization of the new reality that is your life.

Even though these stages are the habitual pathway our minds go through, people are unique. Some skip steps while others may have an extra step. The transitions between the stages can be so seamless that the person experiencing them doesn’t realize they are spiraling into a dark place.

Even though these two share a stage, the stages of grief slightly differ from that of depression.

People who suffer from depression also struggle with anxiety. This all circles around to the idea of how rumination is the primary cause of depression. People who suffer from anxiety are in a constant state of worry and stress.

These people see issues where there aren’t any and create terrifying scenarios over insignificant things most people don’t give a second thought to. This anxiety is what can lead to overthinking and even depression.

However, it is not a one-way cause and effect relationship. Someone who suffers from depression and is constantly on edge is at an elevated risk of triggering their anxiety. These two conditions can easily trigger the other, resulting in several people having both.

LCSW therapist Sally R. Connolly says, “It’s a cycle. When you get anxious you tend to have this pervasive thinking about some worry or some problem. You feel bad about it. Then you feel like you’ve failed. You move to depression.”

These two have a complex relationship and tend to be co-occurring, this article gives in depth explanation of their connection.

How to Cope with These Thoughts

Now that we are more self-aware, we can learn how to cope with these issues that plague our daily lives. The best way to deal with these issues is to catch them before they have time to fester and develop a mind of their own. Once it has gained enough power over you, it can be impossible to free yourself from its vice-like grip.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Suma Chand wrote for the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Research shows that people who ruminate are more likely to develop depression compared to those who don’t.” She later goes on to say that ruminative people are four times more likely to develop it than those who don’t.

Being able to catch yourself, when you start to go into an overly analytical reflection can make all the difference. Questioning irrational thoughts and noticing the thought distortions are the first steps one can take to avoid falling into depression’s clutches. However, this is not an easy process.

Some more coping tips to try at night include:

  • Journal- aids in processing emotions
  • Meditate – this lowers anxiety
  • Reading- helps take your mind off things
  • Take a warm bath or shower to relax your muscles and your mind
  • Call a friend- provides moral support and someone to vent to
  • Use music to fall asleep – singing along with lyrics can keep your mind off grief

Working Through Your Grief

Grief can be overbearing, especially at night. If you need help, do not be embarrassed to reach out to a friend or call the suicide prevention hotline.

Written by Kasia Ciszewski, LPC on

Kasia is a licensed professional counselor servicing the Charleston area. She helps individuals heal, better understand their emotions, energize & become more aware of their inner strength. She specializes in helping teens, adults and seniors and has been able to regularly achieve impressive results for her clients throughout South Carolina. Instagram - Facebook - Pinterest - Twitter - Linkedin

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