How do you resist unendurable sadness at night?
July 14, 2019 9:31 PM   Subscribe

I get extremely sad at night these days, and require as much light as possible. Even so, even when near people who love me & whom I love, I find myself filled with a horrible sense of uselessness, loneliness, doing the wrong thing, FOMO, and general doom that the current circumstances of my life are never-ending and change is impossible. How do I avoid extreme sadness at night, aside from going to be before sundown?

I have a therapist and am certainly considering medication, and have found some books helpful. I am working on actually taking some steps to improve my life and hopefully feel better. Even so, I realize that there will be a lot of dark nights as I get older, and I cannot stand feeling this kind of decline every night in the future. How do you resist this sensation?
posted by Hooray For Socks! to Human Relations (28 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Work on finding some show, podcast, movie, or something that can reliably make you laugh and put it on before bed. Laughing helps!
posted by bleep at 9:41 PM on July 14, 2019 [7 favorites]

I have an outsized fear of death as a generalized concept, have dealt with that fear since I was a pre-teen actually, and it's worse at night, laying in bed.

Nothing really helps but two coping things I've found that work for me are A) be really tired from a demanding physical day of labor such as farm work or hiking or landscaping or B) be really tired from staying up to a, likely unhealthy, time of night/early morning like 2am or so or C) antihistamine consumption, usually caused by actual allergies but sometimes not.

Both of those things, combined with a generally above average ability to actually establish sleep on a physical level, help but have their own downsides of course.

Speaking of, it's 12:50am my time, gonna go hit the pillow myself. Good luck.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:50 PM on July 14, 2019 [5 favorites]

Well, the long answer is you come to really inquire into and listen to what that unendurable silence is trying to tell you, and you sit with it, grieve it, accept it, and grow away from it. The short answer is good therapy. <3
posted by namesarehard at 9:55 PM on July 14, 2019 [15 favorites]

Have you tried going out into the night and sitting somewhere? It's quite beautiful. Have you found a bench or just laid down a blanket in a low light pollution area? I suggest this because it seems like the night is bad to you but if you go into it, maybe it would give you a different perspective. Take a long walk?

I don't know why darkness means so much endless sadness to you when to me it's so quiet, pure and the stars you can see forever. We're part of that. It's endlessly beautiful.

If you think you can't control these feelings, that could very well be a chemical imbalance which is NOT WEAKNESS, and you should get treated by a doctor. That you frame it as "night is here = unendurable sadness" is not a rational thought. Again, not a judgement. But if I said "light is here = I literally hate each new day" you'd disagree, yes? (I do feel like that, the sun is great and really makes my towels smell perfect but have you seen how beautiful and silent the world is at night with each point of light a legitimate thing to marvel over? Maybe you're an extrovert to my introvert.)

It sounds like you're depressed and need treatment, but we cannot diagnose you from just reading a question. I only say that knowing how all or nothing my thinking gets when I am.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:11 PM on July 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

I don't think this sensation is anywhere near universal, or even as common as you're assuming it is. This is not an expected state of being, to have unendurable sadness every night. That you are suffering it so severely suggests a biological problem, maybe neurochemical but maybe not just in the typical "often feels sad" kind of way. It kind of sounds like you are "sundowning", which is a known phenomenon in people with a number of brain-body conditions but particularly cognitive impairment like dementia or traumatic brain injury, but it has also been observed in depression and even general disease, untreated/treatment-resistant infections, cardiac issues, etc.

Bottom line, if your therapist has not directed you to speak to a physician and possibly get a referral to a neurologist, you should do that. If either of those doctors wants to try medication, please work with them and not just consider it. Something is going on.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:03 PM on July 14, 2019 [28 favorites]

Definitely tire yourself out, so sleep comes easier. Hard work & exercise, so your whole body wants to sink into sleep.
posted by Grandysaur at 11:54 PM on July 14, 2019

For me a combination of therapy and drugs helped considerably.

Until I was able to shed the habit I had one particularly effective two-part trick for coping with the overwhelming sadness of it all. Part One: Even while feeling depressed I recognized that this was just a mood and I would feel differently in the morning. Part Two: I made fun of it. It’s not hard, the melodrama practically invites it. For example whenever I felt doomed I said heartily "I’M DOOOOOOOOOOOOMED!" It’s not that sadness and loneliness are funny, it’s the overblown dramatic experience you get when you’re in that mood. Go ahead and mock it, it’s fun!
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:11 AM on July 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

I am a person whose mental state can be significantly affected by lighting conditions both indoors and out. Here are a couple of things that have helped me.

Try turning on your house lights in the late afternoon, before daylight starts to fade. Leave them on until about an hour before bedtime, at which point you start dimming them in order to become sleepy. I find the weird, shadowy, fading-light conditions at twilight are very disorienting and disturbing but getting ahead of it by turning on bright house lights early helps a lot.

Use a night light when sleeping, or even try sleeping with the lights on. Sometimes I also use an eye mask which prevents the light from bothering my eyes. I know this sounds weird (why have a light on if I can't see it) but somehow it helps keep that disoriented/anxious/despairing feeling at bay. I don't do this every night but sometimes when I am feeling especially unsettled or "down" it helps.

I know the above ideas will make the sleep hygiene people lose their minds, but some of us with different brain wiring have to do what works for us.

Also, don't read or watch anything sad or disturbing in the evening. If you must look at the news, do so in the daytime. In the evening when your brain is vulnerable to spiraling down, give it things that are fun, happy and mood-lifting without being overly stimulating. Watch stand-up comedies, sit-coms, cute animal videos; do fun, engaging hobbies; listen to upbeat podcasts when you do chores, etc.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 12:36 AM on July 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

uselessness, loneliness, doing the wrong thing, FOMO

If you watch/read the news or look at social media (including strangers on places like Twitter and metafilter), unattainably lovely lifestyle blogs etc of an evening stop all of that. It may help with those feelings.
Instead, try and replace with things like your own craft project, watching genuinely comforting shows, making a nice dinner, learning a language or instrument, reading books, volunteering.
posted by hotcoroner at 1:01 AM on July 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

How do you resist unendurable sadness at night?

Same way I resist it during the daytime, by reminding myself that I have experienced this feeling many many many times in the past, that it always goes away, and that the fact that I'm still here is absolute proof that it is not, in fact, unendurable.

That's kind of like turning off the gushing tap. Next thing is to mop up the flood, and I do that by carefully examining the stories I've just been telling myself to see whether any of those have either triggered the sadness or are perpetuating it. Most of the time it turns out that I am telling myself stories that include the ideas "never" and "always" and "completely" and other such absolutes, and all it takes to knock those down to size is deliberately re-telling myself the same story but with the absolutes replaced in such a way as to actually make the story true.

It is usually the case that replacing a "never" with a "rarely", an "always" with a "usually" or "frequently", or a "completely" with a "mostly" improves the actual accuracy of such a story, and the resulting injection of wiggle room pretty much instantly undermines any associated feeling of doom.

And if I can't find a mediating story - if I seem to be going straight from a perception, such as the daylight getting dimmer or the air getting cooler, to a feeling of melancholy without thinking of anything in particular: then I will first check to see whether the melancholy is in any way a useful response to that perception, and if it is, I will seek to modify my circumstances so as to change my perception.

So if I start to feel sad as the light fades, and this is not due to a whole pile of internal melodrama connecting the fading of the light to the fading of a life but rather seems to be a direct physical response, I'll brighten up my environment with artificial lighting and see if that helps the melancholy to lift. If I feel it when I get cold, I'll put on more layers or build up the fire. And so on.

But the important thing is turning off the tap first. It's just too difficult to deal effectively with anything that being alive is trying to teach us when we're all jammed and squashed up against the false beliefs that what we're enduring cannot be endured or that we will never get any respite from it. It's hard enough to drain the swamp when you're up to your neck in alligators, let alone when you're emptying the Hoover Dam into the damn thing at the very same time.
posted by flabdablet at 1:39 AM on July 15, 2019 [25 favorites]

Further to the thought about melancholy sometimes being a completely appropriate physical response to circumstances: you ask

How do I avoid extreme sadness at night, aside from going to bed before sundown?

but it might well be that melancholy is specifically and exactly your body's way of telling you that it doesn't want to be awake right now, and that going to bed around sundown is something it would prefer. If you can re-jig your life for a while to make that possible, it might be worth experimenting with; "I don't want to be here" might well be a mistranslation of "I don't want to be awake" by an ego that has made the super-common move of mistaking itself for your whole self.

I know for a fact that my own sleep cycle is way different when I'm out camping and don't have much in the way of artificial lighting available; the slow fade of the evening does a much much better job of getting the whole sleepiness thing underway than the snapping off of the electric lamp.
posted by flabdablet at 1:50 AM on July 15, 2019 [15 favorites]

I agree it’s worth getting checked out by a doctor. Something similar happened to me the first two weeks after having my baby (hormones/“baby blues”). I’d want to make sure it wasn’t a hormonal problem that could be fixed.

In the meantime/otherwise, I’ll nth funny TV shows and other hilarious media. Once we figured out that if we had *already started* a funny show before sunset (Brooklyn 99 for us!) the sadness got channeled into laughter, things got a lot better!

I’m sorry you’re going through this, it sounds no fun! Hang in there!
posted by bananacabana at 2:56 AM on July 15, 2019

I used to deal with this by going out to cafes. Even if you can't do so every night, maybe once or twice a week? That way you have something to look forward to.
posted by 8603 at 4:20 AM on July 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

I don't have a great answer for this but I wanted to add that I have the exact same thing, since I was a child, so it's strangely helpful to find out that someone else does too. I even get it when camping or being outdoors (sometimes much worse!) so for me I know it's definitely not about natural light. When I'm busy and have lots of evening plans it's a lot less apparent though.

Something that always helps me in general when I get these overwhelming feelings of hopelessness is to do a yoga video (I normally do yoga with adriene), that always seems to redirect the emotions somehow, and is less high effort than going out of the house to do exercise.
posted by Concertion at 4:44 AM on July 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

I agree you should bring it up to a doctor. If they clear you of any neurological cause, then I'd recommend trying acupuncture. It's helped me a lot with some deep anxiety and depression, and for some reason their suggestions are easier for me to hear than my usual PCP. Reducing nighttime anxiety and sleeplessness is high on their list of priorities, and even though it's nowhere near fixed I've gotten my head above water more often than ever since I started. It can be a little woo, though, so your mileage may vary.

You are talking about this struggle with your therapist, right?
posted by lilac girl at 4:45 AM on July 15, 2019

How’s your blood sugar at night? I find that for me hunger doesn’t always manifest as a gnawing stomach- sometimes it feels like being sad or angry. Maybe change your eating habits a bit- graze on high fat high / protein foods, like nuts, eggs, beef, ice cream, etc- to give you more fuel.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 5:37 AM on July 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'd really get a medical workup, because a sense of impending doom is an actual symptom that a good doctor will take seriously. It often points to heart issues, so I'd rule that out before taking the other steps mentioned here. Good luck.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 5:52 AM on July 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

I used to feel sad and agitated when the sun was going down too. What I accidentally stumbled on that helped was a barista job where I was busy (physically and mentally) and moving around and having light but mostly-pleasant social contact with strangers. The store was warm enough (in the winter) and brightly-lit, which also helped. This mostly trained me out of the tendency to be sad around that time.

Obviously this exact solution isn't likely to be the ticket for you, but maybe you can incorporate some elements. I think the repeated light, mostly-pleasant interactions with strangers may have been particularly important, because being around friends or family didn't always help in the same way.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:00 AM on July 15, 2019

It kind of sounds like you are "sundowning", which is a known phenomenon in people with a number of brain-body conditions

Definitely get it checked out by a doctor, especially if this is a new feeling, and I would also suggest keeping records about when it starts, what conditions make it worse, what conditions make it better, etc. but...

Don’t panic that this is a sign of dementia or whatever. I have apparently had this since I was born, to the point where my mother called 5-6pm “the cranky hour.” It’s just a thing my body does.

Being tired from physical activity, having things I enjoy at night, and mindfulness meditation focused on body sensations have all helped me.
posted by schadenfrau at 7:14 AM on July 15, 2019 [5 favorites]

Definitely ask a doc about this. I get this a lot, and for me it's my depression/anxiety manifesting in a wonky circadian rhythm that's throwing my cortisol levels out of whack. Meds have helped significantly, but it still happens. It's a sign I need to be more attentive to my physical activity, sleep hygiene, and / or diet. In the moment I just distract myself with lighthearted media (shows, movies, books) and try to sleep, using a sleep aid if necessary. I know I'll feel better in the morning so I just try to plan some time in the sun, doing exercise, and making sure I'm eating well.
posted by ananci at 9:41 AM on July 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

I use Sleep With Me, the podcast that puts you to sleep. Drew talks often about "brainbots" which are the voices/processes/thoughts that are pretty good at taking care of important stuff while we're awake, but sometimes don't know they should turn off when we're trying to fall asleep. Maybe try searching the archive for BrainBots and listening to a few of those episodes?
posted by rebent at 10:44 AM on July 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

Another thought- how's the air quality in your house? A feeling of impending doom is also a symptom of carbon monoxide poisoning.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:25 AM on July 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

I find that physical activity cuts down the amount of ruminating I do as I fall asleep.

I also think you're right that simply feeling better in the rest of your life might help (which may or may not involve medication). I used to be anxious / depressed when I gardened or did other activities that allowed my mind to wander, but since then my overall anxiety levels have dropped and I no longer experience this to the same degree.

But yeah, I agree with others that you should make sure this isn't a medical thing.
posted by toastedcheese at 11:28 AM on July 15, 2019

This happens to me a lot. I cry, get in the shower and cry, get naked and hold my body in bed and try to name every fear I have, lie on the floor and write down whatever words spill out into my journal.

But mostly I cry.

I find that by the next day I'm feeling better for a few days, then my battery gets low and I have to do the "stay in for the night and cry so hard I dry heave" thing. I think I've just accepted that this is how I am and I'm trying to love myself though it when I spiral down and flood out.
posted by nikaspark at 12:56 PM on July 15, 2019

I have this same experience. It tends to intensify when I have a lot of stressful things going on in my life, especially if they are things I am avoiding due to anxiety. I'll be okay during the day, but then the weight of those duties/anxieties begins to feel heavier as the evening progresses into night. (For additional context, I have ADHD/depression/anxiety for which I take medication and see a therapist.)

I will admit it's not easy to find a way to cope with nighttime sadness. It sounds like you already understand that medication is an option available to you and that you can also talk to your therapist about it; it also sounds like you're hoping for some practical suggestions on coping with it beyond the scope of medication/therapy.

Usually what helps me is to set up my surrounding area, during daylight hours when I am more likely to be productive, with things I enjoy and find pleasurable. A favorite scented candle (I make sure to keep a matchbook right next to it so I don't have to struggle through sadness to get up and find it later), favorite hand cream/moisturizer, favorite blanket or pillow, some kind of small toy or fidget spinner to play with, a journal with pens/art supplies next to it, my iPad, etc.

I also find it helpful to shower before bed, even though I already take an initial shower in the morning. It's relaxing and makes me feel physically good. Then I put on a favorite pair of pajamas before getting into bed. At this point, I'm getting into bed in the physical sense, not in the "it's time to sleep" sense. I'm there to wind down, not sleep just yet. It helps if the bed is already made and you just put on fresh clean sheets. Then I put on calm music and relax with a book.

Create a ritual that you look forward to in the evening. It's not foolproof, but it's a start, and it gives you a sense of structure and guidance when the sadness comes on.
posted by nightrecordings at 3:54 PM on July 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

"I cannot stand feeling this kind of decline every night in the future"

I just want to point out what you said here. You're catastrophizing - I'm sure you've had a few nights in the past where you did not feel this way. That means you'll have nights in the future where you also don't feel this way.

I have this exact feeling a lot of nights. It helps to go to bed as soon as the feeling starts instead of wasting time googling whatever I'm anxious about. I almost always feel better in the morning. Admitting my rumination isn't helping anything, going to bed, and enjoying the happier morning hours is better than pushing through the sad night hours. Exercising helps. Playing music I can sing along with in the evening also helps.
posted by Penguin48 at 6:52 PM on July 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hey all, thank you for all of the responses! I have read through them, and will return to them in the future as a reference, source of advice, and for a sense of shared experience. Since my ask, I have gotten some meds (as mentioned here) that have helped to remove some of the edge from the sensation. Hopefully this will continue to help as a long-term solution.
posted by Hooray For Socks! at 3:34 PM on September 2, 2019

Dialectical behavioral therapy is pretty good for “unendurable sadness” at any time of day. One of the treatment goals in DBT is to help the client experience ordinary sadness instead of intolerable distress, mostly through increasing distress tolerance.
posted by unstrungharp at 9:27 PM on December 26, 2019

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