Evening sadness –illustration of a blond woman with blue eyes lying in bed and looking pensive
Illustration: Imago / Ikon Images

Why Am I Sad at Night But Happy When I Wake Up?

I asked a therapist to break down what it means if your mood drastically changes depending on the time of day.

This article originally appeared on VICE Germany.

Recently, I haven’t really been a fan of evenings. I see the day as my friend – it's bright and open to all kinds of possibilities, at least most of the time. But in the evenings, things are different – the darkness brings up a sense of melancholy. And that’s especially true during the winter, when the light coming in from the window is mostly just street lamps. 


At night, I tend to feel sad. And I noticed some of my friends do too – one of them said to me she blames her winter blues on the artificial lights we all rely on in the dark season. I’ve heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression which is triggered by the changing of the seasons. But I mostly feel fine during the day, so I don’t consider myself depressed.

To clear things up, I decided to talk to Munich-based psychotherapist Robert Willi, who specialises in mood disorders.

VICE: Why do I often feel cheerful in the morning and sad in the evening?
Robert Willi
: I suspect you are not dealing with your emotions during the day, maybe because you’re distracted by your job. But when you relax in the evening, the unwanted thoughts and feelings you repressed come up.

The good news is, however, you’re probably not depressed. People with depression are typically more down in the morning and feel better throughout the day. This is often due to neurobiological and hormonal processes in the brain.

But I don't actually have any negative thoughts.
Are you sure about that? If you don't want to deal with your own feelings, actively distracting yourself with work and social engagements is a very efficient method.


I have to admit I'm not entirely sure. What can I do to be happy in the evening?
Your question implies that you should also be happy in the evening. But feelings have their reasons. Young adults in particular often experience upheaval in their lives. Family structures dissolve, ties to other people break down and high social performance requirements put pressure on the mind. 

Many people in big cities spend their free time alone after work. Humans are social creatures, and always sitting alone on the sofa can make you sad. That is a natural reaction, but these are only a few possible causes. To be less sad, you have to find the cause of these feelings and look for an antidote.

Maybe the winter darkness is also to blame?
Yes, darkness can influence your mood. There are also seasonal forms of depression that either come up or get worse in the winter. Have you ever observed this evening sadness in summer?

Then the reason is probably different.

Many of my friends have told me they become especially melancholy on Sunday evenings. What could be the reason for that?
People who are unhappy on Sunday evenings are often unfulfilled in their jobs or worried about their professional career. When you’re pushing to get to the weekend all week and then those two days are over so quickly, you naturally become resentful. Many patients come to me with this problem. 


Why do we often get tangled up in an anxiety spiral just before falling asleep?
Falling asleep and waking up are very special states of consciousness. During these phases, we are much closer to our own emotions than usual. When we dream, we move completely into our subconscious. When we fall asleep and wake up, we are shortly suspended between two forms of consciousness. 

Rumination occurs especially when we subconsciously try to keep the brain active and not experience our feelings. We get lost in thought loops and ruminate on the same topics over and over again. That allows us not to slip completely into the subconscious, where we would then have to experience our emotions.

Why do people worry all the time, even when things are mostly fine?
In short, people who worry all the time are probably not well. Worry is a weak form of fear. In healthy people, worry is an indication of danger. In the past, these dangers were more concrete than today: hunger, physical attacks, floods, things like that. Nowadays, these dangers are much more diffuse. 

In today's society, we are constantly bombarded with information. The human psyche is not prepared for that. We have to cope with so many demands we often don't even know what we actually feel threatened by. 


People then like to make things easy for themselves and prefer to distract themselves rather than look for the causes of these feelings. And distraction is very easy to come by these days: gaming, social media, binge-watching. The brain stays nice and active, preoccupied with its surroundings and not with its inner life. And we don't have to feel anything.

So is evening sadness normal?
Sadness is, of course, a normal feeling. Evening sadness is also normal. But I think you actually want to know whether the sadness you feel is normal and without reason. All I can say is: It is probably not entirely without reason. Feelings call for action. Fear, disgust, anger, sadness – all these emotions have triggers. 

I admit that everyone feels a certain melancholy here and there. After all, things rarely go without a hitch. This occasional low mood only becomes a big problem when it develops into an illness. In these cases, however, this sadness lasts for weeks and months and occurs in combination with other symptoms. In severe depression, it is sometimes no longer possible to directly recognise the triggers. Then therapy can help to find these reasons.

That means I have to deal with my feelings?
Yes, I would advise you to do that.

I kind of wanted this conversation to be different.
I hear that a lot.