Late Night Negative Thoughts Linked to Higher Levels of Depression

Individuals with depression often experience uncontrollable negative thoughts. This process, known as rumination, has been found to be a major symptom of depression. In a recent study, Keisuke Takano and Yoshihiko Tanno, of the Department of Cognitive and Behavioral Science, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, The University of Tokyo, examined the types and frequency of thoughts occurring in 68 depressed college students to determine the relationship between rumination and depression. They said, “A large body of recent studies has focused on a persistent, chronic form of self-focus as a trigger for psychological illnesses. Depressive rumination, which is conceptualized as the tendency to repetitively focus on symptoms of distress and the possible causes and consequences of these symptoms, is known to be a serious risk factor for depression.”

Using the experience sampling method (ESM), the participants were instructed to record their moods and thoughts at several different points throughout the day when prompted electronically. Over the course of seven days, the participants reported whether they felt distressed, upset, nervous, afraid, scared or jittery. The researchers asked the participants to identify the aspects of their thinking if it was unpleasant, uncontrollable and focused on self.

They discovered that the participants who experienced higher levels of all three aspects of thinking also had the highest levels of depression. “These results suggest that the self-focused thinking of trait ruminators is likely to be more negatively valenced and perceived as more uncontrollable,” said the team. Additionally, they found that the participants with high levels of depression were more likely to ruminate in the evening. “A number of studies suggest that presleep cognitive arousal—such as worry and rumination—leads to insomnia or poor sleep quality.” They added, “Investigating the causes and consequences of evening rumination would provide important insights into the mechanisms involved in the maintenance and exacerbation of depressive symptoms.”

Takano, K., & Tanno, Y. (2011, April 25). Diurnal Variation in Rumination. Emotion. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0022757

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • Rebekah

    September 13th, 2011 at 4:18 AM

    I always have that incessant late night chatter going on in my head that keeps me from sleeping! I tell my self not to worry about things right them, that there is no way that I can change it at 3am but it just goes on and on. So I don’t know what makes me feel more depressed- the lack of control that I have over this or just how horrible I feel because of the lack of sleep that it causes me.

  • alan

    September 13th, 2011 at 7:16 AM

    evenings and late night-a time when we are not interacting too much with others, also known as more time to think about the depressive things. I’m not surprised these thoughts have an effect on sleep either.

  • Grayson

    September 13th, 2011 at 3:33 PM

    What about this thought? The thought that a lot of people who work third shift and late nights are probably depressed anyway so this fuel only feeds that fire.

  • albert s

    September 13th, 2011 at 3:35 PM

    I’m sure it works much like the way studying right before sleeping increases the amount of knowledge you retain; since it is fresh in your mind when you go into your first REM sleep cycle. If you think negative thoughts before bed, when you go into an REM sleep cycle instead of helping you retain knowledge it may help you convince yourself that those negative things are true! This kind of convincing and reassurance that your negative thoughts are true are exactly the kind of things that lead to depression. It’s a bummer that there aren’t any fool proof wise to keep yourself from thinking negative thoughts late at night.

  • Kate.L

    September 13th, 2011 at 11:48 PM

    I am trouble so much by negative thoughts in the night! Sometimes it just feels like the entire day’s weight comes and falls on to my shoulders all at once. And I am now trying to listen to some soft music while I go to bed to spare myself from this constant nightmare.

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