By: April Carson
At nighttime, the world might sometimes seem like a hostile environment. Negative ideas may slip into your thoughts while you sleep, and as you lie awake, staring at the ceiling, you could begin to crave guilty pleasures, such as cigarettes or a high-carbohydrate dinner.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the human mind works differently if it is awake at night. At midnight, unpleasant emotions draw our attention more than pleasant ones, dangerous thoughts become more appealing, and inhibitions weaken.
Whether you are working the night shift or simply find yourself up late, it is important to be aware of how your mind might be changed by the late hour. You may need to take extra precautions to protect yourself from making poor decisions or acting on harmful impulses.
According to a new study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, sleep deprivation, depression, and other factors may all affect areas of the brain involved with sleeping. Researchers believe that the human circadian rhythm is significantly involved in these crucial changes in function, as outlined in a new paper summarizing the evidence for how brain systems function differently after dark.
It is well-known that our brains are highly active during the day and experience a natural lull at night. This is why we feel more alert and energetic in the morning, and tend to get tired as the day goes on. However, researchers have found that certain areas of the brain actually become more active at night, including those responsible for memory and learning.
The researchers behind this study, led by Dr. Michael Divac of the University of Southampton in England, believe that a natural 24-hour cycle of activity influences our emotions and behavior.
In a nutshell, at certain periods of time, our species is inclined to feel and act in certain manners. Molecular levels and brain activity are geared to wakefulness during the day. However, at night, our regular behavior is to go to bed.
This is, after all, in line with human evolution. Humans are far more successful at hunting and gathering during the day, and while nighttime is excellent for rest, humans were formerly more likely to be the hunted.
To cope with this increased danger, our attention to unpleasant things is supposedly unusually sharp at night, according to the scientists. Where previously it might have aided us in detecting unseen dangers, this hyper-focus on the negative may subsequently feed into an altered reward/incentive system, making a person more likely to engage in dangerous conduct.
When you consider that sleep loss adds to the equation, this state of awareness becomes increasingly difficult. "There are millions of people who are awake in the middle of the night and have very good evidence that their brain isn't working as well at night as it does during the day," says Harvard neurologist Elizabeth Klerman.
"I'm calling for more study to look at it, because their health and safety, as well as that of others, are jeopardized. "
The authors of the new hypothesis offer two case studies to illustrate their idea. The first example is of a heroin user who controls their cravings during the day but gives in to their desires at night, according on the study.
The second scenario depicts a college student who is experiencing sleeplessness, as he or she feels a sense of hopelessness, loneliness, and despair with each passing sleepless night.
In both cases, the outcome is inevitable. Suicidal thoughts and self-harm are prevalent at night. In fact, a study suggests that there is a three-fold increased risk of suicide between midnight and 6:00 am when compared to other times of day.
So why is it that we are more prone to negative thoughts and actions at night?
There are a few theories. One is that our body’s natural circadian rhythms play a role. The National Sleep Foundation explains that our bodies release melatonin, a hormone that makes us feel sleepy, around 9:00 pm.
According to a study in 2020, nocturnal wakefulness is a suicide risk factor "possibly owing to circadian rhythms' misalignment."
"Suicide, which previously was unimaginable, becomes a means of escape from loneliness and suffering, and before the consequences of suicide are considered, the student has acquired the materials and is prepared to act at a time when no one is awake to prevent them," according to the 'Mind After Midnight' hypothesis's authors.
People are also more inclined to use illicit or hazardous drugs at night. According to research conducted at a supervised drug consumption center in Brazil in 2020, there was a 4.7-fold increased risk of opioid overdose at night.
Some of these habits might be attributed to sleep debt or the cover that darkness provides, but there may also be night-time neurological changes.
Klerman and her colleagues believe we need to dig deeper into these elements in order to ensure that those most vulnerable to nighttime wakefulness are protected. There have been no studies on how sleep deprivation and circadian timing affect reward processing, according to the authors.
We don't know how shift workers, such as airline pilots or physicians, are dealing with their unusual sleep patterns.
"It's also important to think about people who are naturally night owls," Klerman said.
For a few hours each day, we are completely ignorant about how the human brain functions. The mind at 2 a.m., whether asleep or awake, is an enigma.
The team's findings were published in the journal Science Advances.
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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