Staying awake after midnight is bad for your health (although many can’t help it)

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Our sleep and our well-being are closely intertwined. A new theory of the “mind after midnight” has been proposed by American researchers to refer to one of the ways in which this interaction occurs. They postulate that our minds have a tendency to self-sabotage when wakefulness replaces sleep. Although for now it is a theory, the authors point out the possible evolutionary reasons behind the phenomenon.


The circadian night.
Although the name of the theory refers to midnight, in reality it is not based on chronological schedules but on the circadian rhythm, that internal clock that dictates the times of the day at which to go to bed and the times of the day at which we should sleep. be more active.

The theory therefore refers to what they call “biological circadian night”, the time when our brain and body are ready for rest. The team has published this theory in article form in the magazine Frontiers in Network Physiology.

Sleeping through the night with the fan on sounds like a great idea.  Actually it's not that much

The mind after midnight.
At this time the brain would experience neurophysiological changes in the brain, which affect cognition and behavior compared to normal wakefulness. The changes would make us see the world in a more negative way, more prone to harmful behaviors and impulsive decision making.

This would translate into different actions, from the most innocuous, such as getting up to snack late at night, to risky behaviors such as incurring addictions, from alcohol to gambling and other substances. Also in severe cases it could trigger self-injurious behavior.

one of the keys would be in the alteration of the mechanisms by which our brain obtains information and manages its rewards. For example, the body secretes higher levels of dopamine at night, which could, according to the researchers, encourage risky behavior.

Diurnal hunters, nocturnal prey.
In the Press release published by Massachusetts General Hospital, Elizabeth B. Klerman, a senior researcher among the authors of the article, pointed out that “the basic idea is that from a high-level, global, evolutionary point of view, your circadian biological clock is tuned towards a process that promotes sleep, not wakefulness, after midnight.”

The reason for this harmony and this “mind after midnight” would be that the human being is better able to hunt during the day but would in turn be more vulnerable at night. For this reason, we would be “programmed” to pay attention to negative stimuli during the night hours, more attentive to danger and pessimistic.

Help those who must stay awake.
Klerman and his team present their theory as a call to the scientific community to investigate the question. The goal, ultimately, would be to help people who, for health reasons (those who suffer from some form of insomnia) or due to work requirements, must stay awake in the wee hours of the morning against the dictates of their own internal clocks.

A hypothesis to test.
Therefore, the validity of this theory remains to be verified, although it is based on some studies with results that point in this direction. The problem that those who want to do so will have to face will be distinguishing the effects of other variables on human behavior.

An example of this would be crime. The “mind after midnight” would postulate that part of the increase in crime that occurs at night could be linked to these negative thoughts. However, since it is relatively easier to commit crimes at night, it would be difficult to distinguish between the two conditions.

The same can be said for self-injurious behavior. They may be due to this “mind after midnight”, but also due to the fact that, with everyone asleep, people awake may feel that they have no one to turn to relieve a feeling of loneliness.

The importance of sleep.
In any case, this theory fits with what we already know: that both the human body and the human brain need proper rest. Hence, many experts try to find ways to help us sleep better and get the most out of it.

Although this often translates into increasingly effective medications with fewer side effects, it also implies a series of resources at our disposal to sleep longer and better (even more important in these months of intense heat). For example, maintaining regular hours and trying to take advantage of the night to sleep, going to bed between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. is common advice, which precisely fits with the new proposed theory.

Maintaining other healthy habits, such as a balanced diet and exercise (although spacing it at least a couple of hours before bedtime) are also tips that we can find regularly. Also to avoid screens and lights before going to bed (even the music), since they can trick our body into thinking that it is earlier than it really is.

Image | Megan te Boekhorst

Our sleep and our well-being are closely intertwined. A new theory of the “mind after midnight” has been proposed by…

Our sleep and our well-being are closely intertwined. A new theory of the “mind after midnight” has been proposed by…

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