Regarding the “midnight mind” theory why you shouldn’t stay up at night

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It is not only the outside world that is shrouded in darkness at night. Scientists note that our minds are more prone to negative thinking during the night than during the day, and this can have serious consequences for our mental health. In a new study, researchers have introduced this effect under the ominous name “midnight mind” to raise awareness and call for more research into the physiological and psychological processes that begin to control our brains in the depths of the night.

The human brain thrives on light

Unlike rats and owls, humans are not nocturnal creatures. We have evolved to be diurnal or active during the day, and this is easy to demonstrate by studying the circadian rhythm – the 24-hour cycle that determines wakefulness and sleep – which is clearly geared in humans toward sleeping in the dark. The brain can tell when it is night based on the amount of light it detects through the eye over time.

When it gets dark, the brain floods the body with hormones that lower blood pressure, stress levels, body temperature, and other things that generally make us feel sleepy and prepare us for sleep. On the flip side, morning sunlight flips the chemical switches that keep us more alert and awake.

When this natural rhythm is disrupted, such as staying up late at night, a host of dire consequences can occur, including sleep disturbances. Over time, it can make sleeping difficult and leave you constantly fatigued throughout the day, as well as affecting memory, mood, physical health, and general function.

But while most research has focused on examining what a lack of sleep at night does to us the next day, little attention has been paid to what actually happens in those instances when we’re fully awake in the middle of the night.

says Elizabeth Klerman, MD, PhD, a researcher in the Department of Neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and senior author of the research.

“There are millions of people who are awake in the middle of the night, and there is fairly good evidence that their brains don’t function as well as they do during the day,” she added. “I appeal to more research to look into that, because their health and safety, as well as the health of others, is affected.”

Klerman and colleagues reviewed a number of publicly available studies and statistics that show how staying active after dark can affect our brain systems, and thus our behaviour. The evidence they’ve collected so far suggests that staying up late at night makes us more biased toward negative emotions and more likely to take risks that could jeopardize our physical well-being.

For example, suicides are more likely to occur during the night hours than during the day. Murders and other violent crimes are most common at night, as are the use of illegal drugs, as are unhealthy eating habits such as snacking on carbohydrate-rich foods in the middle of the night.

It seems like a lot of unhealthy options come out at night to haunt us. This observation led Klerman and colleagues to propose a new hypothesis called the “midnight mind,” which argues that there may be a biological basis for all these reported nocturnal negative effects.

The idea is that things like attentional biases, negative affect, altered reward processing, and frontal lobe inhibition interact to promote behavioral disorganization and even psychological disorders. Researchers cite studies showing how circadian rhythm affects 24-hour neural activity, affecting our mood and the way we interact with the world. For example, research shows that positive influence, that is, the tendency to view information in a positive light, is highest during the morning, while negative influence is highest at night.

Research also shows that the human brain produces more dopamine at night, an important neurotransmitter that plays a role in many important body functions, including movement, memory, and pleasant reward and stimulation. This influx of dopamine can hijack the brain’s reward and stimulation system, making us more prone to risky and impulsive behavior, whether it’s snacking on a huge bucket of ice cream at 12:00 a.m. or shooting heroin at night after resisting cravings while today.

Almost everyone has probably had to face the night blues at least at some point in their lives, a strange dark hour when your worldview becomes narrower and more negative. The world has suddenly become much smaller than it actually is which is annoying. Klerman herself is no exception.

“While part of my mind knew I would eventually fall asleep, as I lay there watching the clock tick, you were by my side,” she recalls.

Then I thought, ‘What if I’m hooked? I’ll be outside trying to get drugs now. I later realized that this might also be relevant if it was suicidal tendencies, substance abuse or other impulsive disorders, gambling, or other addictive behaviors. How can I prove it? ”

At the moment, the midnight mind is only an unconfirmed hypothesis, but it is concerning and deserves more attention. Ironically, in order to investigate the matter, there must be some researchers who will need to work after midnight to supervise the test subjects. This might include, for example, taking fMRI images of the brains of volunteers with interrupted sleep cycles.

“Most researchers don’t want to be relayed in the middle of the night. Most research assistants and technicians don’t want to be up in the middle of the night,” Klerman admits.

“But we have millions of people who either have to be up at night or awake at night involuntarily. Some of us are going to have to feel uncomfortable so we can better prepare them, treat them, or do whatever we can to help.”

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