[Aug 6, 2022: Brian Burns, Massachusetts General Hospital]
Most people experience neurophysiological changes in the brain after midnight that alter the way we interact with the world. (Image credit: iStock Photo)
If you’ve ever stayed up late angrily commenting on Twitter posts, eaten a whole pint of ice cream out of a can, downed another bottle of wine, or just been sad, you’ve been on your head past midnight. Can identify with hypotheses.
Hypothesis detailed in a recent article Limits in network psychologysuggests that when people are awake during the biological circadian night – after midnight in most people – neurophysiological changes occur in the brain that alter the way we interact with the world, particularly reward processing, impulsivity. Actions related to control and information processing.
These changes can cause you to view the world more negatively, engage in harmful behaviors, and make impulsive decisions (related to addictive behaviors such as gambling and substance abuse) without fully thinking about the consequences.
“The basic idea is that from a higher-level, global, evolutionary perspective, your internal biological circadian clock is aligned with processes that promote sleep, and not just after midnight,” says Elizabeth B. 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 paper.
Klerman describes the hypothesis as a way for researchers to conduct new studies to better understand how these circadian differences affect nocturnal behavior, decision-making, and job performance — and to identify the strategies people employ. can help you cope.
The findings could have far-reaching implications for those who need to be awake at night for work, including pilots, medical workers, police officers and military personnel. Research may also lead to new strategies to reduce violent crime, substance use disorders, suicide and other harmful behaviors.
“There are millions of people who wake up in the middle of the night, and there’s pretty good evidence that their brains don’t function as well during the day,” Klerman says. “My plea is to do more research on this as their health and safety, as well as that of others, is affected.”
Bad things happen after dark
Previous research has shown that people are at greater risk of engaging in harmful behaviors such as suicide, violent crime and substance abuse at night.
For example, Michael L. Perlis, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Upen’s Perelman School of Medicine and co-author of the Mind After Midnight Hypothesis, found that if you adjust for the number of people awake at any given time . , the likelihood of suicide during the night is statistically higher.
Nighttime homicides and violent crime are also more common, as are the risks of illegal or abusive use of substances such as cannabis, alcohol and opioids.
Our choice of dinner at night is also unhealthy as we chase more carbohydrates, lipids and processed foods and often consume more calories than necessary.
Why do all these bad practices come out at night?
There are some obvious answers – for one, it’s much easier to commit crimes under cover of darkness, and fewer people wake up at night to help us keep our behavior in check. But it probably also has a biological basis.
Klarman explains that the circadian effect on neural activity in our brain changes over the course of 24 hours, resulting in differences in how we process and respond to the world.
For example, positive affect—the tendency to view information in a positive light—is highest in the morning, when circadian influences are aligned with wakefulness, and lowest at night, when circadian influences are aligned. is set to sleep.
In parallel, negative affect—the tendency to see information in a negative or threatening light—is highest at night.
Your body also naturally produces more dopamine at night, which can alter your reward and motivational systems and increase your chances of risky behavior.
This biased interpretation of information is then relayed to the parts of the brain responsible for decision making, which normally work to control negative emotional distractions and focus on goal-oriented behavior.
But even these parts of the brain are subject to circadian-influenced changes that can affect decision-making, function, and prioritization.
Suddenly, your worldview narrows and becomes more negative, you start making bad decisions, and the mental map you create of the world around you may no longer match reality.
Result? You could drink too much alcohol, miss an important diagnosis on a patient, ram an oil tanker into rocks, or worse.
Clareman experienced some of these feelings while struggling to fall asleep after suffering severe jet lag during a trip to Japan.
“While part of my brain knew I would eventually fall asleep as I lay there watching the clock tick, I was beside myself,” she recalls.
“Then I thought, ‘What if I was a drug addict? I would try to get drugs now.’ I later realized that it might still be relevant when it came to suicidal thoughts or substance abuse or other impulse disorders, gambling or other addictive behaviors. How can I prove that?”
put the hypothesis to the test
The obligation to provide proof is important here. It’s important to note that Mind After Midnight is still a hypothesis – one that needs to be confirmed by carefully constructed research studies.
Ironically, the best way to gather this data without the confounding effects of sleep loss would be to require researchers and study staff to be awake and work after midnight, for example by capturing fMRI images of study participants who experienced sleep loss. Cycles are carefully adjusted to perform nocturnal awakenings or other protocols.
“Most researchers don’t want to be called in the middle of the night. Most scientists and technicians don’t want to be up in the middle of the night,” admits Klerman.
“But we have millions of people who have to stay up at night or wake up involuntarily at night. Some of us are presented with discomfort so that we can better prepare them, treat them, or do anything to help.”
About the Mass General Research Institute
Research at Massachusetts General Hospital is connected through more than 30 different departments, centers and institutions. Our research includes basic, laboratory-based science; clinical trials to test new drugs, devices and diagnostic tools; and community and population-based research to improve health outcomes and address inequalities in care between populations. See Bench Press, Mass. General Research Institute blog.
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