You should not stay awake after midnight, research reveals — here's why

“Is it a bad thing to be awake when reason sleeps?”
Deniz Yildiran
Person awake at night
Person awake at nightrecep-bg/iStock
  • Scientists warn that human minds are not made to stay awake past midnight.
  • A new thesis called Mind After Midnight suggests that humans are more prone to negative stimuli after midnight.
  • Reason sleeps, and so should the human mind.

Do you ever feel at midnight like you're suffocating due to the unprecedented flow of thoughts, and the world is falling apart when you put your head on the pillow, looking at the ceiling wide awake, even when you had a great day?

If so, don't think that you're going mad.

New research published in Frontiers in Network Physiology puts forward a new hypothesis called 'Mind After Midnight', which suggests that the human mind becomes more susceptible to negative thoughts and destructive behavior past midnight if in an alert state.

According to the research, it was already a well-known fact that the loss of sleep, or sleep deprivation involving nocturnal wakefulness, led to cognitive and behavioral dysregulation and how our brains functioned the other day. However, recent findings reveal that changes in cognition and behavior occur when the individual stays awake at midnight.

From an evolutionary perspective, it's relatable that humans were better hunters during the day than at night. While at night, it was better to get some rest. However, fearing the risk of getting hunted during the night was inevitable, with which scientists associate the increased negative stimuli at night, Science Alert reported.

"There are millions of people who are awake in the middle of the night, and there's fairly good evidence that their brain is not functioning as well as it does during the day," says neurologist Elizabeth Klerman from Harvard University.

"My plea is for more research to look at that, because their health and safety, as well as that of others, is affected."

Klerman reveals that the circadian rhythm influence on brain activities changes over 24 hours which affects the way we process our experiences and respond to the outside world.

Basically, we get to respond more positively during the day than we do at night due to the fact that the circadian influence peaks in the morning and is at its lowest at night.

Additionally, our bodies produce more dopamine at night, which can change our reward and motivation system that could have us engage in risky behavior, Klerman says.

More inclined to negative stimuli at night

To reinforce their point, the authors of the study come up with two examples. One is of a heroin addict who's better at stopping their cravings during the day but cannot help surrendering to it at night. The other is a college student suffering from insomnia who starts feeling lonely and desperate as the condition continues.

“The basic idea is that from a high level, global, evolutionary standpoint, your internal biological circadian clock is tuned towards processes that promote sleep, not wakefulness, after midnight,” adds Klerman.

The study also associates nighttime with an increase in impulsive and maladaptive behaviors such as suicide or self-harm, violent crime, alcohol or other substance use, and food intake.

For example, the research taps into another research conducted in 2016 and reveals that the risk of suicide was three-fold greater between midnight and 6 AM than any other time of day.

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