Neurologists have told how our brain changes when we do not sleep after midnight

When people stay awake during the biological circadian night—after midnight for most people—neurophysiological changes occur in the brain that affect how we interact with the world. They are especially strongly associated with reward systems, decision making and information processing. A scientific article about this was published in the journal Frontiers in Network Physiology.

Neurologists note that these changes can make you more prone to a negative perception of the world, bad habits and making impulsive decisions, including those related to addictions, without fully understanding the consequences.

The basic idea is that from a global evolutionary perspective, your internal biological circadian clock is set to processes that promote sleep rather than waking up after midnight.

Elizabeth B. Clerman

MD, Investigator, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, and Senior Author

Clerman describes his work as a call for scientists to conduct new global studies to better understand how these circadian differences affect behavior, decision making, and nighttime productivity.

Photo: Mikhail Nilov / Pexels

The findings could have a variety of implications for people who need to stay awake at night to work, including pilots, medical professionals, police and military personnel. Research can also lead to the development of new strategies to reduce violent crime, substance use disorders, suicide and other harmful behaviors.

Millions of people stay awake in the middle of the night, and there is pretty strong evidence that their brains don’t work as well as they do during the day. I am calling for more research to look into this because it affects their health and safety as well as the health of others.

Elizabeth B. Clerman

Clerman added that the circadian influence on our brain’s neural activity changes over the course of 24 hours, leading to differences in how we perceive and respond to the world around us.

For example, the tendency to view information in a positive light reaches its highest point in the morning, while at night people tend to see everything in a negative light.

In addition, our body naturally produces more dopamine at night, which can alter the reward and motivation system and increase the likelihood of risky behavior. The consequences of this can be completely unpredictable – you can accidentally get drunk, misdiagnose a patient, crash an oil tanker on rocks, or do something even worse, depending on the type of your activity.

The importance of a deep study of this issue is difficult to overestimate, the scientists added. This has been discussed in a number of previous studies as well.

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