Your Brain Functions Better at Night

Have you ever experienced being mentally exhausted at school with all those long lectures bombarding you? Midterms coming up, long exams, quizzes and lots of school papers–damn, those are uh, pretty exhausting just by thinking of it. Well, I’m sure you have. That feeling just goes with all the students I know of, and I guess you can never go through life without experiencing such college moments.

EXACTLY.

Given such short time to do all these things, don’t you ever wonder why you’re more effective and efficient at night? Aside from the fact that you are indeed a crammer (don’t deny it!), you just do all the dirty work at night and even have a specific time when you feel like doing these things you need to do. #Relate!

If so, you have to give credit to this thing we call the circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm, in geek language, is any biological process that displays endogenous, entrainable oscillation of about 24 hours. In layman’s term, it is roughly the 24 hours of physiological processes of living beings — in short, your sleep and awake cycle.Well, it’s really more to it than that, but we can start there.

Since we were kids, majority of us have been trained to follow a specific routine that has been in line with the rising of sun and moon. Waking up as the sun sets and getting ready for bed once the moon peeps in, that’s what we’ve grown up with, as well as our ancestors.

It has been going on for the past thousands of years ago, that it somehow influenced different regions of the brain to act during hours of the day as a result. One specific region of the brain that will take over the limelight is the frontal cortex. Sounds familiar? It’s in our elementary science, folks!

The frontal cortex is a part of the brain that is responsible for different things that are really interesting, but for this article, let us just focus on this one thing that we hold most important — the working memory.

Let the context clues kick in! Working memory is the system where data (in the form of input) from your senses is brought into the brain, interpreted, and sorted accordingly. Everything that is perceived by the senses goes through the frontal lobe and is processed and sorted by various criteria.

Still up? We are only getting started! When you are starting to get tired  — let’s say, before bedtime or very late at night writing a blog (like me!) — that’s the result of your body producing chemical that block dopamine receptors in your brain. A chemical like adenosine, which interacts with the central nervous system and offsets dopamine’s reward or energetic signal, is produced throughout the day to interact with the dopamine receptors and producers. The result? That feeling of exhaustion or simple the lack of energy.

The thing is, your frontal cortex happens to be a major dopamine hub. In fact, it is the hub for processing dopamine.

And so, as a result of burning all your energy during the day and having your body produce just the right amount of chemicals to tell your brain, “Hey! Why not get some sleep!” your frontal cortex starts to lose steam. But hey, you’re not a computer so it doesn’t just shut down completely, however; it definitely isn’t involved in processing everything around you.

Snooze.

Without our frontal lobe to continuously focus on new, incoming information from the world around you, other other parts of the brain (the ones that still have a little bit of energy left in them) are free to run like normal and generally exercise those ‘brain muscles’.

Exhaustion, it appears, can spur creativity and burst genius ideas, because frankly, you just don’t give a damn. Instead of worrying about perfecting whatever it is that you’re working on (a big presentation due tomorrow, a thesis title, a blog post, etc.) your brain ends up running wild, accepting ideas, and paths of thinking that might otherwise be stopped in your frontal lobe and stamped with a big ‘not ideal’ stamp!

An ideal thesis title comes your way while in the middle of the listening to Ed Sheeran’s Multiply album or while watching the ants crawl up your dormitory window? Doesn’t matter, the frontal lobe has checked out, so to speak.

Well of course, this response takes place at night typically because that’s when you’ve trained your body to be tired.

Disclaimer: There are still people out there who aren’t more creative or functional at night (and likely not tired at night, or even the type of person who doesn’t sleep, I don’t know, but you get my point!), so it is important to remember this vital tidbit of wisdom: Your creative response at night has nothing to do with the time of day, but everything to do with your energy cycle.

You get tired at night? Your frontal lobe is missing some vital energy signals, and therefore you’re going to end up slightly more creative than usual.

Here’s a trivia: well, not surprisingly enough, the same creative response your brain has to getting tired is the exact same effect of alcohol.

Getting interesting, ey? Alcohol inhibits the frontal cortex, almost the same as exhaustion. If you want to duplicate the effect of exhaustion in your creativity, all you need is a few drinks!

Familiar with this?

Not too many, of course. Mainly because the more you drink, the less other critical thinking functions have to keep going. The trick is just to have the right amounts of alcohol. For men and women, having 1-2 drinks at most is considered good. Trust me, I’m a nutritionist!

Hmm, but what if you’re not the type that goes into drinking? Thou shall not fret. Just work on getting yourself worn down during the day and by night time, open up your work and see if any creative ideas come about.

According to additional research, you can produce similar effects just by being bored. Maybe that’s why we can doodle awesome drawings during Math classes, well that explains it!

Now, while exhaustion and drinking (and general boredom) are all great for creativity and functionality, it’s important to note that — because they’re blocking your working memory and brain’s ability to sort through information — both should be avoided when it comes to crunch time (or operating heavy machinery, or driving, or doing anything that requires analytic thinking).

If you want the reverse effect, then go grab a cup or two of coffee! Viola!

It should go without saying: I do not approve irresponsible and illegal, most especially underage drinking (freaking freshmen, please don’t blame me!). Don’t be stupid in an attempt to be creative. Ha!

SOURCES: University of Adelaide. “Brains Learn Better At Night.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 August 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070817213343.htm>

Categories: #experience

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