Where does the sense of self-control that usually keeps us going during the day go? Why does it leave us in the dead of night?
Polina is irreplaceable at work. She solves dozens of small and large problems every day. She is also raising three children, and relatives believe that she is also carrying a husband who is not too quick. Polina does not complain, she even likes such a life. Business meetings, training, “burning” contracts, checking homework, building a summer house, parties with her husband’s friends – this whole daily kaleidoscope is formed in her head as if by itself.
But sometimes she wakes up at four in the morning … almost in a panic. He sorts through in his head everything urgent, “burning”, undone. How could she take on so much? She will not have time, she will not cope – simply because physically it is not-possible! She sighs, trying to fall asleep, it seems to her that all her countless affairs are falling on her in the twilight of the bedroom, pressing on her chest … And then the usual morning comes. Standing under the shower, Polina no longer understands what happened to her at night. Not the first year she lives in extreme mode! She becomes herself again, “real” – cheerful, businesslike.
At the consultation, Philip talks about the fact that he has advanced cancer. He is a mature, balanced person, a realist and looks at life philosophically. He knows that his time is running out, and therefore he decided to use every moment left to him in the way that he did not often do before his illness. Philip feels the love and support of loved ones: his wife, children, friends – he lived a good life and does not regret anything. He is sometimes visited by insomnia – usually between two and four o’clock in the morning. Half asleep, he feels confusion and fear build up in him. He is overcome by doubts: “What if the doctors I trust so much won’t be able to help me when the pain starts?” And he wakes up completely … And in the morning everything changes – like Polina, Philip is also perplexed: reliable specialists are involved in him, the treatment is thought out perfectly, his life goes exactly as he organized it. Why could he lose his presence of mind?
I have always been fascinated by those dark hours of the soul. Where does the sense of self-control that usually keeps us going during the day go? Why does it leave us in the dead of night?
The brain, left idle, begins to worry about the future, falls into anxiety, like a mother hen who has lost sight of her chickens.
According to cognitive psychologists, on average each of us has about twice as many positive thoughts (“I’m good”, “I can rely on my friends”, “I can do it”) than negative ones (“I’m a failure”, ” no one helps me”, “I’m good for nothing”). The normal ratio is two to one, and if you strongly deviate from it, a person runs the risk of falling either into the hypertrophied optimism characteristic of manic states, or, conversely, into the pessimism characteristic of depression. Why does the shift towards negative thoughts so often occur in the middle of the night, even if we don’t suffer from depression in our normal daytime lives?
Traditional Chinese medicine calls this phase of sleep “lung hour.” And the region of the lungs, according to the Chinese poetic idea of the human body, is responsible for our moral strength and emotional balance.
Western science offers many other explanations for the mechanism of the birth of our nocturnal anxieties. It is known that the brain, left idle, begins to worry about the future. He becomes anxious like a mother hen who has lost sight of her chicks. It has been proven that any activity that requires our attention and organizes our thoughts improves our well-being. And in the dead of night, the brain, firstly, is not busy with anything, and secondly, it is too tired to solve tasks that require concentration.
Another version. Researchers from Harvard University studied changes in human heart rate throughout the day. It turned out that at night the balance between the sympathetic (responsible for the speed of physiological processes) and parasympathetic (controlling inhibition) nervous systems is temporarily disturbed. It seems that this is what makes us more vulnerable, prone to various malfunctions in the body – like asthma attacks or heart attacks. Indeed, these two pathologies often appear at night. And since the state of our heart is connected with the work of the brain structures responsible for emotions, such temporary disorganization can also cause night terrors.
We cannot escape from the rhythms of our biological mechanisms. And everyone has to deal with inner turmoil in one way or another during the dark hours of the soul.
But if you know that this sudden anxiety is just a pause programmed by the body, it will be easier to survive it. Maybe it’s enough just to remember that the sun will rise in the morning, and the night ghosts will no longer seem so terrible to us.