With today’s always-on culture and the demands of work and school extended by remote access, not to mention the ever-colorful allure of digital nightlife, many end up burning the midnight oil on a regular basis. Studies have found that routinely staying up late can damage the brain and cause symptoms such as memory loss.
How can we reduce the side effects of staying up late? Practicing proper diet and massage can help relieve the discomforts caused by not getting enough rest.
Neural Effects of Staying Up
Sleep is the time for the body to repair and recuperate and is extremely important for the brain. If you often stay up late, your sleep schedule may be affected, leading to sleep deprivation. Chronic sleep deprivation can impair memory, learning, and concentration.
Various research suggests that chronic sleep deprivation and staying up late may lead to a reduction of neurons in the brain, which are the cellular building blocks of the brain that process and transmit electronic signals. A drop in neurons can undermine memory and cognitive function.
The research team of the University of Melbourne in Australia conducted a seven-year follow-up survey on more than 200 young people. In addition to answering the questionnaires several times during those seven years, the participants also underwent two brain scans to check their brain development.
From brain scan records, the researchers found a solid link between staying up late and the brain’s white matter. Young people who were “night owls” had less white matter in their brains than early morning risers. The researchers also wrote that teens who start staying up late at about age 12 or 13 are more likely to develop behavioral problems years later, including increased aggression, a tendency to break rules, and antisocial behavior.
A new U.S. study found that if you stay up all night just once, your brain will age one or two years overnight, although the study also found that the effect is reversible with recovery sleep.
Effect on Emotions
Sleep deprivation and staying up late can negatively affect mood, increase the risk of depression and anxiety, and reduce mental health and overall well-being.
Lack of sleep and staying up late can cause undue stress on the body, which in turn affects brain function. This can lead to chronic fatigue, anxiety, insomnia, and other physical and mental health problems.
In conclusion, chronically staying up late may negatively affect brain health. If you need to stay up late, it’s recommended to avoid doing so continuously and ensure that you catch up on sleep as soon as possible afterward.
A Theory of Balance
Our time awake and asleep reflects the concept of yin and yang in pre-communist Chinese culture.
Yin and yang is a core concept in traditional Chinese culture that refers to the interdependent duality inherent in all creation, from male and female to hot and cold. The concept of yin and yang predates Western scientific insights about phenomena such as the essential interplay of positive and negative charges in an atom or the pairing of releasing and inhibiting hormones that stimulate and suppress certain activities in the body.
In this framework, daytime is yang and nighttime yin. Balancing the yin and yang energy in the human body is understood as the key to good health. Western medical science refers to the body’s effort to maintain homeostasis. This is the ongoing physiological process the body uses to maintain optimal function by seeking a state of stability.
Staying up late will disrupt such stability and create an imbalance in the body. This causes an extra burden to other organs beyond the brain, including the spleen, stomach, heart, liver, and more.
Conditioning Options Advocated by Traditional Chinese Medicine
For the physical discomfort caused by staying up late, the following can be helpful.
When you need to stay up late, you can increase your nutrition in certain ways as appropriate. Choosing foods that are easy to digest and high in protein and vitamins, such as tofu, fish, lean meat, and vegetables, is always helpful.
Avoid eating spicy, greasy, and irritating foods, such as chili, ginger, coffee, and the like, so as not to cause an extra burden on the gastrointestinal tract. It’s also wise to avoid overeating and excessive alcohol consumption.
Medicinal Diet Conditioning
You can drink soup made with Chinese medicinal herbs, such as Polygonatum sibiricum, wolfberry, Schisandra chinensis, and Dimocarpus longan, which can regulate the balance of yin and yang in the body, enhance immunity, and improve sleep quality. Chinese herbal tonics, such as ginseng, astragalus, and angelica, can also be used.
Traditional Chinese medicine massage can stimulate the acupoints connected with the brain, promote blood circulation, and improve nutrient supply to the brain. Some commonly used acupoints are Fengchi (GB 20), Baihui (DU 20), and Yintang (EX-HN3).
Foot Bath Conditioning
After staying up late, you can soak your feet in hot water to promote blood circulation, relieve fatigue, and help you sleep.
Moderate Exercise Before Going to Bed
After staying up late, perform some light exercise, such as walking or yoga, which can help you relax and enter sleep easier.
Reading or listening to music can help maintain a stable mood. Staying up late can cause mood swings and affect the balance of yin and yang in the body. It’s recommended to maintain a positive attitude, relax your mind, and take appropriate rest so you can reduce excessive fatigue and mental stress.
Chinese Medicinal Herbs to Help Recuperation
If staying up late leads to memory loss, you can try the following:
Ginseng is a popular tonic found in many Chinese medicinal recipes. It has the benefits of nourishing qi, replenishing essence, nourishing blood, and invigorating the spleen. It can enhance the body’s immunity and anti-fatigue ability and is known to exhibit some positive effects on the symptoms of dementia.
A double-blind controlled study published in Psychopharmacology found that middle-aged people had their memory (both working and long-term memory) significantly improved after taking capsules containing ginseng extract.
Uncaria tomentosa (commonly called cat’s claw) is a Chinese medicinal herb that can clear heat and detoxify, promote blood circulation and remove blood stasis, relax tendons, and activate collaterals. It can improve the blood circulation and metabolic function of the brain and has a certain therapeutic effect on brain diseases.
Rosemary is used both as a common seasoning and a traditional Chinese medicinal herb. It can relax tendons and activate collaterals, clear heat, detoxify, promote blood circulation, and improve the symptoms of brain diseases.
A randomized double-blind controlled study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that taking an appropriate amount of rosemary powder can help improve cognitive ability in the elderly. However, more than 6 grams (0.04 ounces) per day will have a negative effect on cognitive ability.
Corydalis, a traditional Chinese medicinal herb, can promote blood circulation and remove blood stasis, relieve pain and itching, relax tendons, and activate collaterals. It can improve blood circulation in the brain and reduce cerebral ischemia and hypoxia, and it has a certain therapeutic effect on brain diseases.
Ganoderma lucidum is a traditional Chinese medicinal herb that can invigorate qi, nourish the blood, calm the nerves, and strengthen the heart. It can enhance the body’s immunity and anti-fatigue ability and can help improve the symptoms of dementia.
In short, traditional Chinese medicine holds that for people who often stay up late, the key to regulating the body is to maintain emotional stability, properly adjust their diets, supplement nutrition, and maintain physical activity. It should also be noted that if you feel unwell or have other symptoms, you should seek medical treatment.
*Some herbs mentioned in this article may be unfamiliar, but they’re generally available in Asian supermarkets.
Note: Because different people have different physiques, it’s recommended to consult your doctor or traditional Chinese medicine experts before starting any health regimen.