Episode 22


Nothing Good Happens After 2AM

In Season 1, Episode 18 of “How I Met Your Mother,” Ted relays to his kids words of wisdom from his own mother: Nothing good happens after 2am. Korean Elvis and love triangle shenanigans aside, was she really on to something?

In this episode, I discuss the risks and harms associated with a delay in the body’s internal clock, a delay in sleep/wake timing. 

When your internal clock is "delayed," your body is not programmed to fall asleep till later, sometimes much later than you really desire. This leads to sleep onset insomnia. Your body is also not ready to wake up till much later, also often later than you desire. This leads to excessive morning sleepiness. Staying up late and sleeping in late, known as a delayed sleep/wake phase, is associated with a variety of negative outcomes. 

Athletic performance significantly declines when games are played later than typical for teams across several sports. When individual athletes are awake later at night (measured by Twitter activity as a proxy), next day performance is significantly impaired. Even politicians' performance is significantly worse after a late night (again measured by Twitter activity). 

Delays in sleep/wake timing significantly increase the risk of certain cancers, including breast cancer and prostate cancer. This appears to be due to the body's decreased ability to detect early/pre-cancerous lesions before full-blown cancer appears, rather than an increase in cancer mutations from a delayed internal clock. 

Having a later bedtime and later wake up time actually causes structural changes in the brain - changes that are not harmless. These brain changes lead to more impulsivity and poor planning. Later/delayed sleep and wake timing also increases all the symptoms of the complex known as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. 

Going to bed later and waking up later also leads to an expanding waist line, worsens metabolism (including diabetes risk), and makes weight loss more difficult and slower to achieve. 

The good news is that your internal clock can be re-programmed. And correcting a misaligned internal clock not only improves sleep and daytime wakefulness, but significantly improves mood, attention, performance at work/school/athletics, and decreases chronic pain. 

Nothing good happens after 2am? Not exactly, but it is more likely that something bad will happen if you are still awake at 2am.


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