You would not know it by its diminutive size, but the brain’s amygdala packs a powerful punch. When the bedside clock blinks over to 3 a.m., and you are still wide awake, staring at the ceiling, you might be wondering do things really go bump in the night? Did you just hear a noise downstairs? Will your decision to hold junior back in kindergarten affect his academic career?
Anxiety Activates the Amygdala
Whether a recent horror movie left you tense and fearful of encountering a deranged home intruder or you are worried by anxiety over recent life choices, the amygdala portion of the brain activates. Scientists consider it the seat of the fight-or-flight response and any unresolved stress can cause it to react. In the past, the ability to choose wisely between engaging in conflict and avoiding altercations aided the human race in survival. Now, or at least at 3 a.m., an anxiety-driven amygdala response results in a sleepless night.
Nightmares? Blame Them on the Amygdala, Too
Medical Daily notes that this portion of the brain is also activated during recorded nightmares of sleepers. Because of its ability to create a fear response while awake, it continues to do so during sleep even though dreams may take on symbolic forms of fears rather than actual threats. Unfortunately, it is only a minuscule step from suffering vivid nightmares or anxiety attacks after lights out and beginning to expect them to become a regular occurrence.
Training the Body to Rest so the Brain Follows Suit
It is possible to train your body to fall asleep and prevent the amygdala from having you lie awake through the night. Avoid caffeine and alcohol before going to bed. Reach for decaffeinated tea instead. Shut off the computer and the TV; a better choice is a book that is rich in descriptive details but lacks action and excitement. Practice deep breathing techniques to help the body relax. If you anticipate that unresolved issues may cost you good sleep later on, resolve problems as they occur, or write down your thoughts and feelings in a journal for later action.
So, do things really go bump in the night? No, they do not. But your imagination may take flights of fancy. Learn more about getting a good night's sleep tonight.