Why you worry more at night: ‘Fear won’t have a brake’ | Right away

Uncertain times worry us and we worry – especially at night. How is this possible, and how is it that things often appear bigger at night? Five questions for the brain researcher Erik Scherder.

Why are we worried?

“Why the tobbing is not quite clear. Worryingism is probably a reaction to the uncertainty. By nature, we tend to find solutions to problems. There is nothing wrong with that in itself. It only gets annoying if you stick to a negative thought and don’t get away with it when we get into worry mode.”

How do we get into worry mode?

“This has to do with two networks in our brains. First, the standard network, a kind of defocus network at the level of our subconscious, in which creativity, problem-solving ability and the extent to which we are aware of our own thoughts are located. When at rest, the default network “intervenes”. That’s why you often get the best ideas in the shower or come up with solutions.”

“But near the standard network in our brain is another network, in which, for example, guilt and self-reflection are located. These two networks come together when they are worried. The systems will work closely together. In other words, the default network makes you start daydreaming, but connects it to the other system that there is a negative charge.”

“If I have a headache during the day, I just have a headache. But if I have a headache at night, I immediately think I have a brain tumor.”

Erik Scherder, brain researcher

Why are we particularly worried at night?

“At night, blood pressure drops, breathing slows down and all kinds of hormonal processes begin to calm down so you can sleep. The brain also gets a pause and that means that the default network is activated. The contact with the negative network is more likely to lurk.”

Why does it look worse at night than during the day?

“This is because the part in the brain where our emotions and thoughts are regulated becomes less active even at night, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to sleep. This means that control over fear areas is much less. The brake is off. As a result, problems and fears at night seem to be much greater than during the day.”

“Exercise massages the brain.”

Erik Scherder, brain researcher

“Everyone recognizes it. That’s how I am. If I have a headache during the day, I just have a headache. But if I have a headache at night, I immediately think I have a brain tumor.”

What can we do about concerns?

“An interesting study on hiking in nature has been made and disturbing. Regular walking in the forest or in any other natural environment, it seems to significantly reduce the more disturbing behavior. Nature calms your system, including natural sounds. And walking improves blood flow, including the brain. Exercise massages the brain.”

“Studies of young and older people who were inactive and moved more show that exercise improves different brain functions. In particular, checking your impulses, filtering out relevant and irrelevant information makes it easier to search between things that do something and don’t matter: you can better put things into perspective. An important feature to stop the negative flow of thought that worries bring with it.”

Professor Erik Scherder is a clinical psychologist and brain scientist at the Free University of Amsterdam.