Why do so many deep conversations take place late at night?
Whether at childhood sleepovers, in dorms, or perhaps, lately over FaceTime and Zoom, we’ve all had one of those freeing and heartfelt talks at some point.
When it’s late at night (or maybe even in the early AM for the night owls), people prepare for sleep. Given a choice, most people only interact with people they already trust. You likely wouldn’t sleep under the same roof as someone you mistrusted or disliked, so perhaps this preference counts as a confounding variable.
Regardless, at night, people have more time to think about those deep emotions and the thoughts they may have suppressed out of necessity during the workday or school day. But what’s the real reason, explained in layman scientific terms, behind the phenomenon of deep late-night conversations?
Here’s what I found:
It increases impulsiveness, making us more willing to be vulnerable—kind of sounds like what alcohol supposedly does (although I cannot personally attest to this). It’s hard to have an in-depth conversation without letting our guards down, and it seems like fatigue speeds things along and sets the scene like candles and rose petals at a romantic dinner.
Energy Level > Time of Day
It’s not the time that matters, but your energy level (think, very tired) when facilitating intimate conversations. Makes sense, right? For most of us mortals, it just so happens that our energy levels fall late at night. Your neocortex carries out advanced cognitive functions throughout the day (learning and logical problem-solving) and suppresses the brain’s more primal parts. However, after a long day of use, the neocortex and the frontal cortex fatigue and activity dwindles. Evolutionarily older parts of the brain (including emotional behavior specialized circuits) come out to play, no longer suppressed. Incidentally, this may be why people’s creativity spikes late at night.
Shift in Brain Activity
The amygdala, an older brain structure, controls spontaneous emotional responses. As you fall asleep (or think of falling asleep), the production of two neurotransmitters, Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) and serotonin, increases. This slows logical thinking. Although GABA has several functions, its most relevant role for this particular query is relieving anxiety. Serotonin can also reduce stress and increase relaxation. Meanwhile, the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) becomes more active, facilitating ideal feelings of relaxation and lowered inhibitions for vulnerable heart-to-hearts.
In summary, when you’re fatigued, the neocortex and frontal cortex no longer have enough energy to strongly suppress older parts of the brain. A less suppressed amygdala allows the emotions involved in those philosophical and meaningful late-night talks to run wild. Meanwhile, increased GABA and serotonin production and PNS activity assists with relaxation, which helps with emotional vulnerability and openness.
Of course, all of this psychology assumes that this fatigue-induced relaxation does not make us first fall asleep before any deep conversation can begin. Sound off in the comments. I’m a psychology enthusiast, by no means an expert. I would welcome the opinions of psychology experts and undergraduate or graduate students studying psychology.
Do you love deep late night conversations?
Yes, they feel so therapeutic 😀
No, lol—too tired to talk :/ at night.