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Going to Bed Angry: Helping your Brain Work Through Conflict

At some point in our lives we’ve all been told to never go to bed angry. Some say it stores those negative emotions in your long term memory, some say it’ll disturb your sleep patterns, others say it sets you up for a crummy day. It is a lovely thing to think about — peacefully resolving conflict at a decent hour and then happily drifting off to sleep. And while no one would disagree that it’s ideal to live life that way, in reality, it may not always be possible, or in the very least, it may not always be most effective. brain

Here’s something to consider:

There’s a part of your brain called the prefrontal cortex; it’s up around your forehead and is one of the last parts of the brain to finish developing. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for things like planning, focusing attention, impulse control, and emotion regulation.

When you get into an argument, your blood pressure may rise, your heartbeat may speed up, you may even begin to sweat, and these bodily changes signal to your brain that you’re in danger (even though you may not ACTUALLY be in danger). When your brain feels threatened, it can shut off communication with that prefrontal cortex (that part that helps stop you from yelling or punching a hole in the wall) and goes straight to the fight, flight, or freeze part of the brain. In an argument, fight, flight, or freeze may look like raising your voice, walking away, or disengaging. When this happens, and your prefrontal cortex is no longer engaged, your brain is less effective in finding solutions, compromising, or communicating effectively.

So what can you do? Take a break. For many people it takes about 20-30 minutes for your body to calm down and for your brain to feel safe and reconnect with the prefrontal cortex. If you find yourself getting “heated” or in an argument that you feel is going in circles, it can actually be advantageous to hit pause, get some space to relax, and reconvene; but that’s the key: reconvene. Taking a break doesn’t mean walking away and dropping it altogether. Come back when you’re calm and try again, this time with that prefrontal cortex in tact.

Sometimes we find ourselves in arguments lasting into the early hours of the morning and that age-old adage “Never go to bed angry” is running through our head. While some stand firm in that belief, sometimes taking a break may do you some good, whether it’s 20 minutes, or a full 8 hours.

For the visual learners, here’s a video of Dr. Dan Siegel explaining the parts of the brain using a “handy” model:

Written by Elise Browne, MS

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By | 2017-11-13T13:34:38+00:00 November 13th, 2017|Blog|0 Comments