How bad is pulling an all-nighter?

Americans have more incentive to stay up all night that ever before. With social media to browse, email to check, Netflix to binge-watch and chat rooms for every subject, many people have decided that yawning a little in the morning is an acceptable price to pay for a night on the Internet. And that doesn’t even count those people who are pulling an all-nighter to finish work, attend a party, or deal with other circumstances. 

So today we’re asking the question that perhaps no one wants to know the answer to: what does staying up all night do to your health? 

How bad is one sleepless night? 

What does an all-nighter do to your body? Read our list below to learn why sleeping at night is a good idea. 

The Negative Effects of Poor Sleep

Your immune defenses come down

Sleeping jump-starts our immune systems to ward off illness and fight infection. When we sleep, the body releases proteins called cytokines, which are an important part of the immune system. When your sleep levels are reduced, your immune system produces fewer cytokines AND fewer antibodies1. Skipping a night of sleep could mean that you’re making your body vulnerable to that cold that’s been going around. 

You’re hurting your brain

Cramming for a test? Bad idea. During sleep, your brain converts short-term memory into long-term memory. You’re pushing off that process when you put off sleep. Plus, your brain needs a sufficient amount of sleep to optimize attention and concentration.Even more alarmingly, a study conducted in the Journal SLEEP found that after just one night of sleep deprivation, patients began to experience loss of brain matter2. Yikes!

There’s no point studying the information if you can’t focus enough to remember it during the test!

You reach for the junk food

Studies have shown that when you’re running low on sleep, you are more attracted to high calorie food and are more prone to overeat. You consume more calories, eat less healthy food, and may even put on weight. 

You get emotional and impulsive

Research being done at UC Berkeley and Harvard Medical School3 made a surprising discovery: people often feel happier after a night of lost sleep!

Don’t get too excited–this isn’t necessarily a good thing. The researchers noted that people who are sleep-deprived are moody, and transition quickly between positive and negative emotions. Also, the burst of euphoria that occurs after an all-nighter is accompanied by decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that controls decision-making and impulse control. Therefore, after a night of sleep people may be more likely to make impulsive decisions because they’re feeling optimistic. This can be risky, especially if you’re working in a high-stakes career like being a doctor or lawyer. 

You find out that beauty sleep is a real thing

Poor sleep causes saggy eyelids, more wrinkles, dark bags under the eyes, and swollen eyes. This translates into looking “sadder” and less attractive, according to another study in the journal SLEEP4.

What to do after an all-nighter

If you absolutely cannot avoid a sleepless night (which we don’t recommend), here are some things you can do to make it through the day and restore your body to optimal health. 

  1. Drink caffeine, but don’t go overboard. We all know that caffeine can help you feel a little perkier on a bad day. But make sure you drink a moderate amount so you don’t become overly hyper, and beware of using coffee as a chronic substitute for sleep. 
  2. Take breaks from your work to refresh your brain so that when you do sit down again, you can concentrate. 
  3. Catch a power nap. Even a short nap of around 25 minutes can boost memory and improve your concentration.
  4. Make up your sleep debt when you get the chance. If you pull an all-nighter on Friday, make sure to sleep in on Saturday to restore your body to its rested state. 

What if this isn’t a one-time thing? 

The effects of chronic sleep deprivation are very serious and can include increased risk of health conditions like hypertension and diabetes. If you are frequently cutting your sleep hours, consider prioritizing sleep in order to maintain your health. 

If you have trouble sleeping for 7-8 hours per day, or still wake up feeling groggy and re, it could be a sign of a sleep disorder.

Take the sleepiness quiz

Sources: 

1) Eric J. Olson, M.D. I’m having trouble sleeping lately. Does this increase my chances of getting sick? The Mayo Clinic. 

2) Christian Benedict, PhD, et. al. Sleep deprivation increases serum levels of NSE and S-100B in healthy men. SLEEP.

3) Pulling an all-nighter can bring on euphoria and risky behavior. Science Daily. 

4) Sleep Deprivation Affects Face Appearance, Study Shows. Huffington Post.

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Photo Credit: Lidyanne Aquino. Study study. Creative Commons license.

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