Why All-nighters Can Be Deadly

“It's just one night,” you say, but skipping on sleep may not be a good idea and may even be harmful to your health.

HuffPost put it bluntly: all-nighters are bad for you. Ditching your Zzzs, or chronically less sleep can be as deadly as driving under the influence and can even result to various illnesses, including heart stroke and diabetes. Even just one night of no sleep can make a difference, and the negative results are immediate.

Claudia Aguirre, in her TED video, illustrated what happens to the body in just one all-nighter. According to the video, our bodies rely on the generation of adenosine and melatonin produced by our innate clocks. However, forcing ourselves to stay awake by chugging a good cup of Joe, munching a fat-heavy burger or binge-watching a drama, breaks the cycle of these hormones. This, in turn, backfires. We remember less, we react more slow, and our moods dip. There's a reason why not sleeping makes one feel pale and groggy like a zombie. Worse, sleep deprivation can be traced to hormonal imbalance and immune system issues. It can even result to death.

“But I need to study for this exam,” you, as a student, might say. Well, spending time reviewing in the next 24 hours may do more damage than good, according to the sleep experts at Texas A&M College of Medicine. “Your brain loses efficiency with each hour of sleep deprivation,” reveals David Earnest, PhD. Staying up all night, in effect, makes your brain weary and therefore decreases its performance, especially in learning and memory tasks.

Most people pull all-nighters when they've fallen behind (cue procrastination), or when they're required to quickly catch up on information. But there's a bad side to it: cramming all those information into the brain only makes use of short-term memory. Unfortunately, in able to recall that knowledge in the far future, what you need is long-term memory.

“Cramming doesn't allow information to assimilate from short-term to long-term memory, which is important for performing well on a project or exam,” adds Earnest. That means that all those efforts of trying to ace an exam are wasted, just because you didn’t take your sleep.

Business Insider published an infographic that delved into study and sleep. According to it, 2/3 of students have done at least one all-nighter during a semester. Only a little over 11% have gotten enough sleep. This can be a problem, as all-nighters don't just manifest in hazy mornings. It can also affect one's grades.

One suggested option is to do a power nap. If you can't indulge in a 4-5 hour rest, a quick nap can have positive results on your brain, including a quick recharge on your brainpower and alertness. Even closing your eyes for five minutes can leave you feeling refreshed. How long should you take a nap? Try 30-minute snoozes.

The all-nighter aftermath

Just pulled an all-nighter? Expect these signs coming your way.

  1. Emotional highs and lows. This must be due to caffeine; it produces an artificial high that actually backfires on your system. It will give you a sudden state of euphoria, but you will experience a low in the next few hours. Expect short bursts of panic, anxiety and even an irregular heartbeat.
  2. Difficulty in remembering. Your working memory is affected, influencing your ability to recognize a face, or even the words your friend said five minutes ago.
  3. Inability to concentrate. Your brain's frontal lobe is badly affected by lack of sleep, which then impairs your visual, auditory and spacial attention.
  4. Stress-eating. So, you grabbed that bag of chips to keep you company. Or rewarded yourself with a chocolate bar for keeping up late at night. However, eating these carb-and-sodium-filled snacks at unhealthy times at night can add more pounds on your body.

Thinking of pulling an all-nighter? Scratch that idea. Whether you are a student gearing up for an exam, an employee beating a deadline or a mum keeping watch on her baby, getting at least that much-needed sleep is crucial for your health.

Jonas Diezun

Jonas is Co-Founder at RADICE. He is an avid reader, soccer player and loves hiking in the Munich mountains. He usually writes about productivity, sleep and the science behind both. He studied at in Munich and New York, and worked in Startups. His best advice for sleep? Have a fixed routine and see sleep & recreation as the most important pillar for your health. It determines everything.
Find his favourite items here

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