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Taking Care of Ourselves & Each Other

The Flourish, May 2022: Sleep Corner

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All Nighters: Helpful or Harmful? 

It’s the day before your 9am final. You look at the clock and notice it is already 9pm, and you still need to finish your final project and study the remaining exam topics for that class. With 12 hours to go, you decide to make a cup of coffee, head to your work area, and say to yourself “It’s going to be a long night.”

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Realistic stars galaxy background. Credit: Freepik

All-Nighters

If you have been in this situation before, chances are you either contemplated or actually did pull an all-nighter. An “all-nighter” is when you voluntarily skip your normal time for sleep– whether it be to meet a deadline, to go to work at night, or hang out with friends– and stay up all night, getting little to no hours of sleep. Although pulling an all-nighter may seem helpful at the moment, staying up all night significantly impacts your mood, thinking, and cognitive development well past when you’ve finally replenished your sleep debt.

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FAQ

How does an all-nighter affect my thinking and creativity? 

All-nighters are brutal in the ways they get in the way of our ability to get things done. They 1) Reduce our attention span and ability to focus, 2) Slow our reaction time and impairs constructive thinking, 3) Restrict our creative thinking and innovative problem-solving, and 4) Impact memory formation – false memories are more frequently formed when sleep deprived.

How does an all-nighter affect my mood?

Sleepless nights are linked to increased levels of the hormone cortisol, one of our major stress hormones. In addition, sleep deprivation is linked to anxiety, which impacts both our mood and behavior. It is common for an individual’s emotional mood (e.g. angry, irritable, depressed, fatigued) to worsen after one night with low quality sleep, with an even larger impact with no sleep.

Is it ever a “good” idea to pull an all-nighter?

The immediate and long term effects on our minds and bodies show that it is not a good idea to pull an all-nighter. All-nighters may appear to be beneficial in the moment, especially if it means getting more time to study or work on an assignment, but in the long run it causes non-trivial harm to our bodies and brains. Given the cognitive impacts of sleep deprivation, your chance of performing well (whether creatively, cognitively, or physically) after an all-nighter is much lower than if you were to head to bed early. Try to avoid pulling all-nighters by making high-quality sleep and restorative time non-negotiables for your well-being and sustainable productivity.

If you do end up pulling an all-nighter, here is how to recover

  1. Be safe– Avoid driving, operating machinery, or any other activity that could put yourself and those around you at risk
  2. Avoid a long afternoon nap– Although you may be tempted to take a long nap the following afternoon, doing so can make it harder to fall asleep that night and get back on a consistent sleep schedule. If you must take a nap, make sure it is short (10-20 minutes).
  3. Reestablish a healthy sleep schedule– Recovery sleep is important after an all-nighter. Make it a goal to get back to a consistent sleep schedule as soon as you can. Try to incorporate good sleep hygiene tips
  4. Don’t extend your sleep deprivation– Avoid pulling multiple all-nighters back to back

How to avoid pulling all-nighters in the future

  1. Avoid making all-nighters a habit– Try to establish a consistent sleep schedule 
  2. Plan ahead– Think in advance about what needs to get done and start working ahead of time. Use these tips to avoid procrastinating
  3. Get regular exercise– Daily exercise promotes healthy sleep routines. For those who may need to pull an all-nighter again, daily exercise can help you feel less sleepy in the moment and have fewer physical effects on the body.

Additional Resources