4 Things an All Nighter Does to Your Brain
Whether you’re a struggling student, burnt-out employee, overtaxed parent, or late-night gamer, sometimes the better part of your judgement gets away from you in a moment of stress or anxiety that causes you to stay up all night instead of sticking to your sleep schedule. You know what I’m talking about — pulling an all nighter. While it may seem like a great idea to simply push through the evening through ‘til morning (hey, those deadlines don’t meet themselves) it can have pretty adverse side effects. Sure, we all have to do it sometimes but — what do you need to know about pulling an all nighter?
Is It Bad to Pull an All Nighter?
KISS sang “I wanna rock ’n’ roll all night and party every day.” While it can seem excessive to party every day, but it might actually be better for you than rocking ’n’ rolling all night — loss of sleep is no joke, and even one lost night of sleep can have long term negative effects on your body and brain. One all nighter won’t kill you, but it’ll definitely interrupt your sleep schedule and affect your daytime performance.
- Memories? What memories?
Not only does sleep provide your body the time it needs to repair muscles and psychologically rest your racing mind, it gives your brain the opportunity to store and process memories. Sleep is necessary to consolidate memories so that they can be recalled in the future. In short, the process of making a memory is; acquisition (learning or experiencing), consolidation (the memory staying in your brain) and recall (the ability to access the memory later). Research shows that, while the first two processes happen when awake, consolidation occurs when you’re sleeping — your subconscious files them away for later. During an all nighter? Yesterday’s memories become yesterday’s events, and that’s all.
- Inability to learn
Despite the fact that most all nighters are being pulled by hard-studying college students, it’s been shown that an all nighter is actually pretty detrimental to learning. Studies have shown that the quantity of sleep you get correlates to how well you’re able to learn — in a similar fashion to how you store memories for later recall. Also, a sleep-deprived person can’t focus attention as optimally as a well-slept person and that impacts the efficiency of the learning process. Researchers have found that slow-wave sleep (also called SWS or Deep Sleep) is crucial for consolidating newly acquired information — aka learning. Without allowing ourselves the necessary amount of deep sleep, our brain can’t store all the information we’re taking in. An all nighter might get you some short term success, but don’t forget this no-brainer: it’s a no-learner.
- All Nighters & Circadian Rhythm
Circadian rhythm is the natural internal rhythm of your body’s sleep-wake cycle that repeats every 24 hours. It’s not enough to just sleep whenever you’re tired, your body works at its best (releasing melatonin and other sleepytime chemicals) when you stick to a regulated sleep schedule. When you pull an all nighter, your circadian rhythm gets thrown off and guess what — that makes it much harder for you to fall asleep at the right time the next day. Not just because you’ll be tired earlier in the day, but because your brain won’t know what time it’s supposed to get ready for bed!
- Impaired judgement
When you pull an all nighter you’re more likely to exercise poor judgement, especially in relation to whether or not you’ve had enough sleep. Your peak performance and ability to make snap judgements both suffer. According to sleep expert Phil Gehrman, PhD, people who get six hours of sleep may might feel like they’ve adapted to it, “but if you look at how they actually do on tests of mental alertness and performance, they continue to go downhill.”
Here’s How to Pull an All Nighter (for when you have to)
It might be too late for this advice but… get your studying/work/etc done ahead of time! Don’t put yourself in a position where you’ve got to skip out on a night of sweet, restorative sleep to cram for a test or research for that meeting. Treat yourself to a good book on time management! But in all seriousness, you’re not doing yourself any favors with an all nighter — so let’s look at a couple ways you can recover from one.
- Regulate your schedule
Because your circadian rhythm can get thrown off, it’s important the next day to go to bed at your ideal time. If you’re trying to stick to an 11:00-7:00a schedule, make sure that you don’t fall asleep at 9:00p because you’re crashing and really throw your brain for a loop.
- Write things down
When you’re sleep-deprived from pulling an all nighter and your judgement is just a little skewed, it’s imperative to have your to-do lists and schedules ready to go. What’s the point of cramming overnight for a math final if you forget that it starts at 10:20 and show up at 10:40? Sleep deprivation increases those little mistakes — get ahead of ‘em!
- Warm and bright
In the evening, your body naturally drops slightly in temperature, which encourages drowsiness. This is a natural reaction that goes along with the temperature drop when the sun goes down — but you can combat it! To pull an all nighter you’re going to want to reverse your body’s natural instincts. Keep it warm and keep the lights on. Otherwise, you’ll get sleepy real quick.
All Nighter Every Nighter
Whether you’re pulling an all nighter for work, school, a colicky baby, or just want to binge your new favorite show ‘til 4:00am, it’s important to remember that pulling an all nighter isn’t a healthy option — it’s a last ditch effort to get what you need done, done. There are ways to do it effectively, just make sure you don’t rely on it as a means to stay on schedule because you’ll quickly find that what you thought would be a good way to push through is a great way to get set back.