You probably already know that you should sleep for at least 7 hours each night to maintain optimal health. But sometimes life has other plans. Whether it be a tight work deadline, final exam, or simply celebrating something late into the night, all-nighters are something we’ve likely all experienced at least once or twice.
If you can relate to these experiences or have ever sacrificed a night’s sleep in favor of something else, you’re part of the all-nighter club. So, how exactly does losing sleep for up to 24 hours affect your body? Let’s find out.
What is an All-Nighter?
Pulling an all-nighter means engaging in an activity during sleep time that makes you catch little or no sleep for up to 24 hours. So if you’re usually asleep from 10 pm to 6 am, you’ll remain awake during an all-nighter throughout this time frame.
Unlike insomnia, an all-nighter involves depriving yourself of sleep to satisfy another need. It’s most often for a pressing need like studying for finals or finishing up a work project, but there’s plenty who partake in all-nighters to binge-watch the latest episodes of their favorite show or finish just one more level in their current video game.
Acute sleep deprivation occurs when a person doesn’t sleep for 1 or 2 days, while for short-term total sleep deprivation, the person stays awake for 45 hours or less.
5 Ways Pulling an All-Nighter Affects Health
Apart from costing the economy more than $40 billion a year, sleep deprivation may also cost a person’s physical, mental, and emotional health.
Pulling an all-nighter may impair a person’s mood, increase their stress and anxiety levels, reduce physical and cognitive performance, and disturb their sleep health.
1. May affect physical functioning
Losing sleep for just one night may adversely affect your physical health in numerous ways than you may consider.
When you sacrifice sleep, your daytime functioning during the day significantly dwindles. You may experience restlessness, fatigue, dizziness, poor alertness, low endurance and readiness levels, and microsleeps during the day.
Not to mention that lack of sleep may also increase your pain sensitivity or reduce pain tolerance levels. If you experience body pains, not getting sleep may worsen your symptoms.
Additionally, you’re more likely to be involved in workplace or road accidents when you don’t sleep for up to 24 hours. Evidence suggests that sleep deprivation may have the same effect as alcohol on the body’s functioning. A person who doesn’t sleep for 24 hours may show the same symptoms as someone with a 0.10% blood alcohol content (BAC), which is more than the legal limit of 0.08% BAC.
When you work or drive in this state, you may struggle with staying awake and focusing, which may affect your performance and cause you to have an accident.
Losing sleep for up to 24 hours may also increase your risk of falling sick to illnesses like stomach flu and respiratory infections. Because rest supports immune health, sleep deprivation may impair its functioning.
2. May impair cognitive functioning
Missing a night’s rest may also slow down cognitive performance regarding alertness, response time, working memory, decision making, problem-solving, learning, divergent thinking, attention, and concentration.
Moreover, lack of sleep may also cause the brain to remember the wrong things. In a 2016 study, sleep-deprived individuals—both for a night and 7 nights—had an increased likelihood of retaining false information about an event than well-rested people.
If you stay awake in the hopes of preparing for a presentation, you may be better off asleep. When you have an adequate sleep, your brain wakes up refreshed and active enough to take on the tasks for the day and perform at their optimal capacity.
Productivity levels also fall, and you’re also more likely to make mistakes while working because your brain is struggling to work at its usual rate.
Interestingly, experts suggest that the brain “loses efficiency with each hour of sleep deprivation.”
3. May increase stress and anxiety levels
When the body doesn’t get the rest and rejuvenation it needs from sleep within 24 hours, it may lead to mental health consequences such as a rise in stress and anxiety levels.
When a person stays awake, their cortisol levels, the stress hormone, increase, keeping them awake and alert all through the night. While the circadian rhythm, the internal clock that controls sleep-wake cycles, should suppress cortisol and release melatonin to help the body wind down, pulling an all-nighter may impact this process.
This circumstance can cause a rise in stress levels and make them feel overstretched during the day.
Plus, anxiety symptoms may become more severe when they pull an all-nighter. A 2016 review affirms this, suggesting that sleep deprivation may significantly increase anxiety levels.
4. May lead to poor mood
Have you noticed that you become more irritable and are more likely to have conflicts with people when you’re not well-rested?
Losing sleep may lead to poor mood, and you’re more likely to experience feelings of overwhelm, anger, loneliness, aggression, unpredictability, and moodiness. It may also lead to a poor mental state and increase symptoms of anxiety and depression.
When you don’t sleep, the brain may become unable to regulate emotions, resulting in emotional reactivity, a state where you feel emotions more intensely and therefore overreact to situations.
A 2015 study suggests that one night of sleep deprivation may worsen mood states and increase anger, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and confusion.
5. May impair sleep health
Staying awake throughout the night may contribute to sleep problems or exacerbate existing sleep disorders.
For instance, when you lose sleep, you are more likely to experience increased stress, anxiety, moodiness, pain sensitivity, and restlessness, which may impact your ability to wind down and rest in subsequent nights.
Tips if You Must Pull an All-Nighter
Sleep experts never condone forgoing a night of sleep for another activity. But, there may be times you find yourself in situations where you have no other choice but to pull an all-nighter. New parents, students, or those with demanding jobs may need to go down this path now and again. If you absolutely must stay up through the night, these ideas may help it feel a little less painful.
- Take some caffeine: Consuming caffeine in moderate amounts in the later hours of the day may help your body stay alert all through the night so you can perform tasks that you plan to.
- Nap in the afternoon or evening time: When you take a nap towards the end of the day, it may help your body feel energized enough to feel awake at nighttime.
- Drink enough water: Water may improve mood states, cognition, and other mental processes as you stay awake.
- Chew gum: Another way to keep your eyes awake and your mind alert is by keeping your mouth moving. Studies suggest that chewing gum may improve concentration, memory, alertness, and calmness.
- Keep moving: Try to stay active during an all-nighter to support your body’s wakefulness. You can go on short walks or do light dance movements.
How to Recover From Your All-Nighter
After an all-nighter, try to give your body enough time to recover by following sleep hygiene practices such as staying active, having a nighttime routine, having light meals for dinner, and following a consistent sleep-wake time. It’s important to not withhold sleep the next night after your all-nighter. Your body will be ready to sleep deeply, and you should lean into this to recover from the previous evening. To hold you over until the following night’s sleep, think about taking a short 10-20 minute daytime nap to temporarily improve your cognition without impacting your body’s natural sleep drive and circadian rhythm.
It’s best not to make pulling an all-nighter a regular activity because it may disrupt your circadian rhythm, lead to sleep problems, and increase your risk of developing chronic illnesses.
Contrary to popular belief, the body doesn’t adjust to sleep deprivation. Every time you lose sleep, it results in a sleep debt, which may be difficult to recover from. Try to return to a regular healthy sleep schedule after pulling an all-nighter to support your sleep health and overall wellbeing.