Presentation tomorrow? Important meeting in the morning? We’ve all been there, faced with the always dreadful, sometimes inevitable all-nighter. It isn’t really anyone’s fault – let’s face it, there just aren’t enough hours in the day sometimes – but working through the night, especially if you do it frequently, could be taking a serious toll on your body.
While most of the time it may seem like pulling an all-nighter is the only way to get everything on your “to do” list checked off, research on sleep and brain function indicates that all-nighters do more harm than help. Sleep is as essential to healthy body function as eating or breathing. So what happens to your body, exactly, when you go without it? Some of the consequences may seem like common sense, and others might shock you.
1. You’ll Start Feeling Depressed or Anxious
Have you ever felt irritable, emotional and just generally moody after pulling an all-nighter? There’s a science behind this experience. When you rest, an essential part of your brain rests too: the prefrontal cortex. In fact, the only time your prefrontal cortex takes a break is when you’re getting restful sleep. It’s awake when you’re awake and it’s awake when you’re lucid dreaming. If your prefrontal cortex remains active for extended periods of time, it can lead to an array of mental health disorders like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, just to name a few.
Continued bouts of sleep deprivation mean that your prefrontal cortex isn’t able to repair itself, much like the way that your muscles need to do after a workout. That’s right, if wakefulness is the workout and your prefrontal cortex is the muscle, then sleep is your protein shake – and without it, you’re putting your mental health at risk.
2. You Don’t Retain Anything
Without sleep, your brain is guaranteed to suffer from impaired cognitive function. The National Sleep Foundation indicates that your chances of memory retention in the long term are higher after a restful sleep. This means that if you’re staying up late to study for an exam, for example, you’ll ultimately find that your levels of concentration will suffer as a result, and you won’t retain much of what you studied.
3. …And Your Creativity Suffers
After a restful sleep, you’re also much more likely to have innovative ideas. This has a lot to do with memory retention; as your brain merges new concepts with familiar ones, it facilitates a spike in critical thinking – something you cannot do while sleep deprived. Consider this the next time when it’s past midnight and you have a paper due at 8 a.m. – you may be short changing yourself.
4. You’ll Be Much Hungrier
A lack of sleep facilitates the production of the stress hormone, cortisol. What are the effects of increased amounts of cortisol? You guessed it: poor memory retention, suppressed immunity, and weight gain.
Then there’s the role of leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is the hormone that regulates appetite and lets us know when we’ve eaten enough. Ghrelin, on the other hand, is a biochemical that stimulates appetite. When your body is deprived of energy, it tries to compensate for that energy with food, and it does this by lowering your levels of leptin and raising your levels of ghrelin. If you find that you have an increased appetite that isn’t easily satisfied after an all-nighter, it’s your body telling you that it is sleep deprived.
5. You’ll Get Sick More Easily
If your brain restores itself during periods of restful sleep, is it so farfetched to believe that your immune system does the same? As you sleep, your immune system is at work producing antibodies that fight off viruses. When you don’t get enough sleep, you don’t have the energy or the opportunity to build up resistance to infection, and you may actually take longer to recover from illness. If you’re feeling under the weather after an all-nighter, this is likely why. What’s the point of an all-nighter if you aren’t well enough to carry out tasks in your daily life?