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Are All-Nighters Bad For Your Health?

Updated: Apr 28, 2022

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MEDICALLY REVIEWED BY: Sherrie Neustein, M.D. WRITTEN BY: Rebecca Levi

Pulling an all-nighter means intentionally staying awake throughout the night with little to no sleep. There are many reasons why people pull all-nighters. Some people sacrifice sleep in order to meet work deadlines or study for exams. Others have job schedules that require them to work through the night and sleep during the day. With proper sleep recovery in the days that follow, an occasional all-nighter1 probably will not cause lasting health effects. However, research shows sleep deprivation night after night can lead to poor cognitive performance2, fatigue3, and higher levels of stress and anxiety4. All-Nighters Can Affect Your Health Staying up all night can impact your physical, emotional, and mental health. Some of these effects occur immediately, while others may manifest over time. Cognitive Function An intentional all-nighter differs from insomnia5, a sleep disorder characterized by the inability to fall asleep quickly or remain asleep throughout the night. That said, sleep deprivation from staying up all night and insomnia can both affect cognitive function in similar ways. People who pull all-nighters may experience short-term cognitive issues6, such as:

  • Shortened attention span and inability to focus

  • Impaired memory and learning

  • Reduced reaction time

  • Decreased motor function

  • Elevated emotional reactions

All-nighters have been shown to impact academic performance. Students who routinely get enough sleep tend to have higher grades7 and are less likely to develop depression. Conversely, unhealthy sleep habits appear linked to poor grades8. Staying up all night can also affect on-the-job productivity. Tired employees are 3 times more likely to perform badly at work9, and fatigue is strongly associated with workplace accidents in a variety of professions. Sleep deprivation costs employers approximately $150 billion each year due to absenteeism, reduced productivity, and accidents and injuries, ultimately leading to higher healthcare costs. Mood and Mental Health Going without sleep can leave you feeling irritable and moody. People who frequently pull all-nighters are at greater risk for developing mood disorders such as depression. Conversely, studies have found that treating sleep issues may help reduce mental health symptoms like paranoia and hallucinations10. Over time, routine all-nighters can lead to a cycle of mental distress, poor sleep, and decreased functioning during the day. The acute sleep deprivation that occurs during an all-nighter can lead to an increase in cortisol production. Cortisol11 is a hormone that serves several purposes, including response to stressful situations. Excessive cortisol production can elevate your stress levels. Sleep deprivation has also been linked to heightened feelings of anxiety12. Physical Health and Sleep Cycles On a physical level, sleep is critical for metabolism and immune system functioning13, healthy body weight maintenance, and protection against illness. Sleep also helps repair the body and boost energy levels14. Even athletes15 and other physically active people are vulnerable to negative physical effects following a night of insufficient sleep, such as:

  • Slower muscle recovery

  • Increased pain perception

  • Reduced speed and strength

  • Poor accuracy

  • Delayed reaction time

These effects are likely to occur after 24 hours without sleep, but they are also noticeable in people who sleep just two to four hours less than the recommended amount. According to current guidelines, adults should sleep at least seven hours each night16. If someone has sleep debt from an all-nighter, then nine hours of sleep is recommended. In the long term, not getting enough sleep puts adults at higher risk for certain negative health outcomes. These include:

  • Increased weight, obesity, and diabetes

  • Hypertension

  • Heart disease

  • Stroke

As all of these conditions are potentially fatal, chronic sleep deprivation is also associated with an increased risk of death. Additionally, lack of sleep lowers immune function and makes you more vulnerable to diseases. Injury is another factor to consider. Those who don’t get enough sleep often commit more errors than they would when well-rested, and are at greater risk of being involved in an accident. Ultimately, frequent all-nighters can be detrimental to your sleep cycle. The body adheres to a 24-hour cycle called the circadian rhythm17, which synchronizes sleep-wake patterns, body temperature, meal timing, and other biological functions. Pulling an all-nighter can disrupt this pattern and disturb the balance of these different bodily processes. This may cause you to feel sleepy at inappropriate times and have trouble sleeping at night, potentially leading to further sleep disruptions. Adolescents & High School Students The general consensus among today’s sleep experts is that adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 need eight to 10 hours22 of sleep each night. However, recent surveys show roughly 73% of teens in the U.S. fall short of this recommended benchmark. These trends are mostly consistent across different sexes and ethnic groups, though teens appear to get less sleep on average as they progress to higher grade levels. Studies show adolescents are especially vulnerable to mood changes when they do not get enough sleep. They may become angry, confused, or fatigued after pulling an all-nighter. Sleep-deprived adolescents are also at higher risk for depression and anxiety. Homework assignments, extracurricular activities, and other demands may force some adolescents to stay up late and not get enough sleep. Studies show those who make up for their sleep loss over the weekend23 are less likely to exhibit poor academic performance. Some experts argue school start times of 8:30 a.m. or later24 could potentially improve sleep patterns for teens. Recent survey data shows the average start time for middle and high schools in the U.S. is 8 a.m. Short-Term Implications for Teens

  • Focus and accuracy are impaired

  • Memory and cognitive function declines

  • Decision making suffers

  • More likely to wake up irritable

  • Decreased performance in extracurricular activities

Long-Term Effects of Pulling All-Nighters Frequently

  • Increased risk of weight gain, obesity, and diabetes

  • Greater injury potential in sports

  • Behavioral issues and attention deficits

  • Poor performance in school

How to Help Your Teenager Avoid All-Nighters High school students have many demanding responsibilities on top of the often demanding social pressures that come with being a teen.

  • Avoid caffeine: For many people, high school and college was the time when they began drinking caffeine. While caffeine in moderation won't hurt your sleep patterns, drinking it to stay up and study at night can have harmful and long-term effects on the sleep cycle.

  • Set short, easy to meet deadlines: Procrastination often comes from the anxiety over beginning a large project. Teens can help ease this anxiety by setting smaller deadlines for themselves that are easier to meet. Instead of sitting down to write an entire essay in one sitting, start right when the assignment is assigned. For example, the first day's goal can be to finish an outline for the paper, the second day can be flushing out the introduction, and so on. This strategy will help avoid the last-minute, up-all-night stress before the assignment is due.

  • Don't overdo it: Applying for college, keeping up with social pressures, and keeping on top of your grades can feel like a big burden for still-developing teens. Prioritize sleep by not cramming in too many activities throughout the week.

Resources for High School Students

  • Get Enough Sleep

  • Sleep in Middle and High School Students

  • Let’s Sleep

  • School Start Later

  • Physical Activity Guidelines for School-Aged Children and Adolescents

College Students College students often stay up late to complete assignments and prepare for tests. Members of this population commonly experience sleep deprivation and daytime sleepiness25, with roughly 70% of students reporting insufficient sleep on a regular basis. Common reasons for sleep problems among college students include:

  • Irregular sleep-wake schedules

  • Lack of access to a quiet bedroom conducive to sleep

  • Consumption of alcohol, caffeinated beverages, and stimulants before bedtime

  • Overexposure to electronic devices in the evening

  • Late-night socializing

While current recommendations state adults should get seven hours of sleep per night, college students who sleep at least nine hours each night have a higher grade point average (GPA) than those who sleep six or fewer hours. However, evidence also suggests sleep and waking times are a stronger predictor of GPA performance. Those who go to bed and rise earlier tend to have higher GPAs than those who sleep in and go to bed later. Short-Term Implications for College Students

  • Focus in lectures and classes will be impaired

  • Short-term memory suffers

  • Decision making suffers

Long-Term Effects of Pulling All-Nighters Frequently

  • Increased risk of weight gain, obesity, and diabetes

  • The immune system is compromised

  • Decline in overall work and academic performance

  • Increased risk of anxiety & depression

How to Avoid an All-Nighter in College

  • Don't take too many classes: Limit yourself to what you know you can achieve. The feeling of being overwhelmed can lead to anxiety, procrastination, and all-nighters. Balance your class load with all of the other activities you have going on in your life like family obligations, work, and social responsibilities.

  • Make sure your bedroom environment is ideal for sleep: Many college students share a dorm or apartment with other students. Most likely, there will be noise and light disruptions to your bedroom environment that could lead to an unintentional all-nighter. Play white noise, use earplugs or fans to block out noise, and invest in black-out curtains to ensure light doesn't inhibit sleep.

  • Wake up in the morning to get last-minute work done: Staying up all night to study can be tempting if you're feeling unprepared for an exam. However, if you are fatigued, your brain will not retain the information as well. Instead, go to bed for a full night's rest and wake up early to study before you head in to take your exam.

Resources for College Students

  • College Students: Getting Enough Sleep Vital to Academic Success

  • Guide to Sleep for College Students

  • Exam Revision: The Ultimate Guide to Pulling an All-Nighter

  • 8 Ways to Survive an All-Nighter and Emerge with an Awesome Paper

  • How Sleep Influences College Students’ Grades

Shift Workers The term “shift worker” refers to anyone whose job schedule falls outside the standard 9 to 5 routine18. According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 16% of U.S. employees19 follow some sort of shift work schedule. These schedules include evening, night, and early morning shifts, as well as split or rotating shifts. Shift workers are particularly susceptible to sleep problems, such as daytime insomnia and excessive sleepiness. These symptoms may be signs of shift work disorder (SWD)20, a sleep disorder that affects circadian rhythm. Most people with SWD lose one to four hours21 of sleep for each 24-hour period. Working through the night is not the same thing as an all-nighter, but if shift workers aren't getting adequate sleep during the day, they could suffer the same effects. Short-Term Implications of an All-Nighter for Shift Workers

  • Poor focus at work the next day

  • Greater risk of being involved in a work-related or driving accident

  • Wake up in an irritable mood

Long-Term Effects of Shift Work Disorder & All-Nighters

  • Increased fatigue

  • Impaired mood and higher risk of depression

  • Ulcers

  • Depression and social avoidance

  • Substance abuse

Shift workers who experience SWD symptoms for more than three months should consult a doctor or sleep specialist. Sleep Tips for Shift Workers

  • Bedroom environment is key: Because many shift workers fall asleep when the sun is out, creating a peaceful environment ideal for sleep is very important. Invest in blackout curtains or an eye mask to block out light and ensure your phone is set to silent.

  • Take naps: If you can't get a full night's sleep, taking a 30-minute nap can reduce the effects of an all-nighter and can help you get back to feeling refreshed.

  • Set a strict sleep routine: It can be difficult to relax the mind and body after a long shift, especially if you're trying to get to bed when there's daylight outside. Setting a bedtime schedule will help tell the mind that it's time for sleep. Consider taking a warm bath, drinking herbal tea, or practicing meditation in the hour before you need to sleep.

Resources for Shift Workers

  • Long Work Hours, Extended or Irregular Shifts, and Worker Fatigue

  • How to Cope with Depression When You Work the Night Shift

  • Drowsy Driving

  • The Night Shift Power Nap: What You Need to Know

  • How to Work the Night Shift and Stay Healthy: 12 Tips

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