Does Pulling an All-Nighter Work? We did the research to find out!


What happens when you pull an all-nighter, and how can you do it safely? 

Student studying coffee house

Skipping a night of sleep to study or complete a project might be tempting for busy students, but is it safe to always fall back on all-nighters to get your work done? 

Sleep experts say you should avoid pulling all-nighters as much as possible due to the many negative effects sleep deprivation has on your memory and body.  

In this post, we’ll discuss some common questions students have when deciding whether or not pulling an all-nighter is worth it. We’ll go over how staying awake through the night affects your body, and give you a few tips to make all-nighters feel a little easier if you absolutely need to stay up. 

Here are a few things to know about pulling an all-nighter:

Is it better to pull an all-nighter or sleep for a few hours?

Girl studying with laptop

Usually, it’s best to opt for a few hours of sleep rather than trying to power through an entire night without sleep. If you do want to work in a little bit of rest, sleep experts say you should try giving yourself 90-110 minutes of sleep so you can complete at least one full sleep cycle. 

While one sleep cycle per night is not sustainable, it can help restore your body and mind just enough to make the day after an all-nighter feel a little less miserable

Some people recommend caffeine power naps to get started with an all-nighter. To take a successful caffeine power nap, head to bed around your normal bedtime when you start to feel tired. Just before going to sleep, drink a serving of caffeine. Take a nap for 15-30 minutes and then wake up and promptly get started on your to-do list. Don’t let yourself sleep too long otherwise, you may wake up groggy instead of refreshed. 

What happens to your body when you pull an all-nighter?

girl has headache while studying

There’s a lot of things happening to your body when you pull an all-nighter: 

  • Studies show that skipping a night of sleep noticeably affects brain function by reducing your attention span and your general ability to concentrate. 
  • Sleep deprivation can also slow physical reaction times and impair your critical thinking and emotional regulation into the following day. 
  • An all-nighter can also make you feel hungry and stressed due to hormone imbalances that sleep usually helps regulate. 
  • Your immune system can become impaired by not allowing your body to rest and recharge, according to The Huffington Post.

Students should pay close attention to the fact that skipping a night of sleep has been proven to interfere with working memory, which could make studying feel more difficult than usual. Further studies have found that prolonged wakefulness can also impair long-term memory and decision-making abilities. 

So, frequently relying on all-nighters to study for exams or to get homework done is likely not the best way to learn and retain information. In fact, a 2007 study found that college students who reported they regularly pulled all-nighters or got less sleep had lower GPAs than students with consistent sleep schedules. 

Is it OK to pull an all-nighter to fix a disrupted sleep schedule? 

alarm clock

Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule can be challenging, and many people find themselves struggling with interrupted sleep patterns and chronic insomnia. 

Don’t think that pulling an all-nighter will make it easier to tire yourself out and jump back into a better sleep schedule because you may feel even worse than before. Interrupted sleep and insomnia can be caused by many factors, and skipping a night of sleep can actually make it harder to establish a healthy sleep schedule. 

Instead of pulling an all-nighter to reset your sleep schedule, try gradually going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Focus on building a relaxing nighttime routine and avoid having alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and lots of food before heading off to bed. If you still can’t stay asleep or feel well-rested after a few nights of prioritizing your sleep routine, talk to your doctor about finding a solution. 

When should you pull an all-nighter? 

studying in dark

Sleep experts generally do not recommend pulling all-nighters, even if you think it would help you get more work or studying done. Pulling an all-nighter can impede your cognitive abilities possibly to the point that it’s counterproductive and causes you to form false memories and make careless mistakes. 

If pulling an all-nighter is simply unavoidable, there are a few ways to make it feel a little easier: 

  • Have caffeine every few hours. Sleep experts say that regular caffeine consumption (like coffee for example) during an all-nighter can help reduce thinking problems that are typically associated with prolonged wakefulness. 
  • Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration. 
  • Study in a well-lit room.
  • Get up to move around every few hours.
  • Chew gum.
  • Work with others. 

Be sure you have a plan and a few goals in mind before you start your all-nighter. If you’re working on a big project or paper, be sure to give yourself enough time to edit your work and look for any careless mistakes before turning it in.  

Is it hard to pull an all-nighter? 

Each person has a different reaction to pulling an all-nighter. Some people find that it’s easier to go without sleep than others, but that doesn’t mean that those all-nighters aren’t negatively affecting their health. 

Medical professionals say that sleep loss can trigger stress and anxiety because you’re relying on adrenaline and cortisol to stay awake, but high levels of those hormones also make it difficult to fall asleep. Intentionally depriving yourself of sleep may not feel difficult initially, but you will likely be boosting the stress hormones in your brain that will make future sleep harder. 

Sources

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31750712/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19300585/

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-hygiene/why-are-all-nighters-harmful

https://www.healthline.com/health/is-2-hours-of-sleep-better-than-no-sleep#summary

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-deprivation/interrupted-sleep

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071130162518.htm

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