Why you shouldn’t pull an all-nighter

By on December 5, 2012

It’s two hours until sunrise, and every passing moment means the deadline is inching closer. The 20-page paper is due at 9 a.m., and only eight pages are written. Reaching for that fifth cup of coffee, your hand starts to shake. Sleeping isn’t an option.

As final projects, papers, and exams approach, many students feel the pressure. The competition for a cubicle in the library is fierce, and the crowd doesn’t diminish at night. Although staying up may seem like a good idea, pulling an all-nighter has both short and long-term effects on our physical and emotional state, as well as our ability to learn.

“Generally learning of all types is impaired with sleep deprivation,” said Joan Bombace, professor of psychology. “Some research suggests that in the short run, all-nighters produce a temporary elation effect, perhaps leading to a false sense of security, leading to “risky” behavior.”

Bombace said the false confidence generated by chemical imbalance, usually involving the hormone serotonin, leaves students believing they know the material, when in reality it worsens their information retention. This misconception may cause students to pull all-nighters more frequently.

“I was exhausted when I pulled an all-nighter. I studied until five or six, and I had a test at 10,” sophomore Melissa Simons said. “But I actually wasn’t that tired during the test, and I was glad that I stayed up all night because I wouldn’t have studied as much if I hadn’t stayed up, and during the test I remembered things because I had just learned it.”

Though these symptoms may be short term, they can lead to unproductiveness, which could be detrimental during finals week. Pulling an all-nighter may be beneficial to completing one assignment, but it can hinder overall performance in other classes and decrease productivity.
A study at St. Lawrence University found that 59 percent of college students have stayed up all night to finish school work. It also revealed that on average, these students had a GPA .2 points lower than students who hadn’t.

Dr. Phillip Brewer, medical director for Quinnipiac’s Student Health Services, said sleep deprivation is the main concern with pulling an all-nighter. Because our ability to retain information is stored by the brain’s functions during rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep, deprivation can inhibit long-term learning and memorization.

On average, college students sleep between six and seven hours a night according to the University of Michigan’s Health Service. Adults function best with eight hours of sleep.

Brewer said the adrenaline and stress hormones secreted by the brain when lacking rest can lead to trouble focusing, a higher blood-pressure and impeded judgment, as well. If students are taking a prerequisite for other curriculum, pulling an all-nighter could impair retention of fundamental information and negatively impact performance in future classes.

Sleep deprivation can also cause a weakened immune system, depression and irritability. And according to the study, “Sleep Deprivation: A Cause of Psychotic Disorganization,” featured in the American Journal of Sociology, lack of sleep can temporarily cause disordered thoughts, hallucinations, depersonalization, and delusions. These characteristics are brought on by excess stress and are also present in individuals on the verge of a psychotic break.

All-nighters typically go hand-in-hand with harmful habits, as well.

Many students resort to consuming caffeine in the pursuit of a full-night’s work, which only aids consciousness temporarily, Brewer said. Students using stimulants like adderall to stay awake experience negative health consequences, as well.

“There is a huge diversion market for adderall, in which students who use adderall also sell it,” Brewer said. “A lot of students use it when they are trying to stay awake, and it makes you alert but not in a way that is conducive to memorization or good performance. Your ability to judge and interpret questions is impaired. Also, if your are fatigued but also have epinephrine, or adrenaline, working it is very difficult to concentrate long-term.”

Sleep-deprivation can also lead to overeating, sometimes by 500 calories daily. This is caused by eating food during the day and night for energy, and later on when the hormones that alert us when we’re full stop working, according to the American Heart Association.

“An all-nighter is probably the worst thing in the world for you,” sophomore Sagar Khona said. “Basically the next day just drags on forever and ever and ever, the day just goes really slow, and you just want to sleep. You also end up eating a lot more because of the all-nighter.”

Research indicates that sleep-deprivation should be avoided if possible, and both Brewer and Bombace agree the best way is to plan ahead and work consistently throughout the semester.

“I would not recommend all-nighters,” Bombace said. “It may seem as if the all-nighters work but the data shows that they do not. Studying after each lecture and reviewing is the tried and true way to optimum learning and performance. Learning is a result of practice and motivation. Shortcuts such as all-nighters do not work, certainly not for long-term learning.”

Other ways to avoid last minute crash studying include making a study outline: this should include a schedule of when you will study and when you will sleep. Avoid stimulants such as adderall and caffeine: they are both short term solutions with negative side-effects. And as a last resort: power-nap. Even a few minutes of sleep may give your mind and body a boost to pull you through the long night.

Comments

About Caroline Tufts