Sleep deprivation and student health: The hazards of pulling an all-nighter in college

College study adviceThe messy hair and mismatched socks…the glassy, bloodshot eyes…the head you can barely lift off of the desk. You can always spot those students who pulled an all-nighter before a big exam or term paper. We’ve all been there — and done that. However, before you make pulling an all-nighter a common occurrence, check out some of these new facts about the damage that sleep deprivation can cause. Yes, there are times when staying up all night is unavoidable, but don’t worry! There are some great study tips for pulling an all-nighter listed here — just don’t get too comfortable with that course of study!

Get some sleep!

Whether you purposefully put off studying, totally lost track of time, or Professor Grump just assigned you a 25-page paper on U.S. History (your choice of topic) due in two days, all-nighters seem to be a necessary evil for most college students. Although one or two late-night cram sessions might not do much harm, there are some serious long-term effects if sleep deprivation continues for long periods.

An article posted on by David Cox on October 09, 2012, asks, “What happens to your body if you don’t let it sleep?” According to the article, one side effect of long-term sleep deprivation is the “onset of neuropsychiatric disorders such as anxiety and bipolar depression.” High blood pressure and heart disease are also common.

To take matters further, a new study suggests that lack of sleep sometimes results in a short burst of euphoria from an increase of dopamine. Although this may sound appealing, this surge actually “encourages addiction and impulsive behaviour.”

…but I do my best studying at night

Okay, let’s be honest, when have you ever aced an exam simply by pulling an all-nighter? More than likely, you haven’t–so don’t waste your precious sleep time trying to cram a term’s worth of calculus into your brain in 8-10 hours. And, according to a CollegeXpress article by Victoria Scibilia, “Pulling an All-nighter: Bad for Your Health?,” you probably won’t remember much anyway.

Scibilia explains, “After cramming all night long, you’d think you’d be well prepared for next day’s test. So why can’t you seem to remember half of what you studied last night? The memory part of your brain experiences more activity when you are sleeping than when you are awake, and it needs those sleeping hours to recharge. When you deprive it of that crucial rest time, it doesn’t retain information properly.” So do yourself and your brain a favor, and get some much-needed rest.

Out of options

No matter how much you prepare or how organized you are, there will be a time that you MUST pull an all-nighter. If you absolutely have no other choice, then refer to Kelsey Korey ‘s post to Old Gold & Black on March 24, 2011, “How to pull an all-nighter effectively and still do well on your exam.”

In this article, Korey walks you through what to do and not to do while studying all night. For example, she stresses that “caffeine is not your friend” and suggests filling up on healthy snacks instead (no, pizza does not fall into the health food category, even at 2am). A few other tips to get the most out of your time include:

  • Study the hardest material first, when you are less tired and can retain more
  • Try to avoid carbs that will make you feel tired and sluggish
  • If you have time around dawn, grab an hour or two of shut eye
  • Exercise and shower before heading to the exam to wake yourself up
  • Don’t sleep away the rest of the day — instead, take a few hours to rejuvenate then get up and get back on schedule

Do you have any stories about all-nighters gone wrong — or right? Share them in the comments below and be an inspiration (or a warning) to your fellow college-mates!

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2 replies
  1. Chris says:

    I’ve never pulled an all-nighter through the morning because I know it would be terrible if I didn’t get the sleep I needed before the exam.

  2. Ar'mone says:

    I have pulled all-nighters a few times throughout my educational career and managed to finish my undergrad Summa Cum Laude! Sometimes it is unavoidable especially when you have a good rhythm you’re in and don’t want to lose it before sleep. Now that I am in Grad school I’m more proactive and don’t feel the need to stay up all night since I developed better study habits and worked on my procrastination problem. Once I begin my master thesis next year I hope I don’t develop the sleep deprivation old habit again!


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