There are seemingly endless reasons to pull an all-nighter: exams, finalizing an important pitch to clients, a birthday bar crawl, trying to earn more experience points in Farmville. Both college and the “real world” have their fair share of sleepless nights. While crankiness and moodiness are tell-tale signs of no sleep, research suggests a surprising plus to staying up: short-term euphoria (the body’s natural high).
Not Enough Time In The Day — Why It Matters
Using MRI to study 27 young adults, researchers found participants who pulled an all-nighter experienced (short-lived) bouts of euphoria and heightened positive feelings. But it's not all lollipops and double rainbows.
While any lack of sleep causes a boost in dopamine (the neurotransmitter linked to pleasure and happiness) levels, it can also potentially lead to risky behavior due to a surge of overly optimistic emotions. It turns out lack of sleep switches the brain from rational-based decision making to the emotionally charged fight-or-flight mode. This may not seem like a huge deal for college students (that’s just another Friday night frat party), but for doctors, pilots, accountants, or lawyers it may be a serious side effect to consider.
Yet sleep deprivation is no laughing matter. One study showed that lack of sleep impairs cognitive performance, knowledge retention, and awareness .
No Sleep ‘til Brooklyn — The Answer/Debate
Although some studies have found sleep deprivation to be beneficial in severely depressed patients, nearly any positive effects wear off after a nap . As for studies that champion the pros of foregoing sleep? Well, there aren’t any.
So, will one night of sleeplessness cause a lifetime of drowsiness? No, a good night’s rest will restore the body, but just don’t go for that fifth Red Bull on a daily basis. Long-term dangers of all-nighters include a reduced learning ability and increased likelihood of anxiety disorders . Other potential hazards include weight gain, an increased risk of diabetes, and potential brain damage.
Despite the dangers, pulling an all-nighter is a choice that many time-crunched people make. Even the most dedicated night owls should consider taking a break to sleep (even if it's just for a couple hours) to re-charge the body's batteries and reduce one’s overall sleep debt. Don't be surprised if productivity improves as well; a rested brain is good for business (or that final paper).
Do you still pull all-nighters? What are your secrets for staying productive late at night?
Originally posted April 2011. Updated April 2012.