Should you pull an all-nighter?

You’ve heard it all before – striving for a solid eight hours of sleep each night is a great way to be a well-rested, healthy, fully-functioning young adult. Basically, it’s the ticket to getting the most out of your body the following day.

However, life does happen and there are some nights when you simply need to stay up into the early morning to get things done. Working and having a social life can mean that cramming for an exam or polishing off an assignment is necessary to do, no matter the time, but can often have flow-on effects. Knowing what you’re in for can help in answering the age-old question: “should you pull an all-nighter?”

Surprise: if you don’t get enough sleep, you will probably feel tired. Tiredness can be an issue in itself – your mood could drop, it could impact your hunger levels, you could also feel lazy, and this all has the potential to impact your ability to concentrate and take in new information. Sure, staying up those extra few hours will mean you will get through your notes, but will you be able to comprehend what you learned and effectively apply it when it counts?

Grogginess and increased irritability can be linked to your emotional state – anxiety and feelings of worry or sadness can amplify without sleep. This could create greater stress than was felt before the all-nighter was had, rather than helping you achieve a feeling of satisfaction and readiness for your exam, which is why you might be considering an all-nighter in the first place.

What’s more, one night of intense sleep deprivation can call for a few nights of recovery. Is an all-nighter worth all the catch-up? Time to call in the experts. 

Associate Professor Bruno van Swinderen of the UQ Queensland Brain Institute studies mechanisms of perception on the brain, including sleep.  

"A once off all-nighter is probably worth it if your basic character is not the worrying type," Dr van Swinderen said. 

"It all depends on what kind of person you are. Only you know your mind so make your decision based on your personality type."

Going without sleep for an extended period of time can lead to much greater problems, such as becoming run-down and more prone to illness (time out from class won’t help!), a greater likelihood of relying on stimulants such as coffee and energy drinks (worsening your sleep cycle in the long run) and possibly a decreased learning capacity, hindering your late-night study efforts even more.

If you absolutely must pull an all-nighter, be sure to pay your body back. 

"This is crucial. There is nothing wrong with taking strategical naps when you can," Dr van Swinderen said. 

"There are a lot of benefits which can be closely linked to mid-day napping. Perhaps find a shady spot under one of the Jacaranda trees by UQ lakes for a 10 - 20 minute power nap."

Sounds like a good idea to us!

Last updated:
6 June 2017