What You’re Risking When You Pull All-Nighters Before Exams

“Pulling an all-nighter” is a common occurrence for college students, especially those who struggle to balance study time with class time, socializing and extracurricular activities. Many students believe that staying up all night to study for a test or work on a paper will have good results. Unfortunately, scientific research shows that all-nighters do not lead to improved academic performance and may even be dangerous to your health.

Burning the Midnight Oil

Burning the Midnight Oil Will Sleep Deprive You

Lower GPA

If you thought that pulling all-nighters would bump up your GPA, think again. Pamela Thatcher, Ph.D. led a study to determine the effects of sleep deprivation on college students. Thatcher and her colleagues interviewed 111 students at St. Lawrence University to gather information about their sleep habits and academic performance. They determined that the practice of pulling all-nighters was actually associated with lower grade point averages. The researchers presented the results of this study at the 21st Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in 2007.

Weight Gain

The infamous freshman fifteen may have just as much to do with your sleep habits as it does with the greasy pizza in the campus cafeteria. How much sleep you get, as well as the quality of your sleep, helps determine your weight. Dr. David Rapoport of New York University School of Medicine says this may be due to how sleep influences hormone production. The hormones grehlin and leptin influence appetite, with grehlin causing you to feel hunger and leptin letting your brain know when you are full. Not getting enough sleep causes increased grehlin levels and reduced leptin levels, so you keep eating without feeling satisfied.

Cardiovascular Disease Risk

As a college student, you may think that heart disease is not a concern for someone your age. Unfortunately, what you do in college can have a very real impact on your risk for cardiovascular disease. Researchers from the University of Chicago have determined that not getting enough sleep can lead to calcium buildup on the arteries. These calcium deposits are part of a process called atherosclerosis, which is when plaque builds up on the artery walls. In a group of 495 male and female adults, 27 percent of those who got less than five hours of sleep each night had plaque in their arteries. Only 6 percent of the participants who slept more than seven hours each night had arterial plaque. Plaque buildup increases the risk for heart attack, stroke and other serious consequences.

Increased Accident Risk

Not getting enough sleep also affects your reaction time and ability to make decisions. When you stay up all night, you are depriving your brain of the chance to rest. The day after an all-nighter, you may find yourself falling asleep in class or having trouble thinking clearly. These effects of all-nighters can be dangerous, especially if you drive or work with heavy equipment while you are tired. Accidents related to sleep deprivation cost up to $56 billion per year, according to a report in the journal “Sleep.” Motor vehicle crashes linked to sleep deprivation have injury and fatality rates similar to those of alcohol-related crashes, probably because alcohol and intoxication and sleep deprivation have similar effects. Lack of sleep impairs motor skills and slows down reaction time, making it difficult to stay in your lane, make turns and change lanes safely.

Mood Problems

Have you ever snapped at someone when you felt exhausted? Then you know that staying up all night can increase irritability and lead to mood problems. Not getting enough sleep can increase your susceptibility to stress and cause you to experience increased feelings of anger and sadness. Chronic sleep deprivation also increases the risk for depression, anxiety and other psychological disorders.

With all of the risks of pulling all-nighters, college students are better off learning how to manage their time so they get enough sleep each night. Create a study and homework schedule that allows you to get to bed at a reasonable time and wake up refreshed in the morning. Your GPA – and your health – will thank you.

About Leigh Ann Morgan

I write about all sorts of things but ever since I completely got rid of my constant neck pain by finding the perfect pillow, I've started to learn as much as I can about sleep quality and sleep disorders.