The false economy of an all-nighter

Gavin Watt Health and Wellbeing Physiologist More by this author
Tempted to work through until dawn? Nuffield Health Senior Health and Wellbeing Physiologist, Gavin Watt, explains why burning the candle at both ends could see your wellbeing go up in smoke.

In order to allow the body and brain to function optimally, the general recommendation is to sleep for between six-and-a-half and eight hours per night. But, whether for work or play, we’ve probably all pulled an ‘all-nighter’ at some point.  

It might feel like staying awake and pushing through is the sensible thing to do with a deadline looming, but it’s far from a good idea. In fact, depriving yourself of sleep negatively affects both your body and your mind.

Forget me not
Depriving yourself of sleep can lead to a decline in performance for specific learning and memory tasks. Maybe you stayed up late revising for an exam or trying to complete an essay on a tight deadline? If you’re low on sleep, the information you’re trying to retain will be stored as short-term memory, whereas long-term memory is what is required to recall what we learn. Simply, cramming doesn’t work.

Shields down
Feeling less than 100% after burning the midnight oil? Sleep deprivation can cause a physical reaction similar to when you’re stressed, impacting the immune system and making you more susceptible to illness. 

Long-term sleep deprivation can also increase your risk of cardiovascular disease as a result of increased levels of high-sensitivity C-reactive proteins. These proteins are markers of inflammation, which can cause structural changes to your artery walls, leading to increased risk of stroke or heart attack.

Milk and two sugars
It’s common to reach for caffeinated drinks in an attempt to maintain alertness and concentration levels, particularly when working through the night. Although caffeine has been shown to increase concentration levels for a short period of time, this is generally only the case if you’re already sleep deprived.

Drinking coffee all night won’t significantly improve your productivity until dawn and could have a detrimental effect on your sleep quality when you do finally hit the hay.

Midnight snack attack
You might be tempted to load up on sugar to stay awake, but this will cause a blood sugar spike followed by an inevitable crash, leaving you feeling sluggish. Depriving yourself of sleep can increase levels of ghrelin, the hormone that makes you hungry. So staying up all night will make you feel hungrier than you really are and could encourage over-eating. At the same time, it can decrease your insulin sensitivity, which increases your risk of type 2 diabetes.

To sleep, or not to sleep?
Don’t be fooled into thinking that working all night is worth it. The quality of your work, and your ability to remember what you’ve done won’t be anywhere near peak performance. Stimulants may offer a short-term energy spike, but no amount of caffeine or sugar can replace a night of quality rest. To function properly, your body needs sleep.

If you’re not choosing to stay awake, but regularly experience a disturbed night, learn how to retrain your body and mind to sleep well or improve your sleeping environment.

Wednesday 15 February 2017

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