It starts off innocently enough. It’s midnight and you’re still working on that paper. Or catching up on Breaking Bad. But when you’re going to bed as your roommate is heading to the gym, you’ve hit the point of no return. You’ve officially pulled an all-nighter. Lack of sleep leaves you feeling irritable, sluggish and generally “blah.” It’s time to find the quickest ways to recover so you can be less zombie, more human.
If anyone knows about sleep (or lack thereof) it’s Dr. Kim Herman, MD. Currently with the Shore Health System/University of Maryland Medical System, Herman spent five years working at a sleep disorders center. She knows that all-nighters are physically noticeable just by looking at your face, dull your senses, and make you irritable.
And for students, research has shown that the majority of those who study all night tend to have lower GPAs than their well-rested peers, said Herman.
“Sleep deprivation can significantly decrease cognitive functioning,” said Herman. “It causes decreased reaction time in activities that require sustained attention. Mental status changes including depression, anxiety, poor mood, irritability, low energy (and) poor judgment. These signs often disappear when normal sleep is restored.”
Herman makes a convincing case for keeping a normal sleep schedule, claiming that performance lapses are highly predictable when staying awake for more than 16 hours at a time. And often times, these lapses go unnoticed by the individuals experiencing them, so while you may think you’re functioning at a normal level on even an hour of sleep, in reality you’re just slightly above unconscious.
And staying up all night may lead to more serious consequences than bags under your eyes and a bad mood. Herman explained that, “Individuals may experience ‘micro sleeps’ which involve brief sleep episodes for only a few seconds whenever there is a lack of physical activity, like when you’re driving. These brief periods of sleep can result in catastrophic consequences.”
A car driving 60 miles per hour can travel more than 250 feet during a three second micro sleep, said Herman, meaning that a curve in the road or a breaking car in front of the driver could cause a serious accident.
Research has shown that the majority of those who study all night tend to have lower GPAs than their well-rested peers…
There are also long-term consequences associated with sleep deprivation, said Herman. Sleep deprivation is linked with an increased likelihood of developing hypertension and other cardiovascular issues. It can also lead to decreased immune function and an increase in appetite which can be frustratingly counterproductive to the hours you log on the treadmill.
Staying up all night doesn’t do your body any favors, but trying to break the habit can be difficult. With classes, work, activities, and other obligations, it’s hard to fit everything into a day. Emily Flanders, a 2010 graduate of St. John Fisher College, suggests scheduling out each day (including breaks) ahead of time to avoid late-night work.
“When I was in school I also had a toolbar that would block websites temporarily – you set and control which ones – and I’d block Facebook, Twitter, and other major distractions,” said Flanders. If your writing style is of the “write a paragraph then immediately go on Facebook” variety, then this may be an option to consider.
But even for the most organized, all-nighters just sometimes can’t be avoided. If you’ve already stayed up all night, there’s no turning back. Here are a few ways you can help your body recover.
1. Sleep in: Herman emphasized that the best thing you can do for your body after you’ve been up all night is to extend total sleep time. If possible, go to bed early for the next day or two after your all-nighter and let yourself sleep in until you wake up naturally. No alarm clocks allowed.
“Achieving continuous sleep helps us rest in accordance with our internal biological circadian clock and experience all of the sleep stages necessary to reap the restorative, energizing, and revitalizing benefits of sleep,” said Herman.
2. Take a nap: If you can’t go to bed early and sleep in the next day, Herman recommends a “strategic nap.” Naps that last 15-20 minutes can boost your energy and alertness for several hours after you wake up. It’s not as ideal as sleeping until you wake up naturally, but it’s certainly helpful if you need to function after you’ve been up all night.
3. Caffeine, with care: When you’re tired, it’s tempting to use coffee or energy drinks to take the place of sleep you didn’t get the night before. But caffeine should be used properly to get the best results. In moderation – roughly 300 milligrams or less – caffeine can lead to increased alertness, energy, and the ability to concentrate, said Herman. It can also improve reasoning, memory, orientation, attention and perception.
“The best way to benefit from the stimulating effect of caffeine is to consume small amounts frequently throughout the day,” said Herman. “Larger doses can stimulate the mind for a short time, and then causes an alertness crash as the effect wears off.”
In short, that trenta size from Starbucks? Probably not the best plan.
4. Eat wisely: Choosing your meals wisely is a must when you need extra energy after a long night.
“Great energizing meals and snacks that will keep you going for a long time incorporate a combination of foods that contribute protein, fiber, and complex carbs,” said Herman.
Her example: a half sandwich and a glass of milk or granola and a piece of fruit and a yogurt. Other high-energy foods include: whole grains, fatty fish (salmon or tuna), dairy products, chicken, eggs, nuts, mushrooms and beef. Herman added that snacking is important and skipping meals is to be avoided.
5. Other energy boosters: Staying hydrated can help keep your energy level up as well, said Herman. Physical activity and being around bright light are other energy-boosting options available if you can’t take a nap or get your hands on some caffeine.
Staying up all night may seem like a good option for productivity, but for your health, your mood and your GPA’s sake, it’s best to divide up your work/TV watching habit into manageable chunks and go to bed at a reasonable hour. Emphasis on reasonable. You are in college, after all.
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