Let's go back to my first semester at the University of Alabama. It was the night before my first collegiate final exam – an introductory economics class, I think – and I was, frankly, not ready for it. So, being a typical arrogant freshman, I thought, "Oh, no problem. I'll just pull an all-nighter, ace the test and be playing NBA 2K11 by lunchtime. Piece of cake."
Around 10 p.m., I gathered my sleep-warding weaponry (Red Bull, coffee, loud music and a fan on full blast blowing right in my face) and proceeded to study. I did fine until about 12:30, when my eyelids began to droop slightly. But, after a few Red Bulls – four, to be exact – I was fine. And by that I mean I felt energized and alert enough to run a quick 5K, fight a bear or three, and still have time to get to class and ace my final.
Energy drinks … that's a post for another day, folks.
[Read: How to Be Healthy in College.]
Anyway, after my energy drink binge, I continued to study. Around 4 a.m., though, I knew I was reaching my limit. I could feel my mind shutting down, my body becoming increasingly weary. Still amid my empty Red Bull cans and notes, I leaned back, closed my eyes – just for a minute, of course – and, slowly, drifted… off… to…
I awoke suddenly to sunlight streaming through my blinds. I blearily looked at the alarm clock on my bedside table.
9:04. Four minutes past the start time for my exam.
As I sprinted across campus, still barefoot and wearing the sweatpants and ratty t-shirt I slept in, to my exam, I couldn't help but think about how stupid my all-night cram session now seemed. After all, I couldn't prove how much I knew about Adam Smith's Invisible Hand if I wasn't present to take the test.
If my harrowing experience isn't enough to dissuade you from pulling an all-nighter to finish your 10-page paper that's due tomorrow, here are some facts that might:
Your grades will be lower. Comparatively, at least. According to research from St. Lawrence University, students who never stayed up all night to study had an average GPA of 3.1, while those who regularly relied on the strategy only averaged a 2.9 GPA. This discrepancy is best explained by the effects of sleep deprivation. After all, bleariness, a splitting headache, forgetfulness and a general irritability can be distracting when you're trying to take a test.
Your memory gets worse. I'll say it again. Pulling an all-nighter actually makes your memory less functional. This is because sleep allows your brain time to repair and refresh itself. Your mind's effectiveness, including your attention span, information recall and reasoning skills, is significantly decreased when deprived of sleep.
Your study methods are less effective. Even if you weren't already functioning on almost no sleep, the way that an all-nighter forces you to study – namely, cramming – is considerably less effective than other methods. Studies have shown that we tend to remember the first and last things we hear in a given time period, while the information in the middle gets sort of hazy if it's remembered at all. Now, apply that to an eight-hour session of almost constant information intake by a sleep-deprived mind. That's a whole bunch of lost information.
[Read: 5 Bizarre Sleep Conditions.]
Sleep deprivation can lead to short-term euphoria. This is crazy stuff, folks. When deprived of sleep, your body actually jolts you with a surge of energy to help you get through your objectives, giving you a euphoric sense of intense satisfaction and motivation. That would be fine, except it's not real. Your body is actually trying to make you stop what you're doing and rest.
You're more likely to suffer a stroke as you age. Even if you're otherwise perfectly healthy (i.e. you exercise regularly and eat relatively well), your sleep habits can have adverse effects on your health. According to the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, healthy adults that get fewer than six hours of sleep per night are four times more likely to suffer a stroke than their well-rested counterparts.
The recommended amount of sleep, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute is seven to eight hours in a 24 hour time period. If you struggle with your sleeping habits, they suggest exercising about two or three hours before you hit the sack, and limiting your caffeine and nicotine intake.
[Read: The Trouble With Sleep Texting.]
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Steven Holbrook is a senior majoring in journalism at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala. In addition to finishing up his degree, he is currently working on attaining his personal trainer certification. He wants to use his fitness journey to help others attain their own fitness and nutrition goals. He loves a good omelet, aggravating his dog allergies and superhero t-shirts.