What Pulling an All Nighter Does to Your Body

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Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt personally victimized by the endless amount of homework you face every night.

The weekend suddenly comes to a halt and that big deadline comes through with the dreaded all nighter, fueled by a Costco-sized crate of Red Bull. As important as your beauty sleep is, finishing that 10 page paper that’s worth half your grade trumps all. But just what are you sacrificing when you toss sleep aside to save your final grade?

You know when your phone’s battery is down to 10% and its alive but barely breathing? The screen’s so dim you have to squint and you can’t do anything except watch in frustration as your poor phone dies a slow, painful death?

That happens to your body after pulling an all nighter. University of Washington Director of Health Promotion Mark Shaw compared the effects of staying up all night to being hungover.

“You might do things you might not usually do, such as when you have a hangover and you’re still under the influence of alcohol from the night before,” Shaw said.

Most of us have heard this before and immediately rolled our eyes, but according to Shaw, the physical and mental impairments after a night of no sleep are dangerous.

“If you’re tired, you’re not as alert,” Shaw said. “It’s like having physical blinders.” That stumbling around you do while drunk doesn’t just happen at the club. “You might have physical coordination problems. You might not notice the stairs or you might drag your feet,” Shaw said. “This may be a safety issue.”

Do you normally tie your shoes before you leave for the day? If you never slept that night, it might not occur to you to do that. Before you know it your face will become super close with the concrete. Ouch.

Even if you don’t fall flat on your face, the next morning will still suck. “A lack of sleep sets a scrambled tone for the next morning,” Shaw said. Running around trying to find everything you need for the day while you look like a red-eyed Squidward doesn’t sound particularly fun. According to Shaw, you might be tempted to skip breakfast to make up for the sleep you missed. But that’ll throw off the rest of your day and make it even worse.

The bottom line? Try to avoid that all nighter like a past hook-up buddy on campus. Easier said than done, but binge watching Scandal will just have to wait, especially if your planner shows three midterm projects to finish. Shaw suggested that students try to finish as much as possible before bedtime. “The paper might be better than if you do it while bleary eyed and after eight cups of coffee.”

For those who really have no choice, Shaw advised that students aim for about three or four hours of sleep. “The trick is not getting overly stressed out. You’ve got to contain the urgency.” Instead of chugging caffeine like there’s no tomorrow, Shaw said sticking to more natural methods like the cold water trick will minimize the effects of staying up all night.

As strange as it sounds, another way to minimize the “hungover” feeling the next morning is to stay positive. “Be kind to yourself even though it’s easy to be critical,” Shaw said. “If you’ve been telling yourself you’re a fool, you’re making it harder for yourself. You could be wearing yourself down further beyond the lack of sleep.” As Demi Lovato once said, what’s wrong with being confident? If anything, it’ll make that painful project fly by just a little bit faster. You got this.

So the next time a huge project looms before you, try to get at least some of it done so you don’t sport massive bags under your eyes in class. Being deprived of sleep is considered a form of torture, so why would you voluntarily bring that on yourself? And when time really runs out, remind yourself your bed awaits as your fingers fly over your keyboard.

Valerie is a senior at the University of Washington, studying English/Creative Writing and History. She loves anything caffeinated, Netflix and long road trips. She'll always be obsessed with Once Upon a Time, Scandal, Private Practice and Agents of Shield.

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