The clock ticks past 4:00 am, an energy drink stands nearby and you’re about to meet the sunrise in the library — yet you’re only halfway through the research paper due tomorrow. Sound familiar?
Welcome to the world of all-nighters, a dark time many college students are accustomed to.
Despite the appeal of waiting until the last minute to cram study or write a paper, staying up the entire night and skipping sleep poses immensely negative health effects.
Most students agree that all-nighters typically come from the pressure of last-minute studying for an exam, writing a paper or finishing a project or presentation for class. No one loses a night of sleep over a simple homework assignment, instead we push ourselves for the assignments that count the most towards our GPA and require the most time. Funny how that works. Although you can send a prayer and hope the sacrifice will pay off, there are a few ways to avoid destroying your sleep schedule in college, even amidst midterm season.
“I knew I had my Brain Psychology exam from the first day of class when I was given the syllabus,” said Boston College junior, Julia Serko. “I knew it would be a lot of work, yet I started studying the elements of the brain the day before the exam. And I am no neuroscientist so this complex information was incredibly challenging to understand at 3:00 in the morning. My biggest piece of advice is when you know you have an exam that requires a great deal of mental effort to study for, start days if not a week in advance.” To avoid putting extra stress on your body, consider planning out your study schedule in advance. Buy a calendar and write down the dates when time-consuming assignments are due. Keep this calendar on your desktop to remind you when the upcoming work is due. Remembering this, begin preparing study guides and set out a timeline of when to finish little tasks so you are not doing the entire project in one night. Staying up late in college is natural but engaging in healthy habits will help avoid all-nighters in the future.
Most students think that an all-nighter just lasts one night and then sleeping the next day will make everything okay. Unfortunately, this misconception is wrong and hurtful to many students’ health. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that staying up for even just one night causes change in more than 100 proteins in the blood, including proteins that affect blood pressure, your metabolism and one’s immune system. These changes can elevate your likelihood of developing diabetes, weight gain and even cancer. Shifting your sleep and eating schedule disrupts proteins like Glucagon, a vital hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. “Athletes don’t realize how much sleep plays into the recovery of one’s body,” said Boston College athletic trainer, Sam Yorke. “A student-athlete can be doing everything right during the day but once you mess up your sleep schedule, all the effort is for nothing. This is most apparent during the weekends when students go out or try to catch up on work.” Learn to prioritize sleeping as you prioritize studying.
Not only does pulling an all-nighter affect your health but also your grades. Although we like to think that we are being productive in the wee hours of the night, the truth is our minds are not retaining the information expected nor are we producing our best work when it comes to projects or papers. “I can always tell when a student isn’t getting enough sleep,” said Boston College TA Reagan Posorske. “Oftentimes, they make careless mistakes on their homework and doze off in class. I can relate to them, it’s challenging keeping up with work and getting enough sleep but it’s so noticeable when someone sleeps in class.” Try starting your day off earlier rather than working late into the night.
A study done in 2018 by Neuroscientists in Norway revealed the damage that losing one night of sleep does to the brain. The scientists created a sample of 21 healthy men to perform a diffusion tensor imaging (or DTI) tests, which shows the process of water diffusion in the body and the overall health of the nervous system. The participants stayed awake for 23 hours in a controlled environment. The final report indicated drastic changes in the “white matter” inside the brain after one night with no sleep resulting in fractional anisotropy. In simpler terms, the brain’s process of connecting thoughts was altered as well as other functions throughout the brain.
Although the inevitable all-nighter will occur every once and a while, students must know the consequences of losing sleep and disrupting their schedule. In a time of immense stress dealing with adjusting to college, internships and job applications, students must remember to take care of their bodies. So drop that cold brew and let’s plan on meeting the sun later in the day, preferably not sunrise while slouched over a table in the library.