By Jeremy Chan
You know it’s going to be a long night. You head out to Weldon with your third coffee of the day, determined to stay awake until you finish that assignment. As time passes, you begin to feel the effects of the caffeine wearing off. Your eyes begin to blur and your focus wanes. You put your head down on the table for just a second and the next thing you know you’re passed out from exhaustion. Walking through a university campus, this is not an unfamiliar sight. In a way, it seems like sleep deprivation is a common feeling amongst virtually all university students. Whether it be finals season, midterm season, or just another crazy week, sleepless nights have simply become a part of the overall university experience.
As rampant as sleep deprivation is, not many students know how severe the consequences can be. Many believe the sleep loss can be compensated by simply taking naps. To some degree, this is true; however, the act of napping after an all-nighter can throw off one’s circadian rhythm. The term circadian rhythm refers to the body’s internal clock, which can be altered by external factors such as light and temperature. By napping for an extended period of time after an all-nighter, the body’s circadian rhythm is shifted, making it more difficult for one to fall asleep at night.
A lesser-known consequence of sleep deprivation is microsleeps. Microsleeps appear more often in those that have been deprived of sleep for a duration of time; however, they can also appear after one night of missed sleep. They are brief episodes in which an individual becomes unaware and unresponsive. Other symptoms of microsleeping include head nodding or eye drooping. This usually occurs when the eyes are open, and can last anywhere from a few seconds to a full minute. Microsleeps can have severe consequences, especially when the individual is doing something that requires their full attention (e.g. driving, working in a lab).
Physiologically, the effect of one all-nighter on the body is not too severe. One can usually recover within a day, if they go about it correctly. However, the danger arises when one goes multiple days without sleep. The effects of extreme sleep deprivation were seen in several studies. After several days of sleep, individuals began to experience delirium and hallucinations. In some studies on laboratory rats, a lack of sleep resulted in death, which was attributed to increased energy use.
While assignments and grades are important, the effects of missing just one night of sleep can be quite severe. The decreased alertness, cognitive function, and mental flexibility from one all-nighter can make the most mundane of tasks (e.g. driving) more dangerous. Ultimately, all-nighters are an inevitable part of the university experience; however, students should do their best to avoid these situations, as one night without sleep can bring about severe consequences.
Link to rat study for those that are interested: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2928622