Thinking of Pulling an All-Nighter? Do So at Your Own Risk!

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When studying for final exams, students find themselves battling fatigue as well as the course material. (Photo Illustration by Kyle Morrison/The Observer)

By Vincenza Di Maggio
Staff Writer
Published: May 04, 2011

It is currently 5 a.m. in the morning.  No, are you kidding?  I did not wake up early.  That would be crazy!  I just never went to sleep.  It’s finals week and I have a paper due tomorrow.  Just passing the panic-point, I have accepted the fact that I will be up all night.

I, of course, was not in this calm mindset five hours ago.   Storming into my dorm room and with arms flailing and voice cracking, I ranted to my suitemate.  I dramatically shouted things like “I can’t live like this!” and “My life is falling apart!” and mumbled something about how juggling isn’t my strong suit.

My suitemate, in her very-cool-and-collected way said, “You can do it!” Psh, easy for her to say!  She’s one of the most organized people I know: a professional juggler.  The art of time management is a concept I have never been able to master, and so here I am, at 5 a.m., sucking on peppermints, because I read in an article entitled “Sleep and the Amateur Astronaut” that “the scents of peppermint, eucalyptus, and jasmine all enhanced alertness,” while caffeine can “lead to less-focused alertness.”  Who knew? The way I see it, sleep is negotiable, my GPA isn’t.  Besides, I’ll just sleep in all weekend to make up for lost sleep during the week, right?  Wrong!

Professor Belsky, adjunct professor of communication and media Studies, was once the lead writer of the sleep section for the launch of  She wrote stories on poor sleep hygiene and numerous pieces on how to break out of bad sleep habits.  According to her research, there is no such thing as making up for lost sleep.  She says, “You think that you are going to pull all nighters and then make up for it by sleeping all day, but it doesn’t work that way.  When sleep is gone, it’s gone.  If you end up sleeping three hours more two days later because you are exhausted, that’s that day’s sleep; it doesn’t wipe out everything else that you have done to yourself.”

Not only will pulling all-nighters deprive you of precious sleep time you will never be able to make up for, but loss of sleep will also have a significant impact on your cognitive abilities (memory, judgment, focus, and emotional control). Professor Belsky says that as a college student she never pulled all-nighters.  “I was pretty sure I was going to recall the material even worse.  Your memory really suffers from lack of sleep.” In fact, students who pull all-nighters are at a disadvantage and will suffer severe consequences.  She says, ”If you just get too little sleep, not no sleep, but even justfive to six hours of sleep, after two nights in a row, you end up on day three as cognitively impaired as if you were legally drunk.”

That’s not all.  Dr. Roberts, professor of chemistry, whose research involves the effects of sleep deprivation on the human immune response, says that, “staying awake after 11 p.m. studying for finals will not only interfere with your thought process the following day, but also harm your immune response and make you more susceptible to a cold or a flu.”

According to a New York Times article entitled “How Little Sleep Can You Get Away With?” then director of the division of neuroscience at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Md., Gregory Belenky, conducted a sleep study in 2003.  Sleep subjects who got nine hours of sleep performed well on the psychomotor vigilance task, a test in which “men and women sat in front of computer screens for 10-minute periods, pressing the space bar as soon as they saw a flash of numbers at random intervals.”  Those who slept for seven hours had slowed responses.  According to the National Sleep Foundation, Americans average a total of 6.9 hours of sleep on weeknights.  This means that Americans are cognitively impaired on a daily basis.

Professor Zimmerman, associate professor of english, is aware of the fact that college students have busy schedules.  “Some work four jobs, or have four finals in two days.  Even students who plan are sometimes caught off guard, it’s human,”  she says, and admits to having pulled all-nighters in college herself.  Professor Zimmerman has helpfully implemented drafts into her syllabus to take into account the fact that students are sometimes forced to write their papers the night before.  She says, “I don’t think anyone’s first version is the best version.  Teachers need to structure revision into the syllabus to have students avoid writing papers at the last minute.  If you can persuade students that they can do better work and get more satisfaction out of doing better work, that’s what we should be teaching.”

The truth is that I used to be much better at pulling all-nighters.  I would have expected that I would become more accustomed to them over the years, but instead, I find that it has become increasingly difficult to stay up late.  I used to worry that it was because I was growing older and that somehow my mind had drastically aged in four years.  However, after having done my research on sleep deprivation I know that it is normal to feel mentally exhausted after 11 p.m.  Phew, that’s a relief!  Nevertheless, staying up all night will have detrimental effects on my mental sanity, my physical health as well and on my schoolwork.  I am actually doing myself more harm than good.  It is time that I learn how to manage my time correctly.  I think I’ll start by taking a few pointers from my roommate.