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What an All-Nighter Actually Does to Your Body

With all of the homework, extracurriculars, and social obligations we have in college, it’s no surprise that many of us collegiettes pull all-nighters. Though it may have seemed crazy during our pre-collegiette years, pulling all-nighters is almost a rite of passage now. However, the repercussions for sleepless nights go beyond an extra cup of coffee or the dreaded dark circles underneath our eyes the next day. In order to understand how pulling all-nighters really impacts us, let’s take a peak into the life of a sleepless collegiette, shall we?

Thursday at Midnight: So Much Work!

Even though it’s bedtime, the exam you’re freaking out about isn’t going to ace itself! Vivian, a collegiette from Boston University, frequently stays up doing all of the work she doesn’t have time to do during the day. “Sometimes, I have meetings from morning to night so I don’t have time for homework,” says Vivian. “Some days, I get two to four hours of sleep.” With such busy schedules, hitting the snooze button isn’t an option!

When it comes to acing an exam, you may stay up all night reviewing a massive pile of flashcards.  Although memorizing everything for our exam may seem extremely important, beauty sleep is a must! “There’s almost nobody out there who can get by with six hours of sleep a night,” says Dr. Brain Abaluck, a sleep doctor at Sleep Health Centers. “People who sleep six hours, or less, a night might not feel impaired, but people don’t realize the impairment in their own performance. They are harming themselves more than they realize by not getting a good amount of sleep.” After seven or eight hours of sleep, any collegiette will be ready to take on that terrifying exam!

Friday at 2AM: Snack Time

Okay, so it’s been a couple of hours and you’re starting to get a little hungry. What’s on the menu? When pulling an all-nighter, does anything sound better than eating something greasy and delicious? I don’t think so! Whether it’s a bag of chips or a slice of pizza, who doesn’t love indulging in junk food? “I usually have chips or pretzels,” says Vivian. However, those late night munchies are doing more than satisfying our crazy cravings:

Weight Gain

Pulling all-nighters alters two important hormones: ghrelin, which is the hormone that tells us when to eat, and leptin, which is the hormone that tells us when to stop eating.  According to WebMD, when we’re sleep-deprived, our bodies produce more ghrelin and less leptin. Factor in the less-than-stellar quality of junk food and what do we get? Weight gain.

It makes sense: most of us would choose a bag of chips over an apple at two o’clock in the morning. “Students end up staying up all night by pumping themselves with really nasty food,” says Dr. Debra Greene, an energy health specialist who is an expert on energy medicine and mind-body integration. The only thing that these unhealthy snacks will leave us with is a couple of pounds. And if we’re sleepless collegiettes, don’t’ expect us to be hitting up the gym!

Digestive Problems

Not only does sleep deprivation lead to weight gain, but sleepless nights can also damage our digestive systems. “When people stay up all night, they may develop gastro-intestinal discomfort,” says Abaluck. In addition to unwanted pain, pulling all-nighters alters the way our bodies filter glucose, which could ultimately lead to diabetes or kidney failure. Scary, right? In case you’re not a bio major, glucose is also known as simple sugar. Those late night snacks equal a lot of sugar! While we’re sleeping, our bodies take that time to refresh and repair themselves. When we don’t get sleep, it’s more difficult for our bodies to filter out all of that glucose. “Even if you’re a young, healthy person, your body starts to handle glucose in the same way that the body of a 60-year-old diabetic handles glucose,” says Abaluck. We’re fabulous and youthful collegiettes, we shouldn’t be dealing with these problems just yet!

Friday at 4 AM: Time to Re-Energize with Coffee

It’s getting late and you’re starting to doze off. What’s your next step? Sleep? Nope, caffeine! Whether you’re chugging an energy drink or making instant coffee in your dorm, you probably think caffeine is the ultimate way to keep yourself awake, right? Wrong! “They produce an artificial high that’s actually very hard on the system,” says Greene. While they aren’t completely detrimental to our health, energy drinks contain an unnecessary amount of caffeine and sugar. Although caffeine will leave you feeling temporarily energized, your energy level will dramatically decrease after a few hours. As much as we love our caffeine drinks, we need to be careful: according to The Boston Globe, too much caffeine can give us anxiety, panic, stomach problems, and even irregular heart rhythms.

Friday at 8 AM: Test Time!

The test you’ve been dreading is finally here. After cramming so much, you’re feeling confident. However, you keep blanking out on simple questions and can’t really focus on the task at hand. Why is that? 
Your Ability to Retain Information Decreases

Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492…or was it 1482? You just learned this last night, why can’t you remember? Well collegiettes, sleep deprivation impacts how much we learn. “Sleep is an essential component of learning: the less you sleep, the less you learn,” says Abaluck. According to a study by Harvard Medical School and Boston Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the parts of our brains that deal with memory are more active when we get some sleep. Even though you spent all night cramming, you won’t remember any of that information in the long run, let alone for the exam you’ve been studying for! If you can’t remember the material for this exam, you definitely won’t remember much come finals!

Poor Concentration

You’re writing out a short answer response and you just can’t focus! An insufficient amount of sleep may be the reason you’re having a hard time concentrating. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, just one sleepless night can shorten our attention span, making it more difficult for us to concentrate. It is necessary for you to stay focused when trying to ace your test!


We’ve all been there before: you’re stuck between two multiple choice options. Making the final decision is even more difficult when you’re sleep-deprived. According to a study from UC Berkeley, sleep deprivation shuts down the prefrontal cortex. For those of you who aren’t neuroscience majors, the prefrontal cortex is a fancy term for the part of the brain that is in charge of planning and decision-making. Shutting down the prefrontal cortex makes us more susceptible to making spontaneous decisions, which isn’t ideal when it comes to an important test.

Friday Afternoon: A Fight with Your Friend

Everything was just fine until your friend said something that made you irrationally mad, or vice versa. Although you’ve calmed down after an hour or two, the damage is already done. What even happened? Believe it or not, collegiettes, pulling all-nighters can alter the way we handle social situations:

Mood Swings

If the daily stress of college and the monthly PMS symptoms don’t make us moody enough, a lack of sleep can impact our ability to control our emotions. In a recent study, Harvard Medical Center showed that pulling all-nighters can give us terrible mood swings. There’s a reason that you are able to objectively look at a bad grade or a fight with your boyfriend after a good night’s sleep. While we’re sleeping, our brains release different kinds of neurotransmitters, which help organize our emotions and maintain our cognitive thinking. There’s an imbalance of these neurotransmitters when we don’t sleep, thus the mood swings. The next time you get mad at your friend after a sleepless night, it may just be your moods swinging in full force.

Social Skills

Sleep deprivation also impacts the way we perceive certain situations. “Lack of sleep also impairs interpersonal skills,” says Abaluck. “Sleep deprivation causes people to lose the ability to accurately read the emotions of others.” You could easily be offending your friends without realizing. For the sake of your friends, get some sleep!

Friday Night: Let’s Party!

Now that you’re finally done with your exam, you’re going to go to sleep, right? Of course not! We’re collegiettes, after all! Who doesn’t like to celebrate the end of a stressful week? While putting on your chicest outfit and going to a frat party sounds amazing, staying up late again makes things even worse! “It’s really important to get sleep,” says Greene. “I think a habit that a lot of college students have is that they’ll pull the all-nighter and, when it’s done, they want to go out and celebrate.” I know missing out on a party isn’t ideal, but getting some sleep is a must. Another night with minimal to no sleep will leave even the most fabulous collegiette feeling more sleep-deprived. “The shorter the period of sleep that you obtain, the more dramatic effect of sleep deprivation,” says Abaluck.
The Weekend: Starting to Feel Under the Weather

After a night of partying, it’s time to go on a mini shopping spree. No, collegiettes, I’m not talking about makeup and shoes. Instead, you’re heading to your nearest convenient store to pick up a lot of tissues and cough drops. What gives? You were just fine a few days ago! Consistently pulling all-nighters weakens our immune systems and can leave us feeling too sick to get work done. “These immune system imbalances usually first show up as a sniffle, a cough, or a scratchy throat,” says Greene. While we can totally handle these ailments, the effects can end up being more than a runny nose. “People who sleep deprive themselves are making themselves more vulnerable to colds and upper respiratory tract infections,” says Abaluck. With to-do lists almost as long as term papers, the last thing we need is a sick day! Even if you don’t have a cold, that all-nighter could be impacting your body in other ways. “I feel dizzy and nauseous during the day,” says Vivian. Apparently, eight hours a day also keeps the doctor away!

Monday at 8 AM: A Less-than- Perfect Score

You’re feeing pretty relaxed as your professor hands back all of the exams. Since you stayed up all night studying, you’re expecting to receive a stellar grade. But your smile turns upside down when you take one look at your test. You spent all night studying, what went wrong?  The culprit is your sleep deprivation! Researchers at Brown University Medical School discovered that there’s a correlation between the amount of sleep you get and your grades: students who get an insufficient amount of sleep usually receive lower grades than those who sleep more. What’s the point of studying all night if you won’t get the grade that you want?

Long-Term Effects

The effects from pulling all-nighters will go away soon, right? Wrong, collegiettes!  Chronic sleep deprivation can leave us with many startling long-term side effects:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
  • Depression and other mood disorders

The scariest side effect of untreated chronic sleep deprivation is death. While little research has been done on this subject- the potential results are way too extreme- sleep disorder professionals have information that implies chronic sleep deprivation results in our bodies shutting down for good. If that’s not a wake-up call (no pun intended) I don’t know what is!

Although we are very busy collegiettes, our wellbeing needs to come first. Since everyone is different, we all need a different amount of sleep. “The easiest way for any one person to know how much sleep they need is to give themselves an unlimited opportunity to sleep over several days,” says Abaluck. “See how much time you sleep, you may be surprised!” Just remember to give your body the TLC it needs.  Sweet dreams, collegiettes! 


Vivian, student at Boston University
Dr. Brian Abaluck , Sleep Doctor at Sleep Health Center
Dr. Debra Greene, Energy Health Specialist

Kelsey is a senior at Boston University, studying Magazine Journalism  in the College of Communication. As a magazine junkie and fashion fanatic, she loves being a part of the Her Campus team! At BU, Kelsey is president of Ed2010 at Boston University.  She has interned for Time Out New York, Lucky, Anthropologie, and Marie Claire. Kelsey also has a fashion blog, The Trendologist, where she covers the latest trends, fashion shows, and red carpet reports. When she isn't busy, Kelsey loves hanging out with her friends and family, shopping, reading style blogs, going for a nice jog, listening to music, creating baked goods in the kitchen, watching movies, and eating tons of frozen yogurt and sushi! After graduation, Kelsey hopes to work as an editor for a fashion magazine. Follow Kelsey on Twitter and Instagram at @kmulvs and don't  forget to check out her "Catwalk to Campus" blog posts!
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