There are a few perfectly valid reasons a girl may need to pull an all-nighter. It could be a next-morning work deadline, a uni assignment we’ve left to the last minute, a crying baby or just a night out on the town. Hey, no judgement here, most of us have done it at one point or another!
This means that most of us have also experienced the price you pay the next day. Whether or not you’re actually hungover, it certainly feels like you are. You feel like a ghost of yourself—faint, lightheaded and unable to focus on anything for longer than 0.5 seconds. It’s just not a good time. But what exactly causes this spaced-out feeling, and exactly how bad is it for your brain?
Well, turns out that even just a mild level of sleep deprivation can affect the structure of your brain. A study published in the journal PLOS One showed that just one night of missed sleep lead to microstructural changes in the brain. Meanwhile, another study from the University of California showed that skipping sleep impacts brain cells ability to communicate, which can explain why you always feel like you’re about 10 seconds behind everyone else when you’re sleep deprived!
Why is sleep so important for the brain?
It’s no secret that sleep is essential for all of our bodily functions. However, when we don’t get enough of it, our brain seems to be the first thing that suffers—with the effect being almost immediate. There are a few reasons behind this. “Your body relies on sleep to help your body rest and recover, and that includes your brain. Sleep literally helps “detoxify” your brain: cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) pumps through your brain more quickly while you doze, helping to clear waste from your brain tissues,” explains the National Sleep Foundation.
Sleep is also important for the production of myelin, a substance that surrounds the nerves in your brain. This waxy substance lines helps your nerves transmit the electrical signals needed for brain communication, essential for cognitive functions like learning and memory.
The good news is, skipping one night of sleep isn’t likely to affect your brain on any permanent level. Science shows that it can bounce back a day or so after returning to your normal sleep schedule. However, you certainly wouldn’t want to make a habit of it, as chronic sleep deprivation has been found to literally shrink the structure of your brain.
How to recover from an all-nighter
So, what about those nights where you literally have no choice but to stay up all night? Luckily, by doing some damage control you can minimise the negative impact on your brain function. Dr. Alexis Halpern, an emergency doctor, shares with Refinery29 how she prepares for and recovers from an overnight shift. The night before, she says she will sleep late as possible into the afternoon, then do some light exercise to get her body energized. “I eat light meals, and I only drink coffee right before I go in,” she says. “I definitely avoid a heavy dinner and make sure to bring a lot of snacks — preferably healthy, because a sugar rush overnight leads to a terrible crash at a time the body wants to be asleep.” Afterwards, she comes home and sleeps until the afternoon, then try to go to bed at a normal time.
You can also check out 5 science-approved ways you can make it through the day when you’re sleep-deprived here.