New research shows that pulling an all-nighter hurts memory and wrecks productivity, particularly if you’re female.
Burning the midnight oil can burn you at work the next day – especially if you’re female.
Studies have shown that sleep deprivation hurts employee performance, which costs the U.S. economy $411 billion in lost productivity each year. But new research from Sweden’s Uppsala University now finds that pulling an all-nighter to make a work deadline or prep for an exam messes with women’s brains even worse than men’s.
The 12 young men and 12 young women in the study were each tasked with memorizing an 8-digit sequence the morning after a full night of sleep, and another 8-digit sequence the morning after they were up all night. And while the young men’s working memory remained the same whether or not they got enough shut-eye, the young women remembered fewer digits after their all-nighters. They were also unaware that their memory performance had taken a hit.
Study author Frida Rangtell, a PhD student at Uppsala University’s Department of Neuroscience, noted in her report that more research with a larger group of test subjects is needed to determine why this gendered memory gap exists, and to see if there would be similar results of the men and women tested their memories later in the day.
But a 2016 Texas A&M University report also found that “Sleep deprivation’s effect on working memory is staggering,” with Dr. David Earnest writing that, “Your brain loses efficiency with each hour of sleep deprivation.”
Unfortunately, pulling an all-nighter is a necessary evil at one time or other for many people, particularly while they’re in school. One study found that 20% of college students pull an all-nighter at least once a month, with 35% staying up until 3 a.m. at least once a week.
Tina S., a Canadian blogger at 99to1percent.com who declined to give her last name, actually landed in the emergency room during one insomnia-ridden school week years ago. “I once pulled multiple all-nighters for a very important exam in college, and the day of the exam, I ended up in ER due to exhaustion!” she told Moneyish.
Field epidemiologist Emer Smith, 35, said the worst grade she ever received in college was the one paper that she wrote at the last minute the night before it was due. “I got a D,” she told Moneyish. “Funny enough, it was one of the only times I ever pulled an all-nighter. So trying to interpret the weird, vague paper [to use evidence and research to describe the experience of a person who was impacted by HIV] on no sleep? Bad combo. The next morning, I was a zombie.”
These late-night cram sessions do more harm than good. A 2007 study found that students who pulled all-nighters had lower GPAs than those who never did.
*pulls an all nighter studying for exams* *still manages to fail all of them* pic.twitter.com/pcjsarfxLD
— Sarah Dugan (@sarahhdugann_) December 18, 2017
“Studies on people who have been deprived of sleep show that their alertness level drops; their attention to detail drops; and their speed of cognitive processing actually slows down,” Dr. Larry Epstein, medical director of clinical sleep medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told Moneyish. “And as a result, they make more errors and their judgement is impaired. People just don’t make good decisions when they are sleep deprived.”
And staying up to memorize a speech or study for a test defeats the purpose, because sleep deprivation also impedes learning and memory.
“Sleep is a time when the things that you learned during the day are moved from the short-term memory to the long-term memory, and your brain consolidates the important things, and gets rid of what isn’t important,” explained Dr. Epstein, who was also the past president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “So you will actually remember things better if you’ve slept on them, than if you’ve stayed up all night rehearsing them.”
Plus, it just makes you feel physically awful. “Most of us need seven to nine hours of sleep,” Dr. Alcibiades Rodriguez from the NYU Langone Comprehensive Epilepsy Center-Sleep Center, told Moneyish. “Not sleeping enough can also make you feel worse the next day and operate on a level below your capacity,”
So while you can gulp coffee or take cold showers to make yourself more alert in the short-term after an all-nighter, you’re actually better off finding time to catch 40 winks before you get to work.
“You can’t get back all of that learning enhancement that didn’t happen during sleep,” said Dr. Epstein. “They key is to sleep, so if you have a little bit of time, taking a short nap right before your test or presentation can be really helpful to improve function and alertness.”
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