Are You Sure You Want to Pull an All Nighter?

There’s a test coming up and you barely have any time to study, first instinct is to pull an all nighter. Well you’re not alone, at the University of Cincinnati a survey found that 60% of college students have pulled an all nighter. It’s common knowledge that without sleep it’s harder to concentrate and learn new things, yet pulling an all nighter or staying up really late to finish studying can seem like the best option. This made me question how the brain stores memory and if pulling an all nighter is really that bad.

I found that there are two main stages of sleep, slow wave sleep (SWS) and rapid eye movement (REM). There are also two main categories of memory; declarative (factual memories) and procedural (ability to remember how to perform certain actions or skills). Sleep is essential because it quiets mental and behavioral stimuli; therefore, the less sleep time you have (or sleep in a certain stage) can make it difficult for your brain to consolidate new memories. I was able to find a couple of studies that show a correlation between sleep deprivation and a decrease in accuracy and memory retention.screen-shot-2016-09-02-at-7-56-22-am-405x405-1

One study measured the correlation between amount of sleep time and performance accuracy. The first was a computerized finger tapping test. Researchers found that there wasn’t any improvement, in the participant’s accuracy of pressing key sequences, 12hrs after they woke up. However, there was a 19-21% improvement in performance when the participants slept right after they learned and for those who slept for up to 12hrs after they were taught the sequence. The results had a P value of 0.01, which means that the null hypothesis can be rejected and, therefore, something is going on.

Another 3 day study measured participants ability to remember two short stories after being given different amounts of sleep. In the experiment, 20 participants were given two short stories that they were tested on in the morning of the 3rd day. On the first night the participants were either interrupted during stage 4, interrupted during REM sleep or given a full night’s sleep. Both groups were given a full night’s sleep the second day. Then on the third day they were tested on the stories. The results show that those who were disrupted during REM sleep did worse. This is interesting because REM sleep is only 20-25% of your total sleep time, so it can be assumed that it’s an important part of sleep for absorbing memories. Since there aren’t many subsequent studies, this result can be due to chance, but it still provides an incentive for us to get a full night’s sleep.

Therefore, a full night’s sleep is important for the consolidation of memories, however, another component of an all nighter is your ability to function during the day.

An additional study tested participants ability to learn after being sleep deprived. One group was allowed to sleep normally (control group) and the other group was deprived of sleep for a night (experimental). The group that was sleep deprived had a 40% reduced ability to learn new information the next day than the control group. This shows that the results can be due to chance and if there is a difference, it is not a big one. However, the experimental group also showed less hippocampal activity (the hippocampus allows you to make new memories), which researchers describe can be linked to an inability to learn new information.

The studies have not been on a large scale as some have a group of 20 participants and others don’t say the amount of people they used in the study. This limits the degree the results can be used toward a valid conclusion since experiments performed on a larger scale allow for more concrete results. Also the age groups of the participants weren’t mentioned either, which makes me question whether the consolidation of memory can be differ with age.

Despite this, the results give us enough certainty to determine that staying up all night to study will not only make you perform worse in the morning, but it will also set you up for not being able to absorb what you are learning the next day. So pulling an all nighter should not be your go to solution for an upcoming test.

10 thoughts on “Are You Sure You Want to Pull an All Nighter?

  1. John Rutledge

    I have never pulled off an all nighter because it is extremely unhealthy for you. Plus on top of that you will probably not remember any of the material that you studied. Just stay ahead on your school work… its not hard.

  2. Meaghan Elizabeth Simone

    I relate to this on a personal level, as I’ve been pulling all nighters all week (if you can’t tell, I’m a procrastinator). I agree completely with everything you said – the lack of sleep, even if you were using it to study, definitely makes it harder to retain information and remember certain things. It also definitely makes the day basically miserable, since all you’re doing is thinking about how badly you want to sleep – another way in how it distracts you in class. Very interesting post and i hope more people get to see it, to understand how harmful these all nighters really are.

  3. Liz Galante

    People pulling an all nighter I believe is something almost every college student can relate to. Were busy, stressed, and obviously in college so we think we can just get away with staying up all night. For someone who needs to nap everyday to function even if getting 12 hours of sleep I find it pretty impressive that people could pull staying up for that long. I loved the fact how you incorporated the correlation between sleep and performance afterwards because sleep definitely reflects on how you perform the next day.

  4. Mansi M Patel

    This is a relatable post to most college students. Though I have not pulled a complete “all-nighter” (I’ve allowed myself an hour or two of sleep), I can see through your data the correlation between amount of sleep and performance. This is one of those things that procrastinators everywhere know is bad for you but will probably continue to do anyway. “All-nighters” are not a necessary part of college and can be eliminated in it’s entirety simply by better time management.

  5. Julia R Martini

    Every college student can relate to this post. I really like how you used examples of why people would want to stay up all night. You used good research experiments as well! I like how you correlated the data. The only thing I would do is create citations or add a hyperlink in the post. Otherwise, it was very good.

  6. Ryan Gregory Blank

    This is a very relatable study seeing how in the last 48 hours, I have gotten a total of 4 hours of sleep (4 hours Wednesday night and an all-nighter last night). My purpose for pulling an all-nighter was not to study for a test though. It was to finish homework assignments before family coming to visit this weekend. An interesting study would be how much the quality of work decreases due to lack of sleep. You would give both groups the same amount of time to complete a task, but one group had more time and was able to sleep. The other group had to stay up drinking coffee and energy drinks to complete their task. Unfortunately, I would fall into the group that did all their work on coffee and energy drinks.

  7. Nicholas E Schneider

    I really enjoyed reading your post, which i was drawn to because I also posted a blog discussing whether it is more beneficial to pull an all-nighter or to get some quality sleep and study early in the morning prior to the exam. After doing my research, i concur that an all-night study session is absolutely not part of the recipe for success on an exam or assignment. While you may think that staying up all night is necessary to do well, it’s been proven that studying through the night makes you much less likely to retain the information you’re trying to study and much less likely to get a good score on your test.

  8. Tyler Olson

    Sleep is defiantly important for everything, not just being able to memorize information for tests. Tasks that people preform every day that require sharp reaction times, like driving, can be harmed by a lack of sleep. A study of several West Point cadets found that giving them more sleep helped significantly in the performance of reaction time tests. While this is a small study, bringing in the possibility that the results could be due to chance, it is a good indication that if you plan on driving the next day, it’s extremely important to get sleep the night before. Here’s the link to the study:

  9. zvk5072

    This blog was extremely relevant to my life the last few weeks. It has been tough getting very little sleep during probably one of the busiest times of the semester. As someone who has pulled a couple all-nighters already, it definitely is not worth it, but is necessary sometimes just to get work done. This article from the Huffington Post had some interesting takes on all-nighters: Nice job with this blog on a very relatable topic.

  10. Michael Mandarino

    I’ve never personally pulled an all-nighter to study for a test before but I’ve met people who have, and they almost always reported that they performed worse on the test they took the following morning because of this. They then all took really long naps during the day after their test – thanks for sharing, this post was really interesting

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