5 Ways An All-Nighter Messes With Your Body — & How To Bounce Back

Photographed by Ben Ritter.
Whether you were forced to stay up all night to catch up on work or you just couldn't get yourself to doze off, having to go without sleep is often an unfortunate fact of life. But, even missing a single night could be doing more harm than you realize. The good news, though, is that it's easy to get back on track if you know what you're doing.

First, there is an upside to skipping the snooze: Researchers at Harvard and the University of California Berkeley found that you actually get a quick burst of euphoria from missing sleep. Basically, being sleep-deprived causes your brain's reward circuitry to be a little hyperactive. But, those feel-good neurons may also make you more likely to make riskier choices and act more irresponsibly.

From there, it's even more bad news. A small, new study, soon to be published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, suggests sleep deprivation could even affect the genes that regulate your circadian rhythm. In the experiment, 15 participants (all men, unfortunately), all got one full night of sleep and one sleep-deprived night. After staying up all night, the participants' cortisol levels and genetic markers were out of whack, indicating that a single night without snoozing can cause big-level changes.

Those changes can make actually functioning like a normal human being the next day extra hard. Studies show that we're pretty terrible at learning and memory tasks after an all-nighter. For instance, we're easier to fool into believing false memories when we're sleep-deprived. Our sleepy selves are horrible at tasks that measure our short-term memory and reaction time. And when we, sleep-deprived, get tripped up on complex problems, we lose the self-awareness that would ordinarily keep us moving. Instead, we get stuck obsessing over a question when we don't know the answer.

Your brain will also build up some lovely clutter. That's right — one of the brain's crucial jobs during sleep is clearing itself of all the toxic byproducts that have built up as a side effect of all your hard thinking during the day. Although missing a single night's brain cleanup probably isn't too serious, chronic collection of crud can mirror the development of neurodegenerative diseases.

If all that wasn't enough to send you off to bed, other research finds that we're not exactly pleasant to be around without those ZZZs. One study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, found that our ability to discriminate between complex facial expressions goes out the window if we skip our REM sleep. This can cause us to inadvertently treat our friends like foes.

Well, that certainly doesn't sound like fun! But what if it's too late or you just couldn't get to sleep? Science of Us has the answer. As its new video explains, you can get back on track by resisting the urge to sleep in, getting a wholesome breakfast ASAP, grabbing a cup of coffee if that's your thing (but stick to just one), and soaking up some sun to get your energy flowing.

All in all, if you're forgoing your crucial hours of sleep (at least seven per night!), you could be setting yourself up for a pretty rough morning. But, planning ahead can make all the difference for a speedy recovery.
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