Everyone has at least once in their lives stayed awake throughout an entire night. Usually, being up all night is a choice of high school or college students—commonly for partying; excessively responsible workers and workaholics also tend to spend sleepless nights working on their tasks. It is widely believed that, unlike insomnia (which means a regular lack of sleep), a couple of sleepless nights now and then cannot do much harm. Unfortunately, this is not true—being awake for 24 hours even once in a long period of time has unpleasant effects on health.
Everyone knows a night spent without sleep (or having little sleep) can result in fatigue and bad mood in the morning; many would consider this a small price for a night of fun or productive labor. However, several sleepless nights can cause more serious mental effects. In particular, your ability to focus and to make decisions will decrease significantly; having a foggy brain and unclear thinking, as well as falling asleep mid-day are also among the possible negative effects. However, in a long-term perspective, the health effects are much worse: proneness to obesity, high blood pressure, heart diseases, diabetes, and so on (NHS).
Fatigue and sleepiness are just the tip of the iceberg. Specifically, experts from Sweden compared the effects of one-night sleep deprivation to a mild concussion. They conducted a study in which a group of healthy young men slept 8 hours one night, and then abstained from sleep another night. The blood samples taken from the men after the sleepless night revealed a 20% increase of neurochemical markers associated with brain cells damage (compared to the samples taken after the full rest night). “Dysfunctional sleep has been linked with a range of health problems, and it looks like that’s because we’re injuring our brain by not getting enough sleep,” says W. Chris Winter, M.D., medical director of the Martha Jefferson Sleep Medicine Center in Charlottesville, Virginia (Men’s Health).
At the same time, some results of the studies were surprising. According to new research, one night without sleep can increase the levels of dopamine in the brain—a substance responsible, in particular, for wakefulness. Scientists believe that by producing more dopamine, the brain tries to compensate for the negative effects of a sleepless night; still, according to the study, cognitive deficits caused by sleep deprivation remain significant. “[…] Dopamine may increase after sleep deprivation as a compensatory response to the effects of increased sleep drive in the brain,” says David Dinges, PhD, at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (ScienceDaily).
Obviously, abstaining from sleep has no positive effects on the human body. One-night deprivation of sleep results in fatigue and irritability; several sleepless nights affect one’s ability to concentrate and make decisions. Swedish experts compared the negative effects of the lack of sleep to a mild concussion, and although studies show that the brain tries to compensate the lack of sleep by producing more dopamine, it is still not enough to compensate the harm dealt. So, no matter what your reasons are to stay awake for a prolonged time, make sure to have a normal 8 hours sleep.
Girdwain, Jessica. “The Scary Side Effect of One Sleepless Night.” Men’s Health. N.p., 12 Jan. 2014. Web. 11 Jan. 2016.
“Why Lack of Sleep is Bad for Your Health.” NHS. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Jan. 2016.
“One Sleepless Night Increases Dopamine in the Human Brain.”ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 Aug. 2008. Web. 11 Jan. 2016.
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