Sometimes it is inevitable that you will go a night without sleep. Those in college know this all too well, as they cram for final exams, or mothers of newborns who wake up just as she dozes off. The next day, the mind and body suffer.
Effects On The Body After No Sleep
After a night of no sleep it makes sense that you will fee tired the next day, but there is far more going on in your brain after it is not able to rest. It can almost make you feel high and giddy at first, leading to poor judgement. This is because the pleasure circuitry in the brain stimulates feelings of euphoria, which can lead to impulsive decisions and risky behavior, even addictions if done night after night. Basically, you feel wired, but also a bit agitated, and unable to concentrate on more than one task.
The director of the Clinical Sleep Research Unit and professor psychology at the University of Loughborough explains how lack of sleep effects the brain. “The effect of sleep deprivation on the brain is it makes it sleepy and reduces your ability to sustain attention. You can make some simple decisions like ‘shall I have a coffee or a tea’ but you find it difficult to make chain decisions that follow on from one another because of your attention lapses.”
While, at first you might feel wide awake and alert, getting a second wind in the morning near 10am, as your day goes by, your need for sleep comes in waves with dips in feeling alert at 3pm. This crash makes you just want to crawl into bed, but most people need to carry on with their day, whether it be work, caring for a baby, or whatever their daily routine may be. Decision making is highly impaired as is physical activity. You are more accident prone in the afternoon, and make bad decisions then too. If you have anything important to do, make sure to get it done in the morning before you crash.
If you happen to know ahead of time that you will not be getting sleep in the upcoming night, try to get more rest ahead of time. Get more sleep, by taking a nap, or sleeping in the prior morning. While you really can’t store sleep, it can help make the day after a sleepless night a little more bearable.
Do Not Drive
Roughly 20% of car accidents are sleep related. Do not get behind the wheel after a night of no sleep. It is one of the most dangerous things you can do that day, equivalent to drinking and driving.
Squeeze In A Nap
If you have a spare hour and a half, you can get a whole sleep cycle in with a nap, but even short naps will help. A little cat nap of 10 minutes will still make you feel more rested and alert. When NASA tested astronauts and military pilots, they found a 100% increase in alertness and 34% improved performance after a 40 minute nap.
Use caffeine to get you through the day. One every two hours will help you increase your alertness. Choose a light roast over a dark roast for more caffeine per cup. While the darker roast has a stronger flavor, caffeine is affected by the roasting process.
The perfect combination for rejuvenating yourself the day after a sleepless night is to squeeze in a half hour nap and then grab a cup of light roast coffee when you wake up
Dr. Reading explains it like this. “A chemical called adenosine builds up during prolonged wakefulness as a major indicator of ‘tiredness. Caffeine works by antagonizing adenosine and is partially effective, although people vary enormously in their sensitivity to caffeine.”
Walk Towards The Light
Get out in the sunlight if you can, or sit by a window or under a lamp. The bright light will reset your internal clock. A quick walk on a sunny day is the best thing you can do. The physical exercise boosts your energy while the sunlight stimulates your brain, making sure it knows it’s morning. The cool air also wakes you up. If you cannot get outside, walk around your house or office, and up and down stairs, and make sure to open a window or turn on the air conditioner. The warmer it is inside the more sleepy you’ll feel.
Stay away from sugary snacks such as cereal, toast, bagels, and fruit juice. You might feel energized for a moment, but the crash will be devastating to your body after a night of no sleep. Instead choose eggs, cheese, yogurt, kefir, or nuts, and make sure to drink plenty of water.
Pulling All Nighters
One all nighter is not going to cause any permanent damage to the body, but do not make it a habit. Repetitive nights of no sleep can cause chronic sleep deprivation leading to emotional and physical problems, such as anxiety and a weakened immune system.
Repay your body with an extension of 90 minutes more of sleep the next night, but keep in mind you will fall into a much deeper sleep and find it harder to wake the next morning. If you suffer from sleepless nights regularly, that are not caused by an outside stimulant such as a crying baby, exams, or worries, see a doctor for help with insomnia.