Can lack of sleep be good for you? Science claims that in some particular cases it can! Knowing how to harness the benefits is a matter of understanding the science and applying it to your own schedule. Let’s check how to make the most of your staying up all night long.
Before trying to prove to you that yes, sometimes sleep deprivation can appear quite beneficial to your physical and mental health, I’d like to dot a few i’s. Firstly, please let’s not consider sleep deprivation as a remedy for anything. Secondly, let’s agree that the reason for your staying up at night is not a party or binge-watching but something more serious, something that requires responsible attitude and concentration. Deal?
How You Should Understand Sleep Deprivation
If I regularly pulled an all-nighter because I had to write my essay or blogpost for a contest, I’d suffer from what medicine defines as sleep deprivation. Fortunately, that happens to me once in a fortnight, so I can’t consider myself a poor sleep-deprived thing.
However, if you or someone of your nearest and dearest are like me back in my student years, when for months I would have a nap only in-between my classes and job (at night I would finish homework), then you can vividly imagine what sleep deprivation feels like.
More scientifically but still simply put, sleep deprivation is a human condition that occurs when a person doesn’t get enough sleep on a regular basis .
Sleep deprivation is a part of a much broader and considerably more serious health problem defined as sleep deficiency. This condition is mostly characterized by sleep disorders of various types, poor quality of sleep, and the discrepancy between your sleep routine and the body’s natural, biological clock.
While sleep deficiency is unlikely to offer its victim any benefits, sleep deprivation appears not as harmful to human health as it is believed to be. Unless a 3-hour sleep turns into an extreme measure taken every day, of course.
So let’s make out what can be positive in the influence that lack of sleep has on our health.
Why Sleep Deprivation Actually Isn’t That Bad for You: Science Speaks
What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. And this is true for lack of sleep, however ironic this may sound.
It turns out pulling an all-nighter once in a while can have an amazingly beneficial effect on our thinking capacity and well-being. If you had at least one sleepless night in your life, I bet you were definitely surprised to find yourself more alert and agile early in the morning than you usually are after a 6-7-hour slumber. Yeah, at 7-8 p.m. you might feel squeezed like a lemon. But this is a good sign: at night you’ll sleep like a log.
Science has tried to come up with a rational explanation of all these feelings and arrived at a final verdict: sleep deprivation can be good for our health as long as it doesn’t become an integral part of our lifestyle.
Here are the arguments.
Sleepless Nights Can Help Us Reset Our Biological Clocks
Each of us has the so-called biological or body clock. It is a special biological mechanism that defines our behavior at a particular time during the day and is regulated by our brain. The body clock has a period of 24 hours which includes a 5-10-hour period when we feel sleepy .
Although it is very important to plan our daily activities so that this very period of natural sleepiness coincides with the period we slumber peacefully in our beds, few of us are really good at such planning.
I’m taking my hat off to all those wonderful people who sleep 7-8 hours a day and still can make time to do everything they want. I know I’ll never join their ranks because my body clock is always acting up: it either keeps me sleepy all day long and wakes me up in the middle of the night or doesn’t send me to bed at all.
But it has been proved that sleep deprivation can help me and all those like me to set the biological clock to zero and start a new life, literally .
The recipe is very simple: stay busy with completing, say, a monthly report all night long, have a good breakfast in the morning, do as many tasks during the day as you can manage, and go to sleep early in the evening. (I guess going to bed at 9 p.m. is quite early for a human who lives in the 21st century.) You’ll wake up at 7 a.m. easily and feel really energetic.
Lack of Sleep Boosts Our Brains’ Activity
No, you probably won’t do your job faster the day after you pull an all-nighter, but paradoxically, you are still more likely to make reasonable decisions and find creative solutions.
Of course, good sleep contributes more to your brain’s ability to rise to daily challenges. When you get your lawful shuteye, you leave your brain on its own, thus allowing it to sort out the information it got at daytime, build new associations, analyze your experiences, and so on. But when you deprive yourself of slumber, your brain has to postpone its own commitments and keep supporting your activity.
What does that lead to?
In 2012 a neurophysiologist at the University of Milan, Marcello Massimini, conducted an experiment which proved that the sleep-deprived human brain reacted to particular stimuli more actively .
The researcher used noninvasive transcranial magnetic stimulation to deliver light jolt of electricity to the frontal cortex, hence prodding brain cells in brains of people who had been awake for two, eight, twelve and 32 hours in order to observe how the rest of the brain responded.
He found out that more sleep-deprived brains responded to the jolt with faster and stronger activity spikes. Massimini jokingly concluded that if we poked a sleep-deprived friend in the ribs, he or she would jump higher than anyone who got normal shuteye.
Yet, putting humor aside, it’s worth highlighting that due to our brains’ reaction to sleep deprivation, it can work as a boost for our short-term memory and creativity . But there again, unless it’s turned into a routine.
Sleep Deprivation Is a Part of Treatment for Depression
Above I’ve mentioned that we shouldn’t consider lack of sleep as a remedy, but still, I can’t help referencing to the recent studies proving that it can be included into the treatment for depression .
Despite the fact that sleep serves as a balancer of our mood and is largely believed to enhance it, lack of sleep turns out to be helpful to people who suffer from depression. Apparently, the depressed mood shouldn’t be kept stable, so an all-nighter (and even two or three ones) can become a positive and effective destabilizing factor for it.
If you read the report of the conducted experiments, you’ll come across many smart scientific terms the researchers use to explain the physiological processes happening in our brain when we sleep, when we are awake, and when we suffer from depression, which makes the whole issue too complicated and less interesting to explore, honestly.
But if we summed it all up and put it all simply, we would come to a conclusion that when we deprive ourselves of regular shuteye, we force our brain to use its resources for supporting the perception and thinking processes at night in the same way it supports them at daytime, instead of doing what it usually does when we sleep. As a result, the brain has no additional resources for “supporting” the state of depression, since its one and only duty is to keep functioning in literally extreme nocturnal conditions.
So, if something discouraging happens during the day, you can try pulling an all-nighter in order to make the influence of this event on you less strong. However, remember to have a decent sleep the next day.
Sleep is essential for our physical and mental health. Although the amount of sleep each of us needs to survive may differ, we still can’t fully deprive ourselves of the equally positive effect it has on our brains, bodies, and souls. But at the same time, sleep deprivation “in small doses” can boost our analytical, decision-making and creative capacities. All-nighters can make us feel recharged with the energy that is maintained as an inner, emergency reserve. Such recharging once in a while is beneficial to us. However, we should never turn it into a habit if we want to stay healthy and happy.
- Antle, M. C., Mistlberger, R. E. (2000, December 15). Circadian clock resetting by sleep deprivation without exercise in the Syrian hamster. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11125012.
- Boland, E.M., Rao H., Dinges, D.F., Smith, R. V., Goel, N., Detre, J.A., Basner, M., Sheline, Y.I., Thase, M. E., Gehrman, P.R. (2017). Meta-Analysis of the Antidepressant Effects of Acute Sleep Deprivation. Retrieved from: https://www.psychiatrist.com/JCP/article/Pages/2017/v78n08/16r11332.aspx.
- Lynskey, D. (2014, May 22). The upside of insomnia: how sleep deprivation aids creativity. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/may/22/upside-insomnia-sleep-deprivation-creativity-musicians.
- Morgen, E. P. (2012, July 1). Sleep Deprivation Amps Up the Brain. Retrieved from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/sleep-deprivation-amps-up-brain/.
- What Are Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/node/80279.
- Wozniak, P. (2012, May). Good sleep, good learning, good life. Retrieved from: https://www.supermemo.com/en/articles/sleep#Alarm%20clock.