Pulling All-Nighters Is Way Worse For Your Brain And Memory Than You Think


Pulling an all-nighter is a last resort in most situations. No one wants to stay up all night studying, preparing, memorizing or working.

But sometimes, it just has to happen.

Personally, I have never stayed up past 3 am. I am literally just not physically capable of doing it. (Yes, I've fallen asleep mid-conversation at bars.)

But despite my complete inability to see the lights come back on at closing time in a New York City bar, it's universally known no one feels their best after a sleepless night.

This especially applies to the nights that involve furiously cramming for something big happening the next day, like a final exam.

It turns out, staying up all night working doesn't do your brain any favors.

According to a study conducted by Texas A&M University, the more you deprive yourself of sleep, the worse off you are:

Sleep deprivation's effect on working memory is staggering... Your brain loses efficiency with each hour of sleep deprivation.

The study confirmed that if you're trying to force-feed information to your brain when you're supposed to be sleeping, you probably won't soak up that much information.

But wait, there's more.

During an all-nighter, only your short-term memory is activated, not long-term.

They compared our brains on an all-nighter to Dory from "Finding Nemo." Yep, when we're pulling all-nighters, our memory works just as well as Dory's, the fish with short-term memory loss.

Ever find yourself reading the same sentence over and over in the wee hours of the morning? Well, that's because your brain is tired as shit and can't retain anything.

Professor David Earnest, who studies circadian rhythms, elaborates on why this happens.

He explains,

This memory type extinguishes rapidly. If you don't 're-use' information, it disappears within a period of a few minutes to a few hours. Cramming doesn't allow information to assimilate from short-term to long-term memory, which is important for performing well on a project or exam.

Like I said before, cramming the night before a test or presentation (or the morning before, if you're me) is 100 percent the wrong way to go about it. Pulling an all-nighter is what happens when you procrastinate for too long.

Want to know how to avoid that? Well, I'm sorry, fellow procrastinators, but it involves procrastinating a lot less.

It's recommended that when preparing for a presentation or test that involves memorizing information, it's best to break studying up into smaller chunks throughout the day.

The study states that it's better to study in small chunks of 20 to 30 minutes multiple times a day, three or four days before your big test, event, interview, etc.

You need to spread it out during the day so you can get the eight hours of sleep you deserve at night.

Dr. Earnest explains why,

By going through information numerous times, you're allowing your brain to move those facts to long-term memory for better recall.

Oh, and he also says it's "fruitless to prepare for an exam hours beforehand,” so no more cramming right before the test starts. Sorry.

To sum this all up, your brain will thank you for just a little less procrastination and a little more sleep.

And if you're bummed that your procrastination habits have just been called out, let's be honest: A little tweak to your preparation strategy will probably result in a lot less stress.

Citations: Studying: Is it bad for your health to pull an all-nighter? (Science Daily)