Sleep is as essential as diet and exercise. When you don’t achieve the recommended seven to eight hours of shut-eye during the night, it affects your mood, concentration, and decision making the next day. Let’s bring it back to those Uni days when you might have crammed studying into a 24-hour all-nighter. Oof. And when it was time to take the exam the next morning, your brain felt like it was running on fumes. Not worth it, mate.
Or how about being a new parent? Rather than enjoy a quiet seven to eight-hour sleep, it’s going to look more like three to four irregular hours of sleep. Ugh. It’s understandable (sometimes inevitable) to be cranky the next day.
So what actually happens when you stay awake for 24 hours? We know it can’t be good for the body and mind. Lack of sleep impairs memory, motivation, and reaction time. Work, school, travel, sleep environment, poor sleep hygiene, sleep disorders, or babies are the culprits of sleep deprivation. Not sleeping can even be a personal choice, as some people don’t realize that your body needs sleep to function.
Here’s what happens to your body when you stay awake for 24 hours.
Makes it difficult to concentrate and form decisions
Not getting enough sleep makes it more challenging to learn new things, be creative, and pay attention. After being awake for 24 hours, your brain is literally exhausted and experiences deficits in cognitive flexibility, which is the ability to change your thinking based on new information. A study by Washington State University found that cognitive flexibility is particularly affected by sleep deprivation, more so than other cognitive processes involved in decision-making.
Sleep plays a crucial role in forming declarative memory (fact-based) and procedural memory (how-to). When you sleep, your brain sifts through what it learned that day to make new connections, which mainly boosts your memory. So you’re doing a disservice to yourself by staying up all night to study or to beat a deadline because your brain craves a rest period to create memories and process new information.
Sleep makes us enjoyable people to be around. Seriously! One study found that sleep deprivation increases emotional instability due to functional suppression of the amygdala (the part of the brain that processes emotions). So staying up all night can elicit mood swings, anxiety, and depression. Although, it’s important to note that mood and sleep is a two-way street. Try a meditation app to help you wind down before bed.
Creates a lack of motivation and energy
Staying awake for 24 hours isn’t an impressive feat, especially when you have to be a functioning human being the next day. When you’re sleep-deprived, you may experience a lack of motivation or energy to complete daily tasks. Daytime sleepiness and fatigue don't help productivity levels.
It leaves you feeling drunk
The link between sleep deprivation and feeling drunk
As we said, staying awake for 24 hours makes you feel drunk; it’s a scientifically proven fact. Researchers followed 39 people — 30 from the transportation industry and nine from the army. The participants took two performance tests: one after enduring 28 hours of sleep deprivation, and another after consuming measured doses of alcohol up to about 0.1% blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
The study found that participants who took the performance test after 17-19 hours of no sleep scored equivalent or worse than that at a BAC of 0.05% (the legal driving limit). These findings prove that lack of sleep compromises the performance of speed and accuracy when it comes to road safety as sleep deprivation impairs hand-eye coordination and reaction time. Drowsy driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving.
Sleep and well-being go hand-in-hand
If we didn’t scare you away with the perils of a sleepless night, then stay with us to understand how sleep and well-being complement each other. Have you ever heard of the 8-8-8 rule? It’s basically the recipe for a balanced life: eight hours of work, eight hours for yourself, eight hours of sleep, which leads to the most efficient and healthy 24 hour day. And it’s a darn good recipe to remember and live by! There’s even an eight hour day monument erected in Melbourne to commemorate the 8-hour movement initiated in Victoria in 1856.
Our ancestors obviously knew the benefits of rest. Getting a sufficient amount of sleep each night is crucial to your entire body — including improvements to mental health, immune system, brain development, sex drive, weight, and blood pressure. (Geez, sleep is seriously a magic remedy or something!) Sleep is especially helpful in managing our stress levels because when you're tired, you're more likely to be impatient and easily agitated, which builds stress. Worried about a big work deadline? Sleep on it. It will help improve your mental processes and blood pressure.
When life happens, and there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day, remember to prioritise sleep. Even if that means a 30-minute nap during the day. Stick to a regular sleep schedule, in a peaceful environment and on a comfortable mattress, so that you can relax and let your body and mind repair itself. That way, you can kill it on the 10 a.m. physiology exam or make an impact at your next board meeting. Oh yeah, sleep rules.