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What An All-Nighter Actually Does To Your Body

  First Posted: 02/01/2012 8:32 am EST Updated: 04/02/2012 6:12 am EDT

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With all of the homework, extracurriculars, and social obligations we have in college, it's no surprise that many of us collegiettes™ pull all-nighters. Though it may have seemed crazy during our pre-collegiette™ years, pulling all-nighters is almost a rite of passage now. However, the repercussions for sleepless nights go beyond an extra cup of coffee or the dreaded dark circles underneath our eyes the next day. In order to understand how pulling all-nighters really impacts us, let's take a peak into the life of a sleepless collegiette™, shall we?

Thursday at Midnight: So Much Work!
Even though it's bedtime, the exam you're freaking out about isn't going to ace itself! Vivian, a sophomore at Boston University, frequently stays up doing all of the work she doesn't have time to do during the day. "Sometimes, I have meetings from morning to night so I don't have time for homework," says Vivian. "Some days, I get two to four hours of sleep." With such busy schedules, hitting the snooze button isn't an option!
When it comes to acing an exam, you may stay up all night reviewing a massive pile of flashcards. Although memorizing everything for our exam may seem extremely important, beauty sleep is a must! "There's almost nobody out there who can get by with six hours of sleep a night," says Dr. Brain Abaluck, a sleep doctor at Sleep Health Centers. "People who sleep six hours, or less, a night might not feel impaired, but people don't realize the impairment in their own performance. They are harming themselves more than they realize by not getting a good amount of sleep." After seven or eight hours of sleep, any collegiette™ will be ready to take on that terrifying exam!

Friday at 2AM: Snack Time
Okay, so it's been a couple of hours and you're starting to get a little hungry. What's on the menu? When pulling an all-nighter, does anything sound better than eating something greasy and delicious? I don't think so! Whether it's a bag of chips or a slice of pizza, who doesn't love indulging in junk food? "I usually have chips or pretzels," says Vivian. However, those late night munchies are doing more than satisfying our crazy cravings.

Weight Gain
Pulling all-nighters alters two important hormones: ghrelin, which is the hormone that tells us when to eat, and leptin, which is the hormone that tells us when to stop eating. According to WebMD, when we're sleep-deprived, our bodies produce more ghrelin and less leptin. Factor in the less-than-stellar quality of junk food and what do we get? Weight gain.

It makes sense: most of us would choose a bag of chips over an apple at two o'clock in the morning. "Students end up staying up all night by pumping themselves with really nasty food," says Dr. Debra Greene, an energy health specialist who is an expert on energy medicine and mind-body integration. The only thing that these unhealthy snacks will leave us with is a couple of pounds. And if we're sleepless collegiettes™, don't' expect us to be hitting up the gym!

Digestive Problems
Not only does sleep deprivation lead to weight gain, but sleepless nights can also damage our digestive systems. "When people stay up all night, they may develop gastro-intestinal discomfort," says Abaluck. In addition to unwanted pain, pulling all-nighters alters the way our bodies filter glucose, which could ultimately lead to diabetes or kidney failure. Scary, right? In case you're not a bio major, glucose is also known as simple sugar. Those late night snacks equal a lot of sugar! While we're sleeping, our bodies take that time to refresh and repair themselves. When we don't get sleep, it's more difficult for our bodies to filter out all of that glucose. "Even if you're a young, healthy person, your body starts to handle glucose in the same way that the body of a 60-year-old diabetic handles glucose," says Abaluck. We're fabulous and youthful collegiettes™, we shouldn't be dealing with these problems just yet!

Friday at 4 AM: Time to Re-Energize with Coffee
It's getting late and you're starting to doze off. What's your next step? Sleep? Nope, caffeine! Whether you're chugging an energy drink or making instant coffee in your dorm, you probably think caffeine is the ultimate way to keep yourself awake, right? Wrong! "They produce an artificial high that's actually very hard on the system," says Greene. While they aren't completely detrimental to our health, energy drinks contain an unnecessary amount of caffeine and sugar. Although caffeine will leave you feeling temporarily energized, your energy level will dramatically decrease after a few hours. As much as we love our caffeine drinks, we need to be careful: according to The Boston Globe, too much caffeine can give us anxiety, panic, stomach problems, and even irregular heart rhythms.

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