Repeated All-Nighters Can Cause Brain Damage


Overriding the natural rhythm of your brain and staying up for extended periods of time can lead to irreversible brain damage. Students studying for exams, workers that handle the late shift and even those that stay up at the expense an entire night of sleep are at risk for brain damage. The University of Pennsylvania conducted a study that found extended periods of wakefulness can kill or damage certain neurons. Researchers found a 25 to 30 percent loss of neurons and an increase in stress during extended wakefulness. It was previously believed that sleep loss or “sleep debt” could be made up on the weekend. It was found that certain neurons are operating when the body is awake and others operated when the body is asleep. The waking neurons were overworked and more likely to die or be injured. A neuron is a working unit in the brain that transmits information to your body.

Author of the study, Dr. Sigrid Veasey, said that “If there’s an injury to these neurons, then you may have poor ability to pay attention and you might also have depression.” Since humans and mammals have similar brain functioning, the research was conducted on the neurons of mice. There is a specific protein that protects the neurons in mammals but in mammals kept awake there was a depletion of this important protective protein.

A few nights of studying or long periods of wakefulness won’t have permanent effects but the author of the study says if, “you’re at a time in your life when you really have to pull a couple of all-nighters to sustain that edge academically or professionally [it’s okay], but by cutting our sleep times short then do we end up losing that edge in the long term”. There is potential for more research and people that regularly are awake during the night can get more directed therapy.

If you have an irregular work schedule or have to work at night there are a few ways to avoid chronic sleep deprivation and irreversible brain damage. These tips include:

  • Sticking to your schedule even on days you don’t work. Reprogramming your brain is tough on your body and will reverse your progress.
  • Consume caffeine at the right times. Even though you might need a boost near the end of the shift, you might find yourself wide-awake when you should be fast asleep.
  • Increase your exposure to light, even if it is the middle of the night. Even a small light box can keep you awake.
  • Anticipate potential problems with your family. It is difficult to be a productive family member when you don’t cross paths with the people you live with. Keep communication open so you can sleep whenever you wish.

If you believe your schedule is negatively impacting your daily functioning or you suspect you have a sleep disorder that is keeping you up all night, schedule a consultation with a sleep doctor at FusionSleep. Let out experts help prevent long-term brain damage caused by long hours of wakefulness.