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3 Hours of Sleep vs. Pulling an All Nighter: The Night Owl’s Dillemma

To sleep or not to sleep? That is the question.

We’ve all been there. Maybe it’s insomnia, or maybe you’re just really close to finally achieving Prestige on Call of Duty. Whatever your reason may be, you haven’t been to sleep yet and you just realized that you have to be up in 3 or 4 hours. Should you try to get 3 hours of sleep, or should you just stay up all night? If you’ve found yourself pondering this classic night owl’s dilemma, chances are you’re going to be a sleep-deprived zombie tomorrow regardless of what you do, but if you’re able to get some sleep, you’ll be better off.

You may feel and function better with a few hours of sleep than if you had gotten none at all. In fact, many people find that they can go one night on a few hours of sleep and still feel okay the next day. It also gives your brain a few hours to reset itself, which is better than nothing. Our brains are similar to computers. You’ll find your computer and even your smartphone needs to be rebooted every so often. The brain uses sleep as a time to store data as well as a time to rest and repair itself. So, next time you’re faced with getting 2 or 3 hours of sleep or voluntary sleep deprivation, here are some thoughts to sleep on.

1. If you wake up at the right time in your sleep cycle, you’ll feel less tired.

We naturally sleep in cycles. This means that if you wake up while in a deep stage of sleep, you’ll probably feel worse than if you hadn’t slept at all. A 15-20 minute nap can give you a bit of rest and should allow you to wake up before entering deep sleep. If you have more time to sleep, waking up after 1 1/2 hours or 3 hours of sleep should typically leave you feeling more rested than if you got 1 or 2 hours of sleep. This is because you’re taking advantage of your natural sleep cycle and waking up during what’s referred to as your REM (Rapid-Eye-Movement) cycle—the same cycle in which you dream. Sleeping for 1 to 2 hours will usually have you waking up out of a deep sleep and therefore feeling groggy and fatigued. So set your alarm and try to get some sleep already. There are even smartphone apps that actually claim to be able to wake you up at just the right time during your sleep cycle. Everybody’s a little different, though, and sleep cycles change with age, so you need to find what works for you.

2. You can try an electro-sleep device.

A Cerebral-Electrical Stimulator (CES) device is said to help you function well on very little sleep. It works by sending an electric current through your brain. It puts you into a deep sleep—which is far more restorative than a light sleep—by affecting your delta waves. This device can make a few hours worth of sleep feel like a full eight hours. Unfortunately, these are usually at least a few hundred dollars and they are not for everyone. As with anything that could affect your health and well-being, you should consult a medical professional before trying one.

It probably sounds cooler than it looks… (Image © Warner Bros.)

3. Maybe you’re a mutant and really don’t need much sleep.

Ok, not even joking here. While not necessarily something you can choose, some people have an actual genetic mutation that allows them to function properly on less sleep than the average person (this, of course, is great for fighting crime at night while holding that day job).

It’s estimated that 5% of the population has this genetic mutation. (And no, this is not the same as having adrenal fatigue—a serious adrenal gland issue that you can develop due to lack of sleep and your body producing too much adrenaline on a regular basis.)

4. Pulling an all-nighter comes with plenty of things you don’t want.

If you’re staying up to finish that important project that’s due tomorrow, then pulling an all-nighter may be your only option (perhaps time management is something you should work on to avoid this next time?) If you’re aiming to finally achieve Prestige on Call of Duty, you’d probably be better off catching a few zzz’s.

Most normal people (a.k.a. non-mutants) need 8 hours of sleep a night to function optimally. If you get 6 hours of sleep or less, you’ll begin to feel the negative impact after a few days. You can also develop long-term health issues if you sleep less than 6 hours a night on a regular basis.

Realistically, there aren’t really any pros to pulling an all-nighter. If you do, your emotions and decision-making abilities will be severely compromised until you are able to get some sleep. Bad decision making after a lack of sleep is believed to have played a part in everything from oil spills to nuclear reactor disasters. What if you don’t have an important job like that? Well, you’d like to at least make it to work the next day, right? If you’re planning on pulling an all-nighter and then driving, just don’t. Driving tired can actually be just as dangerous as driving drunk.

On a smaller scale, this could translate into risky behaviors like gambling or drinking too much. You could find yourself getting upset because the barista got your coffee wrong (or maybe you just ordered it wrong because you were so tired?), or you may find yourself finally telling your boss what you think about him or her. Granted, this one comes with a perk—at least you’ll have plenty of time to sleep when you are unemployed. A sleepless night can also make it very difficult to remember things. This could be a good thing, depending on what you spent the night doing. It could also cause some problems when you forget that important meeting you had at work—perhaps the very reason for your all-nighter in the first place.

Are you having trouble losing weight? It could be due to lack of sleep. Pulling an all-nighter can make you gain weight. When you are sleep deprived, your body produces more of a hormone that makes you hungry. You may also find yourself snacking in an effort to stay awake. Even one night of no sleep can increase your BMI.

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While not technically a positive thing, going a night without sleep can also get you “high”. Your brain’s pleasure circuits go into overdrive after an all-nighter, much the same as they would when you use a drug. This produces a sense of euphoria which can be very enjoyable. You might hate yourself halfway through the next day for staying up so late, but at least you’ll have enjoyed doing it.

So what are you waiting for? Hit the hay and start counting those sheep.

The morning will be here before you know it. What has been your worst all-nighter experience? Let us know in the comments below—unless you’re reading this at 3 AM and don’t want tonight to become one of those experiences. In that case, good night and sleep tight—a tight 3 hours, that is.

Written by Vincent Hess

I'm sarcastic and I love writing. I enjoy long walks on the treadmill while imagining I'm on the beach.

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