The negative health effects of pulling an all-nighter at work

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Just about half of Americans are self-described workaholics.  This statistic has been surging among younger generations parallel to another persistent disorder: insomnia.  The two conditions intersect at a term medical professionals called sleep debt.

Sleep debt refers to the accumulative health consequences caused by extended periods of exhaustion. Short term symptoms include heightened stress response, depression, anxiety, cognition, memory, immune system, and performance deficits. In the long-term, prolonged sleep deprivation has been linked to cardiovascular disease, the development of dementia and metabolic illnesses like diabetes.

“Adults of all ages go sleepless for a number of reasons, ranging from professional pressure to intense partying. Additionally, many people are simply unable to sleep, lying awake for whole nights at a time. And because all-nighters are common across demographic groups, we should all reckon seriously with their potential pitfalls,” asserts CPAP’s research department in a brand new study.  “Individuals who accumulate significant “sleep debt” are more likely to suffer from a range of chronic illnesses. If we neglect our rest on an ongoing basis, we stand to undermine our quality of life and jeopardize our long-term well-being.”

The team surveyed over 2,000 Americans about the effect sleepless nights have on their output, emotional wellness, and cognitive performance.

Various factors caused a small minority to champion all-nighters as an effective productivity method but even these conceded that a throng of impairments often plagues ensuing weeks.

Studies show that employee fatigue costs U.S. businesses hundreds of billions of dollars a year in lost productivity. By encouraging or allowing all-nighters, many companies may actually be contributing to this challenge,” the authors write.

Hard days night

Of the 2,600 respondents polled, 517 identified as male, 466 identified as female, and four did not identify as male or female. The median age was approximately 37 and the respondents ranged in age from 18 to 77-years-old. The study relied on self-reporting and the margin of error was 3%  with a 95% confidence interval.

Although half of all the participants surveyed habitually pulled all-nighters, men and Generation Xers were more likely to do so for work-related reasons while women tended to do so because of pre-existing conditions. Thirty-three percent of the pool failed to achieve sufficient rest by reason of excessive partying and a very small portion occasioned travel and stressful commutes.

In any case, a third of these intermittent insomniacs routinely stay up 48 consecutive hours at a time. Women were considerably less likely than men to deem an all-nighter to be of value. 

“Recent research suggests that sleeplessness may impact men and women differently, with women experiencing more significant declines in working memory. If this is the case, it makes sense for men to take a more positive view of all-nighters’ costs and benefits,” the authors added.

Only 8% of respondents agreed that sleepless nights yield positive results. Eleven percent feel  “physically well” as a direct result of an all-nighter, 12% feel mentally acute, and a mere 14% claimed emotional wellness.

Eighty-three percent consume caffeine to staff their long nights and 40% consume sugar with the same goal in mind. The remaining night owls either blasted loud music or worked beneath bright lights.

The greater majority (79%) lamented cognitive repercussions. Sixty-four percent felt that all-nighters made it more difficult to focus on tasks and 46% reported being more forgetful the following morning. Respondents diagnosed with psychiatric disorders before the study period uniformly experienced exacerbated symptoms after working through the night.

Exactly half of the otherwise healthy participants reported intense anxiety and a little less than a third observed a generally heightened emotionality within themselves. A comparable portion mentioned increased food cravings. Female respondents evidenced a plurality of all the adverse effects cited in the new report.

When the researchers asked why each individual pulled so many all-nighters, an alarming 25% said that their supervisor directed them to work through the night to honor an obligation. These employees were not compensated in accordance with their overtime and 62% of them even went into work the following day. The authors conclude with the following,

“Before pulling an all-nighter, consider the symptoms reported by our respondents – no matter how important your immediate goals may be. Are you willing to accept several days of exhaustion or an array of negative emotions? More practically, will the all-nighter even prove beneficial, given how your performance may suffer subsequently?”