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Can Pulling an All-Nighter Fix Your Sleep Schedule?

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Say you’ve stayed up late a few nights, or you’re on vacation in a different time zone and struggling to fall asleep. Pulling an all-nighter to fix your sleep schedule may sound tempting, but doing so can cause more harm than good. Here’s everything you need to know about the effects of staying up all night and how sleep impacts your overall wellness.

Why Is Staying Up All Night a Bad Idea?

Pulling an all-nighter is always a bad idea. Though just one all-nighter won’t wreak havoc on your body’s systems, it can still be disruptive. Several studies have found that being sleep-deprived is a lot like being drunk, leading to decreased alertness and poor decision-making. Not the best place to be if you need to work or think clearly. Sleepiness can also impair driving, resulting in “drowsy driving,” where drivers are less attentive and have slower reaction times.

The reason missing out on sleep throws you out of sync is because staying up all night impacts your body’s circadian rhythm or how it operates in a 24-hour cycle. Your circadian rhythm is regulated by a biological clock that helps you associate darkness with going to sleep and light with waking up.

Effects of Sleep Deprivation on a person

Your biological clock is also responsible for regulating hormone release, eating habits, digestion, and body temperature. Not surprisingly, long-term sleep loss, or getting less than seven hours of sleep per night on the reg, can impact the cardiovascular, endocrine, immune, and nervous systems. Chronic sleep loss can also affect memory consolidation, making you more prone to forgetting things and making it difficult to retain new information or skills.  Plus, sleep deprivation can reduce cognitive performance, potentially impacting your work and studies.


In addition to playing a critical role in your physical health and your performance, sleep is also important for mental health. Consistently missing out on sleep can affect your mood, contribute to anxiety, and add to symptoms of depression. Not getting enough z’s can increase stress levels and make you more irritable, affecting your relationships and your general sense of well-being.

An infographic on consequences of not getting enough sleep

An All-Nighter or a Couple Hours of Sleep?

Many of us have been there. You may have lied awake in bed thinking, “It’s 3 a.m., and I can’t sleep. Should I just stay up all night?” If your sleep schedule is already too far gone, you might opt for staying up all night instead of getting a couple of hours of sleep. Yet which is better for you?

At the end of the day, getting any sleep is better than none at all. A full sleep cycle takes 90-110 minutes to complete, which means even two hours of sleep is enough to give your body at least some energy when you wake up. It also helps significantly reduce daytime grogginess.

Just a few hours of sleep is enough to reach non-REM sleep or the deep sleep stage that helps you feel refreshed in the morning. You can also get the essential REM sleep, which plays a vital role in memory, emotional processing, learning, and healthy brain development.

If you can’t sleep, don’t just stay up all night. Instead, aim for a few hours of shut-eye.

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How To Minimize the Damage If I’m Already Up All Night

If you’ve already pulled an all-nighter, there are a few things you can do to overcome the ensuing daytime sleepiness, function better, and fall asleep the following night.

  • Snack well. Since sleep deprivation affects your cognitive function, make sure to load up on nutritious snacks that are good for your brain, like walnuts, citrus fruits, foods drizzled in olive oil, and meals high in protein.


  • Skip the coffee. Caffeine doesn’t replace lost sleep, so loading up on coffee won’t help, either. Additionally, it can actually have adverse effects on your health. One study found that drinking coffee after a bad night’s sleep caused a significant spike in blood sugar levels.


  • Drink water. Since your circadian rhythm balances your body’s hydration levels, staying hydrated can also help you function better the day after, as well as sleep better the next night, especially if sleep deprivation is causing you to feel dehydrated.


  • Get moving. Light exercise is a proven way to sleep better. It can improve both sleep quality and duration. Be sure to avoid overworking yourself as well, since your body needs to conserve its energy.


  • Take a cat nap. If you’re struggling to make it through the day, a  brief nap can increase your alertness, but be sure not to sleep too long since this might make it difficult to fall asleep the following night or at the time you’re aiming to go to bed. A 20-minute nap can improve sleepiness and performance.

Even if you employ all of the above strategies, keep in mind that sleep deprivation can take several days to recover from, so it’s important to avoid it if possible. 

How to Fix Your Sleep Schedule Without Staying Up All Night

There are actionable steps you can take to fix your sleeping schedule that don’t require pulling an all-nighter so you can get back on your sleep schedule in a safe and healthy way. 

  • Light exposure. This can help reset your circadian rhythm, so be sure to get outside as much as possible during the daytime if you’ve experienced a sleepless night. Alternatively, keep your bedroom dark at night so your body gets the signal that it’s time to wind down.


  • Avoid noise. When you do go to bed, be sure to create a quiet atmosphere. This will help you get better rest. For example, if you’re sleeping in a hotel and struggling with jet lag, earplugs can help block sound.


  • Go for a brisk walk. If you’re trying to adjust to a new time zone, some light exercise an hour or two before bed can help reset your circadian clock, so you’re ready to hit the hay. 


  • Reduce stress. Sleep deprivation can create more stress, but stress can also lead to sleep deprivation. Keeping your stress levels low with relaxation strategies like meditation or yoga can help break the vicious cycle and fix your sleep schedule. 

If you want to find out how these practices affect your sleep quality, track your sleep with your Apple Watch or a sleep app like Sleep Cycle and check your sleep score with Welltory to see if you’ve improved. You’ll get recommendations for small steps you can take to fall asleep faster and stay asleep more soundly. 

Detailed Sleep Score feature in Welltory

The Takeaway

Can’t sleep? Don’t just stay up all night. All-nighters should be a last resort since they can have both short-term and long-term adverse effects on your body and overall sleep patterns. 

In addition to the recommendations above for how to fix your sleeping schedule, Welltory can help you track your health, stress, and energy levels, giving you a better understanding of how sleep (or lack of it) affects your body. Take regular measurements, check the My Data tab to see how your lifestyle choices affect your sleep, and feel empowered to make decisions that help you sleep and live better.

Welltory Team, 25 Sept. 2022

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