Columbus After Dark: The Science of Sleep

Emily Thompson

At one point or another, you've probably pulled an all-nighter. That college paper you procrastinated on wasn't going to write itself, after all. But as it turns out, that lost sleep costs you much more than feeling rested the next day, says Dr. Jacquelyne Cios, a neurologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Cios, who specializes in epilepsy and sleep medicine, filled us in on the ways we pay for lost sleep.

Sleep Debt

Each night, you should be getting about seven to eight-and-a-half hours of sleep, "which is more than many people think it is or what they're getting," Cios says. When you don't hit that magic number, you begin accruing a "sleep debt." "If you tend to sleep in on the weekends and wake up feeling good, then you're probably not getting enough sleep during the week," she says. It may take up to three or four nights of restful sleep to fully recover from one all-nighter.

Decreased Attention

Sleep deprivation directly affects attention span and processing speed. People who struggle with chronic sleep deprivation especially tend to lose track of their train of thought, Cios says.

Hormonal Changes

With long-term sleep deprivation, "cortisol levels go up, so you have changes in glucose metabolism," Cios says. Too much cortisol can weaken the immune system and, over time, cause weight gain and increase risk for diabetes. In addition, growth hormones are released in stage three of sleep. Though these hormones are most important for growing kids, adults also need them to healphysical injuries.

Altered Mood

Though there's not enough scientific evidence to say for sure, chronic sleep deprivation could possibly exacerbate depression and anxiety.

Ask the Doc

Does a third-shift schedule have long-term negative effects?

Not if you maintain a regular sleep schedule, Cios says. The trick is to stick with the same schedule, even on your days off. "I think some people are really good at it, in keeping with a regular schedule," Cios says. "They just sort of shun the societal norms that make us be awake in the morning and go to sleep at night."