I have to admit something. I’ve never pulled all-nighters for work. Even in university, and now as I start to pick up different jobs, I’ve never stayed up all night to finish assignments. Sure, I’ve pulled them for flights or nights out, but other than that, I always manage to squeeze in some shut-eye time. I have to, otherwise, I can’t operate. 

I know this from experience. Once, I had a class in Florence, Italy, and my roommates and I spent the whole day touring the city, reserving the nighttime to work on our essays. I couldn’t have spent more than three hours past midnight typing away for an assignment before I felt desperately ill.

I needed to lie down! I was a cranky mess for two days afterward, and my friends can attest to that. I knew missing out on sleep has a very clear effect on me. But still, I pushed myself for school. I wanted to complete my assignments and attempting an all-nighter seemed like an obvious way to stay on top of things.

While all-nighters do not sit well with me, perhaps you are reading this thinking they work for you. Maybe you have always resorted to this method and it has become fool-proof. Well, unfortunately, I have some bad news for you. Skipping out on sleep is not something that can be dismissed because it is not a sustainable lifestyle at all. While it may seem like an appealing way to get more time in your day, it can have devastating consequences. 

I hear you saying, “But can’t it be slept off?” I used to think the same way.

Can you make up for lost sleep by sleeping in? Nope!

Taking an introductory course in psychology opened my eyes to the dangers of bad sleep hygiene. If you were to hold out two scans of a brain—one from a person who lacked sleep and another who has recently suffered a concussionthey would look eerily similar. Skipping out on sleep can cause irreversible damage to your brain. The brain holds these scars, even if we “make up” for the lost sleep. Imagine that damage over time if we continually (try to) pull those all-nighters. 

This may come as a shock as the idea of all-nighters has been glamorized by movies and other media as an essential part of college. I always understood skipping out on sleep as a sign of putting in the effort, burning the midnight oil to wrap up a project.

I used to feel bad about not being able to stay up all night at the library, comparing myself to other students that were holding up just fine. I felt that it was expected of me to sacrifice my sleep for my studies and my career. Yet, does our productivity have to come at the cost of our wellbeing? 

Our toxic ideas of productivity are impairing our health. I came to a point where I really needed to rethink the way that I was approaching sleep and all-nighters.

While it can be easy and often tempting to get sucked into the grind of getting little or no sleep to clear up my task list, from now on I’ll be thinking twice about the physical and mental toll on my health. I hope you do, as well. 

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  • Amal Als

    Amal Al Shamsi is a writer with a BA in Literature from New York University Abu Dhabi, interested in the study of marginality in modern and contemporary fiction. She is passionate about integrating other mediums into her writing, such as film, visual art, and music as she engages with the cultural dialogue around the world.

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