Staying up late can be tough on the body, but sometimes it's unavoidable. Maybe you’re working late, or you might need to stay up for a one-time event like a family trip or a kid's sleepover or even adjust your sleep schedule to accommodate a new night shift assignment. Either way, there are tricks you can use to successfully become a night owl.
Keep in mind that success is relative when it comes to staying up late. The longer you're up, the more your mind and body will feel the effects of sleep deprivation. "Our bodies are programmed to sleep during the night and be awake and alert during the day," said Christopher Drake, PhD, a sleep researcher at the Henry Ford Sleep Disorders Center and an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at the Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit. "When we try to stay up late and sleep during the day, we are working against our own bodies."
Officer Shane Sevigny can testify to that. During the summer he works the graveyard shift patrol for the Salem Police Department in Salem, Ore., which runs from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.
"As you get older, it's harder," said Sevigny, 47. "I have a harder time sleeping during the day. My body clock would like to be sleeping at night. I have experience doing it, but going back and forth is the hardest for me, especially if it's for a short time. I just don't feel rested."
6 Ways to Stay Up Late
If you're pulling a single all-nighter or trying to adjust to a night shift, there are some basic ways you can improve your chances of staying up late.
Nap beforehand. Either sleep a little longer each night before your late night or grab an afternoon nap that day. "One can bank sleep," Drake said. "Prior to your all-nighter, get nine hours of sleep a night for a week and bank some sleep."
Keep busy. People who stay busy while they are sleepy tend to rally, pushing sleepiness aside because they are interested in the new task. That's what helps Sevigny get through the night. He's happy that his night shifts start on Friday and Saturday, typically the busiest nights for police officers. "If we stay busy, you don't even notice it until you're done with your shift and you're on your way home," he said.
Use caffeine…the right way. Caffeine is an effective aide for staying up late. However, just chugging one big caffeinated beverage at the start of the shift will not help you through the whole evening. "My recommendation is not to utilize a giant Venti Starbucks but to use small doses equally spaced throughout the night shift," Drake said. "That will help maintain alertness throughout the shift but also avoid people having significant sleep disturbance once they are home and ready for bed."/p>
Nap smart at night. Taking a short half-hour nap during a shift can be effective, but some people will feel sluggish afterward. Drake's solution: Drink an 8-ounce cup of coffee, which is about 75 milligrams of caffeine, before your nap. "Taking a small cup of coffee right before one takes that short nap will eliminate the sleep inertia effect," he said.
Stay in bright light. Light has a powerful effect on your internal clock, and bright light can temporarily fake the body into thinking it's not yet time for bed. "That circadian clock has connections to the eye, and bright light can reset our internal clock," said William Kohler, MD, medical director of the Florida Sleep Institute in Spring Hill, Fla. "That clock is what tells us when we're alert and when we're tired." Stay in extremely well-lit rooms or intermittently use a light box that produces between 2,000 and 10,000 lux./p>
Prepare for 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. Banking sleep will get you only so far through the night, however. "You can't escape the negative effects of the circadian clock," Drake said. "One is going to be sleepy around 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. because that is the sleepiest time of the day." Be prepared to feel extremely sleepy in the hours just before dawn and use all possible countermeasures to help you stay awake.
Adjusting Your Schedule
Switching to a regular night shift schedule takes more effort. You have to work hard to fool your mind and body, and even then you must expect that it won't be completely successful. Sleeping during the day is fundamentally different from night sleep.
Keeping that in mind, people who need to work night shifts should try these strategies:
Establish a fake day-night cycle. A 2013 study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that night shift nurses were best able to adjust to the schedule if they exposed themselves to extremely bright light during the beginning of their shift and then wore dark glasses after the shift. You can extend this effect by using a sleep mask and earplugs once you're in bed.
Don't try to sleep all at once. Many people make the mistake of trying to replicate night sleep during the day. "Most night shift workers will go to sleep within 10 or 15 minutes, but after four hours, their sleep becomes fragmented," Drake said. "They fall asleep and wake up and fall asleep and wake up. It's probably better to use two sleep periods that last three or four hours. Don't try to stay in bed. Get up and do what you need to do. Run errands. After three or four hours of wakefulness, take another three- or four-hour nap before going back to work."
Avoid alcohol. The idea of a nightcap doesn't work during the day (nor does it work at night). Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it can cause disturbances that ruin the quality of your sleep.
Teens who stay up late at night cramming are more likely to have academic problems the following day — doing poorly on the test they studied for — finds a new study by University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), researchers.
Since students increasingly give up sleep for studying as they get older, the researchers say the problem compounds over time. The study involved 535 students from Los Angeles high schools. For 14 days during each of three school years — 9th, 10th and 12th grades — the participants kept diaries tracking the amount of time they spent studying, how much they slept at night and whether or not they experienced academic problems the next day, such as not understanding something taught in class or doing poorly on a test, quiz or homework.
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The data showed that kids who didn’t get enough sleep were not only more likely to have problems understanding during class, a result the researchers had expected, but they were also more likely to do badly on tests, quizzes and homework — the very outcome the students were staying up late to avoid. “If you’re really sacrificing your sleep for that cramming, it’s not going to be as effective as you think, and it may actually be counterproductive,” says study author Andrew J. Fuligni, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA.
Overall, students spent an average of just over an hour studying each school night throughout their high school years, but their average sleep time decreased by an average of 41.4 minutes from 9th to 12th grade. When they got enough sleep, 9th and 10th graders reported an average of one academic problem every three days; by 12th grade the rate of academic problems they experienced was reduced to one problem every five days. However, when teens spent more time studying and less time sleeping than usual, the following days were characterized by more academic problems than normal.
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“This wasn’t a whopping effect, it wasn’t a huge effect, but it was a consistent pattern that when kids crammed, they had problems the next day,” says Fuligni. “That surprised us until we saw that when they crammed, they got significantly less sleep and when that happens, it’s more difficult to learn what you’re studying.”
The National Sleep Foundation says that teens function best with 8.5 to 9.25 hours a sleep a night, but Fuligni says that in his research, teens are rarely getting that much.”This is fairly standard when people do teenage sleep surveys. [Teens] usually get less [sleep] than experts recommend and that’s not unique to this study. Sleep goes down during the high school years,” says Fuligni.
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The authors stress that they’re not encouraging teens to spend less time studying. As experience and research confirm, kids who study more tend to earn higher grades. Rather, the solution lies in better time management overall. “[Students] should balance their studying across the week and anticipate what is going on. Try to have a regular study schedule so that you’re not going to have those nights spent cramning,” says Fuligni.
The new study was published in the journal Child Development.
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