What staying up late is doing to you

You may call yourself a night owl, but the reality of sleep deprivation is that staying up too late is bad for your health.

“There is no doubt that adequate duration and quality sleep is important to our health,” said Peter Yau, MD, a pulmonologist on the medical staff at Scott & White Memorial Hospital – Temple who specializes in sleep medicine.

So if you’ve been staying up late watching TV, reading articles on your smartphone, or trying to get things done, it might be time to turn out the light.

You’ve been telling yourself that you need to get more sleep, but what will it take to really make a change?

You’re not alone. Sleep deprivation is a real problem in America, and it is impacting more than just young adults cramming for college exams. Many people are suffering from poor sleep quality and poor sleep quantity. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced that insufficient sleep is now “epidemic” in America.

What Happens If I Don’t Get Enough Sleep?

If you’re suffering from late nights and trying to combat them with caffeine, your health may be suffering. Here are a few areas where sleep deprivation takes a toll.


“Sleep deprivation leads to increase cortisol level, which is the same hormone released during stress,” Dr. Yau said. “Essentially being sleep deprived either with quality or quantity can increase stress level.”

Are you feeling stressed? Do you stay up late to get things done, thinking you’ll be less stressed? It turns out this could have the opposite effect. As Dr. Yau points out, this hormone may make you feel even more overwhelmed.


A study published this year in the Journal of Neuroscience found that staying awake too long destroys brain cells in mice, and may do the same in humans.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania put mice under an irregular sleep schedule to see the effects on the mechanics of the brain. Researchers found that 25 percent of the locus coeruleus was permanently damaged. This area of the brain is responsible for alertness and cognitive thinking.

Forbes says, “It’s the first study to show (if only in animals) that sleep loss can lead to irreversible brain cell damage.”

It’s clear that medical professionals and researchers agree — sleep is important for our brain development and function.


“Our psychiatric well being, immune, endocrine, cardiac system and overall performance level can be negatively impacted by sleep deprivation,” Dr. Yau said.

Sleep impacts all areas of life. If we stay up late, we may tend to snack on unhealthy foods, impacting our diet and throwing off a healthy routine. If we fail to get the proper amount of sleep, we may get sick more often, have heart issues or become anxious or depressed.

Poor performance

If you think you function better late at night, you may need to think again.

“Staying up late leads to sleep deprivation, which can be counterproductive in ‘getting things done,’” Dr. Yau said. “Your focus worsens, and productivity decreases. Being sleep deprived results in similar performance as being intoxicated.”

Irregular sleep habits

A result from sleep deprivation may carry over into an unhealthy sleep schedule. If you are repeatedly staying up late, you may feel the need to sleep in, thus throwing off an ideal sleep cycle.

“Adults are recommended to have six to eight hours of good quality sleep,” Dr. Yau said. “Significant variability in bed time and wake time daily can lead to both insomnia and hypersomnia.”

The best thing to do for yourself is to get into a regular schedule of sleep and wake times. This will help your body get into a routine, and know how to fall asleep and wake up with the best results.

Sleep impacts your productivity, relationships and overall health. If you’re combatting your lack of sleep with caffeine or suffering from drowsiness, talk to your doctor.

Tossing and turning every night? Find a doctor today.

About the author

Jill Taylor
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I contribute content and skills as a freelance writer for Baylor Scott & White Health. I enjoy improving our connection with our readers, patients and communities by assisting with a wide range of writing projects.

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What staying up late is doing to you