What Happens To Your Brain When You Stay Up All Night

The #SenateSleepover was probably not a great idea.

10/05/2016 10:49 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:52 PM AEST
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Your brain can't remember things effectively without sleep.

Those planning to stay up all night to finish a work assignment, or, say, pass a voting reform, may want to think again.

Though it may sound like a good idea in theory (after all, 'getting it done' can at times seem like an attractive proposition), missing out on sleep can have adverse affects such as memory lapse, irritability, cognitive impairment and -- wait for it -- impaired decision-making ability.

This last point is particularly interesting when taking into account the recent 'all-nighter' pulled by Australian senators, a mammoth (nearly) 40-hour debate which saw independent South Australian senator Nick Xenophon try to enter the chamber in his pyjamas.

"There is no doubt staying up all night impacts your ability to function, not only physically, but psychologically and mentally," sleep expert Dr Dev Banerjee told The Huffington Post Australia.

"Effects include sleepiness -- which is obviously no surprise -- as well as impaired cognition, attention, concentration and ability to focus on mental tasks.

"Logical thinking is impaired, as is rational decision making.

"When you see our parliamentarians doing things like that sleepless senate and staying up all night in order to come to a decision on something, it does make you wonder about the quality of the decision making process. How robust is it? Is it reliant on rational, cognitive thinking? Is that possible when the decision-makers are sleep deprived?"

Banerjee even referred to Labor's Doug Cameron and his 'Monty Python' moment as an example things in Parliament might have been taking a turn for the silly.

"What is this guy on about?" Banerjee asked.

"Is that an example of rational behaviour? If you spend 24 hours without sleep, then you can certainly get irrational behaviour. That's a classic example of parliamentarians [not dealing very well] after 24 hours of no sleep.

"I find it concerning that a lot of big decisions are being made despite a lack of sleep."

Stepping away from politics, Banerjee also commented on the important role sleep has when it comes to memory.

"Say if you were studying for something, if you have done some revising in the evening, then you need sleep to lay down that memory," Banerjee said.

There is a reason court doesn't stay open until midnight. It's because a jury can't make effective decisions​ beyond a certain time.

"The only way to recall that information is if that information you have read has been saved in the 'my docuemtns' folder in your brain. This happens with enough sleep, only then can you access those documents.

"Without sleep, it goes straight to the recycle bin."

Banerjee is also at pains to point out the difference between, say, a uni student who stays up all night cramming for an exam, as opposed to a politician debating policy decisions which affect the rest of the country.

"There is a reason court doesn't stay open until midnight. It's because a jury can't make effective decisions​ beyond a certain time," Banerjee said.

"We are talking about people with important roles here. It's not a uni student who, at worst, will miss their humanities lecture.

"These are politicians making huge decisions that affect the rest of the country, and they are doing so when they are severely sleep deprived."

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