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Is it OK if you don’t sleep one night?

Sleep is vital for our health and wellbeing. Getting adequate, good quality sleep on a regular basis is important for cognitive function, immune health, mood, and overall quality of life. Occasionally missing a full night of sleep, while not ideal, is generally not harmful for most healthy adults in the short-term.

How much sleep do we need?

The recommended amount of sleep for healthy adults is typically 7-9 hours per night on a regular basis. However, sleep needs can vary from person to person. Some people function well on 6 hours of sleep per night, while others may need 9-10 hours to feel rested.

The amount of sleep a person needs also changes over the course of a lifetime. Newborns need 14-17 hours of sleep per day, school-aged children need 9-12 hours, teens 8-10 hours, and adults 7-9 hours. As we get older, our sleep needs decrease slightly.

What happens if you miss a night of sleep?

Missing one night of sleep is generally not harmful for most healthy adults. However, it can lead to the following temporary effects:

  • Daytime fatigue and sleepiness
  • Difficulty concentrating and impaired cognition
  • Irritability and mood disturbances
  • Lack of motivation and energy
  • Increased errors and accidents
  • Weakened immune system
  • Impaired physical performance and coordination

These effects are mainly caused by the disruption of the various sleep stages, especially REM sleep and deep sleep. REM sleep is important for memory consolidation and mood regulation. Deep sleep helps restore the body and impacts physical recovery and function.

Can missing one night of sleep affect your health?

For most people, a single night of missed sleep will not have any major long-term health consequences. Your body is quite resilient when it comes to occasional sleep deprivation. However, consistently missing sleep over multiple nights can start to negatively impact your health.

Some ways not getting enough sleep over time can affect health include:

  • Weakened immune system, making you more prone to illness
  • Increased risk of chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, obesity
  • Higher levels of stress hormones like cortisol
  • Changes in appetite regulation and metabolism
  • Increased inflammation throughout the body
  • Impaired memory, learning, and brain function
  • Increased risk of depression and mental health disorders

Overall, aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night whenever possible to maintain good health. Allow yourself some recovery sleep after a missed night to get back on track.

How to cope when you don’t get enough sleep

When you miss sleep occasionally, there are some things you can do to get through the day:

  • Take short naps (under 30 minutes)
  • Consume caffeine in moderation
  • Get light exercise like walking to boost energy
  • Eat a healthy diet with whole foods and plenty of protein
  • Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water
  • Practice good sleep hygiene at night to enhance sleep quality
  • Avoid heavy meals, alcohol, and being overly sedentary
  • Listen to upbeat music and do activities you enjoy
  • Avoid driving and risky activities when very sleepy

Try to get extra sleep the next night to pay back your “sleep debt” after missing sleep. For example, if you missed 3 hours of sleep, aim to sleep an extra 3 hours the next night.

When to see a doctor about sleep issues

Occasionally missing a night of sleep is normal, but regularly failing to get adequate sleep can indicate an underlying medical issue. See your doctor if:

  • You regularly have difficulty falling or staying asleep 3-4 nights per week for months
  • You don’t feel refreshed even after ample time in bed
  • You experience excessive daytime fatigue that affects work, relationships, or mood
  • Your partner notices frequent snoring, gasping, or breathing pauses at night
  • You have symptoms of a sleep disorder like sleep apnea, insomnia, or restless legs

A sleep study may be recommended to check for issues like sleep apnea. Underlying medical or mental health issues may also cause sleep disturbances.

Tips for better sleep hygiene

Practicing good sleep hygiene is key to optimizing the quality and quantity of your sleep on a regular basis:

Do Don’t
Keep a consistent sleep schedule Go to bed and wake up at different times daily
Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet Sleep in a hot, noisy, or brightly lit room
Limit screen time before bed Use phones, tablets, computers, or TV right before bed
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and heavy meals before bedtime Drink alcohol, eat spicy/fatty foods, or consume caffeine at night
Wind down and relax before going to sleep Engage in stimulating activity right before bed
Get regular exercise, but not too close to bedtime Exercise vigorously less than 2 hours before bed

Focus on making your bedroom welcoming for sleep by controlling light, noise, and temperature. Stick to a regular sleep-wake schedule as much as possible. Allow time to wind down so you feel relaxed when going to bed.

When to seek medical advice

While the occasional all-nighter generally won’t hurt most healthy adults, chronic sleep loss can seriously impact your health, safety, productivity, and quality of life. Speak to your doctor if you regularly have trouble getting enough good quality sleep at night or experience excessive daytime fatigue on most days.

Your doctor can check for underlying medical issues that may be affecting your sleep. They may recommend things like:

  • A sleep study to check for issues like sleep apnea
  • Changes in medication if side effects disrupt sleep
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I)
  • Improved sleep hygiene practices
  • Treatment for mental health issues contributing to sleep problems

Don’t dismiss chronic sleep problems. There are many effective ways to improve sleep through medical treatment, therapy, and lifestyle changes.


Missing one night of sleep is fairly normal and most healthy adults can get through it without significant issues. Just be prepared for some temporary fatigue, irritability, and fogginess the next day. Try to allow your body to catch up with extra sleep afterwards when possible.

However, regularly failing to get 7-9 hours of sleep can start to impair your cognitive function, emotional health, immune system, and metabolic processes. Make sleep a priority by practicing good sleep hygiene. If you continue having sleep problems, seek medical advice to identify and treat any underlying issues.