I have some unusual work habits. Or, at least, when I tell others about my work habits, they sort of blanch and say, "you poor thing!"
It started in college and got worse in graduate school, and now that I am a fully-fledged professional, I haven't changed. Here's what I do: when there's something due on a particular date, like a written report, I get up around two in the morning that day, and I start working. Yeah, I get a few hours of sleep, and then I pretty much stay up all night.
I can't manage to do it the day before. I can't stay up late and do it the evening before. There's something about waiting until the last possible moment that makes me type and think faster. I get hyperfocused--in the zone--and I get this stuff done pretty fast. Don't get me wrong--I do all the prep work ahead of time. I have all my information gathered in advance. It's the writing I do at the last minute.
This behavior has been reinforced. Heavily. See, I've developed a reputation in the state where I work as a psychologist who writes these super-comprehensive, helpful reports. And pediatricians, other social service agencies, and the state Department of Children, Youth, and Families keep referring clients to me. So I guess I'm doing all right.
But just last month, there was a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience that got my attention. Some scientists studied the brains of healthy young adults and discovered that the brain's pleasure centers are much more activated after a sleepless night. And that activation leads to a sense of euphoria and a tendency toward risky behavior. With sleep deprivation, the brain is more likely to swing to extremes on the mood spectrum, and that can result in impulsive decisions because one is feeling so optimistic. In addition, without adequate sleep, the brain's decision-making region (the prefrontal cortex) gets de-activated. But you know what gets activated in its place? The amygdala, which controls the brains more primal functions, like the fight-or-flight reflex.
The article goes on to suggest that people in high-stakes professions should make sure they get adequate sleep in order to maintain safety and good judgment.
Now, on some level, I knew this. I spend a lot of time talking with parents about the importance of sleep, both for their children and for themselves. But the idea that I might be more impulsive after a night of sleep deprivation because I'm feeling euphoric and overly optimistic ... it's something to think about, for a whole host of reasons, including my responsibility to my family and my clients.
Should I change my ways? And how about you? Do you pull all-nighters? If so, why? Have you felt this kind of effect after a sleepless night? Does it make sense? And if this is actually the case, would you want to try writing under the influence of your brain on sleep-deprivation, just to see what you come up with? Do you think you'd be more creative, or completely unfocused? Are you afraid you'd kill one of your key characters in a fit of euphoric whimsy?
Oh! And don't forget to zip over to Lydia's for Medical Monday, and Laura's for Mental Health Monday!