So You Want to Pull an All-Nighter?

A woman yawning at her desk.
Image courtesy of The Independent.

by Daisy Jasmine, Staff Writer

 It’s late in the afternoon, or maybe early in the evening. You sit in the IBIC or at your own desk, with all of your devices and resources strewn across the workspace. The sun slowly starts to descend, casting an orange glow into the room, and you take stock of what you’ve accomplished. If you’ve used your time relatively well, you might have a decent amount complete already.

Spongebob's "The"
Probably not the best font choice for an essay. Courtesy of Odyssey

Maybe you’ve got an outline. Or maybe you’ve just opened a Word document and typed your name and the course prefix.

Whatever it is, it’s due tomorrow—and you know that whatever you’ve gotten done isn’t enough. You get a sinking feeling as you do some quick mental arithmetic, comparing the current time with the Blackboard cutoff deadline or the time the class in question starts. You double-check your figures a few times and suddenly feel a wave of anticipatory exhaustion as the horrible truth makes itself apparent.

You aren’t sleeping tonight.

What now?

Staying Awake

The sooner you realize that you need to pull an all-nighter, the more luck you’ll have preparing. However, even if the deadline has snuck up on you later into the evening, there are still a lot of ways for you to steel yourself physically and mentally for the long night ahead.

You might want more than one of those. Courtesy of Mashable

The first and most well-known option is the grad student’s best friend, caffeine. Coffee, tea, energy drinks, or caffeine supplements; if you don’t have some in your room already, it’s still probably easy to find. However, know your limits—too much caffeine can and will hurt your cause by making you jittery and unfocused.

If you’re sensitive to caffeine, or just prefer not to use it, there are still many options available to you. Drinking lots of cold water is a far healthier alternative that will keep you hydrated and alert. Some people recommend eating fruit for a burst of blood sugar while others suggest protein-rich small snacks such as nuts or cheese; however, whatever you decide to snack on to keep your energy up, avoid having a huge meal while you work, as it can make you sluggish.

Additionally, there are a variety of ways to make your workspace more conducive to staying awake. Keep your room brightly lit, as well as slightly warm—the best environment for sleep is a cool room, so a little additional heat will prevent you from getting drowsy. Avoid working on your bed, for obvious reasons! Don’t give in to the temptation to lie down “just for a few minutes,” either. Putting bulky and uncomfortable objects on your bed can create just enough of an obstacle that the energy to remove them would be better spent working.

Keeping Focused

Once you’ve ensured that you won’t collapse face-first onto your keyboard, you’re ready to begin your work. No matter how awake you are, you aren’t out of the woods yet—you still have a very finite amount of time to work with, meaning that now you need to take steps to maintain your focus and make the most of the time you have available to you.

Chewing gum while you work is well-known for its positive effects on alertness and memory. Minty gum is best, as mint can also help keep you awake and focused.

No, not that kind of Breath of Fire. Courtesy of National Geographic.

Some people also attest to the benefits of the yoga breathing technique, Breath of Fire—in which you breathe heavily through the nostrils with equal force behind both the inhale and exhale—and alternate nostril breathing. The general consensus is that the right nostril gives you energy and the left one relaxes you, so be sure to remember your right from your left!

You may also want to have something playing in order to keep you awake and block out distractions. Listening to music can be very helpful, as long as the music you listen to isn’t itself a distraction—instrumental music without lyrics to sing along to is a good option. Classical music is often touted as the best soundtrack for studying—however, some people (this writer included) find it relaxing. A good alternative is EDM—the driving beat can help get you pumped to get your work done. If you want something to listen to but don’t want to divide your attention with music, there are numerous white noise generators available online, as well as more specific ones such as coffee shop ambient noise generators.

While it may be tempting to just glue yourself to the screen and not look up until your work is done, this is probably not a realistic approach, given that mental fatigue will kick in quickly and send your productivity screeching to a halt. Instead, plan ahead and allow yourself time to recharge; the Pomodoro technique suggests working for 25 minutes and rewarding yourself with a five-minute break.

The Tomato of Time Management. Courtesy of Lifehacker.

Depending on how much you have to get done and your own limits, you may want to work for longer periods of time and give yourself longer breaks, dividing it by 45 minutes of work and 10- to 15-minute breaks. However you divide it, this method will keep morale up by allowing you to get a lot done and have something to look forward to at regular intervals. Additionally, creating a basic outline of the work ahead of you will make it less daunting by allowing you to approach it in smaller segments, setting reasonable deadlines for how much you want to have done after each hour.

The Next Day

You check your work for spelling errors one last time, load it up onto Blackboard, and hit submit. You did it! You pulled an all-nighter and made it through. But it’s not over yet; now you have to go to class and survive a day on no sleep. Sleep deprivation is extremely rough on the body and mind. Even if you have a busy day ahead, it’s vital to allow yourself to recover from the strain of your all-nighter. Here are a few ways to bounce back.

Don’t let this be you! Courtesy of College Magazine.

It’s completely understandable that you may want nothing more than to climb into bed for a nap. However, try your best to resist this temptation and get to bed at a reasonable time in the evening, as napping for too long during the day will throw off your sleep schedule and hurt your energy over the following days. If you absolutely must nap, though, keep it to an hour or less to minimize this effect.

Drink plenty of water throughout the day, and avoid sugary foods that will cause you to crash. It’s also a good idea to quit drinking anything caffeinated by lunchtime so you aren’t kept awake late the following night. Try to spend some time in the sun as well—it will energize you and help return your internal clock to normal.

Overall, the day after an all-nighter, the most important thing is to take care of yourself and avoid overexerting. After all of the hard work you’ve put in, you deserve a break.

And, maybe, once you’ve rested and recovered you can learn from the experience and apply your time more effectively for the next big deliverable. I should probably figure out how to do that…but not tonight, it’s trivia night. I’ll do it later!

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