We’ve all got those days. Three projects due on the same day. Countless huge tests looming before your eyes. Deadlines slowly calling out your name as a mug of lukewarm coffee trembles in your fingers. (A dramatic, Oscar-winning soundtrack beating to the frenzy of your heart…)
You’ve tried everything, but you just don’t have enough time. There are plenty of reasons not to pull an all-nighter–that is, the lack of sleep is highly detrimental to your thinking and reasoning ability, as well as concentration. Most sources warn against all-nighters.
BUT–and this is a big, cautious “but”–sometimes, there is no avoiding them. So, here is a helpful guide in pulling a successful all-nighter, designed to yield maximum results with, well…minimum sleep.
1) Time the all-nighter well
Don’t pull an all-nighter if you have to be productive the next day! It’s best to time one right after the weekend–or any other time during which you received a good amount of sleep. That way, you can have a ton of energy during the night…and be able to sleep it off the next day.
2) Choose your setting wisely
Some sources argue that it’s better to study in a place that’s not your bedroom. This is because your brain associates your bedroom with sleep, so you’ll automatically feel sleepier in that kind of environment. Instead, try studying in a 24-hour cafè or library…or move your study session down into your kitchen or living room!
3) Nap SMARTLY!
You might want to stay awake the entire night, but that’s easier said than done! It’s most feasible when you intersperse your all-nighter with small naps. A 90-minute nap (or one full sleep cycle) is recommended if you don’t want to wake up feeling too groggy. Nap experts (yes, those are a thing!) also claim that naps between 1-3 pm or 1-3 am are the most ideal, as these nap cycles will be balanced between REM and SWS (Slow Wave Sleep).
Other all-nighter experts claim that it’s best to sleep for 3-4 hours right after school, then stay up all night. This way, you’ll be well-rested before you get cracking.
4) Get rid of all distractions
Don’t use your phone. Don’t go on Tumblr. Or YouTube. Or Facebook. Unless your work involves internet access, put your computer and phone away. Turn them off and say your goodbye’s because “just five minutes on your phone” can translate to an entire hour or two lost on social media and other procrastinator-friendly sites. If you have to use the internet, but don’t trust yourself to use it for strictly academic purposes, you can “blacklist”–block yourself from going on certain social media sites for example…or you can “whitelist”–block everything except for the few select sites that you need. Check out your browser settings!
5) Watch the caffeine
Caffeine can do wonders in making you alert, but effectiveness is all about timing. You’ll start getting drowsy as your circadian rhythms kick in–that is, in the late hours of the night into early morning. It’s best to take your caffeine around this time, but keep your intake at moderate levels…You don’t want to crash! Do not drink coffee for the entire day leading into your all-nighter. Saving caffeine for when you really need it will make it significantly more effective.
There are also some effective caffeine products like Military Energy Gum (Stay Awake Gum), which can help you, well, stay awake! Again, products like these should be used with caution and moderation.
6) Food and water!
Arguably the most important part of this whole process: keep yourself hydrated and filled up with the right nutrients to keep on going. For hydration, ice tea, fruit juice, and water are preferable alternatives to soda and caffeine. As for snacks, stay away from sugar and heavy carbs! Instead, go for fruits, nuts, veggies, and proteins. Warning! Snack in small portions throughout the night. Don’t over-eat, or you might get drowsy and end up like this cat…
7) Don’t get too comfortable
It might be tempting to drag some blankets over to your desk or study on your mattress, but beware…DON’T DO THIS. YOU WILL BE GUARANTEED TO FALL ASLEEP.
Take care to study sitting upright in a desk. Lighting should be bright. If you want to be more alert, don’t get too cozy. Try keeping the windows open–or if you have a thermostat, keep the room temperature a bit chilly. Obviously, you shouldn’t make yourself so miserable that you can’t concentrate, but you should maintain a healthy dose of discomfort to keep you awake.
If you really want to ramp up your awareness, you can try a quick cold shower, too!
8) Set alarms every thirty minutes
You might slip up. You could be so sure of success one minute and fast asleep the next. The solution? Set up a series of alarms throughout the night, timed thirty minutes apart. This way, you won’t fall asleep early in the night and wake up in the morning, well-rested….but completely doomed for your test! With this method, you won’t ever lose more than thirty minutes of study time. (If you’re living with someone else, don’t make the alarm too loud. Keep it nearby, so you can hear it while not being a bother to others in close proximity.)
9) Stay moving!
Nothing’s going to wake you up more effectively than some good old-fashioned exercise! If you feel yourself starting to get drowsy, work those muscles! Run in place a bit. Do some jumping jacks. Read your textbook while walking on a treadmill. Do your homework while standing up. You shouldn’t move so much that you completely tire yourself out, but
10) Study buddies
Alright, we all know that studying with friends is not always as productive as we might delude ourselves it’ll be…But with the right people and techniques, you can definitely have a productive study session! Plus, interacting with other people will definitely make it harder to fall asleep.
11) Eat the right breakfast afterward
Before you head off into the abyss, make sure to grab a healthy breakfast to power you through the day! Food that is high in proteins and nutrients is especially beneficial for your energy and attentiveness. Grab a couple other snacks to munch on throughout the day and keep yourself awake, plus plenty of water.
Things to avoid the day after: driving, long hours awake, and any activity that will require your full, undivided attention. Take short, occasional naps to ease off the drowsiness. Sleep earlier to pay back your sleep deficit.
Most importantly, don’t make this a habit. Only pull an all-nighter when unavoidable, as the consequences and risks are often too great for it to even be worth it. Until then…Happy sleeping!