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5 Tips for Surviving an All-Night Study Marathon
Monday, January 25, 2016

It’s that paper you’ve been putting off for weeks. Or that big project you’ve told yourself you would finish up. But here you are, the night before it’s due, nervously watching the clock as it moves from 8 PM to 10 PM, and before you know it, it’s 2 AM and you’re still not done. Unfortunately, this situation calls for an all-nighter, which may sound daunting, but fear not! Here are survival tips (from a panel of college students who have pulled many an all-nighter) that will help in your academic endeavors.

1. Sip, don’t chug!

If your first instinct is to start your all-nighter by chugging three Red Bulls, think again. While this will definitely boost your energy, it will also overload your brain and body with adrenaline, the neurotransmitter responsible for the flight-or-fight response. We’ve done this, and our hands ended up shaking so badly we couldn’t type, let alone concentrate on stringing a coherent sentence together. Instead, ingest the caffeine slowly so the inevitable ‘crash’ later on won’t be as drastic. Space the drinks out! If you know, for example, that three hours after a cup of coffee you begin to feel tired, start sipping your next caffeinated beverage half an hour before that; this will provide a small boost of energy and will help you avoid a crash.

2. Know your naps

When we pull an all-nighter, we hit a wall around 3 am—desperate for sleep, but not willing to put our papers/studying in jeopardy. Instead of downing another Red Bull, we’ll bargain with ourselves (e.g. ‘If I can finish this paragraph in the next ten minutes, I’ll take a ten minute nap’), set an alarm, and almost instantly lose consciousness.

The average REM sleep cycle is 90 minutes long (source), which means that the best nap would be an hour and a half long. While this wastes valuable time, research proves that knowledge is better retained after sleep—so your nap can not only refresh you, but solidify the information you’ve been trying to process for the last few hours.

3. Steer clear of junk

While many sugary and fatty snack foods will give you a rush of energy (a ‘sugar high’), the eventual crash will wipe you out—so make healthy snack choices! An apple, for example, is a healthy option that will give you a boost similar to a cup of coffee. A handful of nuts can fulfill your craving for salty food and will keep you full longer than a bag of chips. We find that if we eat heavily processed foods during an all-nighter, we spend a lot of the night with a bad stomach ache—not good for productivity. Your body is working overtime to compensate for your lack of sleep, so why not make things a little bit easier?

4. Breaks are important

Pulling an all-nighter doesn’t mean you have to sit at your desk all night! Although you may think that you have to hustle and rush to get your project/paper done, just remember that speeding through an assignment won’t help your understanding of the material, nor will it adequately prepare you for an exam, if you’re studying. Make sure to take the time to re-read the last paragraph you wrote (grammatical errors are easy to make at 4 am) or really know the material on your Roman History flashcard. Don’t be afraid to take study breaks—overloading your already tired brain won’t be beneficial in the long run. Also, staring at screens for hours is bad for your eyes (for more information, see this) and may cause a headache; this will only hinder your homework attempt. Instead, take a small break every half hour or 45 minutes. Grab a protein bar, or go drink a cold, refreshing cup of water — anything that will take you away from your screen(s) or book(s).

Additionally, if you’re pulling an all-nighter, you’re probably going to be sitting in one position for hours at a time, which is not great for your body. Instead of losing circulation in your legs (which seems to always happen to me when I’m focusing on a paper for countless hours), get up every two hours and take a lap around your room or do five jumping jacks. This will also also get your blood pumping and simply break the monotony. More often than not, we're hunched over our computers, which causes major discomfort and diminishes focus as we're trying to find a more comfortable position.

5. Stay hydrated!

Symptoms of dehydration: headache, fatigue, dizziness, and confusion, to name a few. Caffeine is a diuretic, which means it dehydrates you. If you rely on caffeine to keep you awake during an all-nighter, make sure you also drink plenty of water so you don’t get dehydrated. Not only is dehydration extremely unpleasant, but it will also distract from your studying/writing, so drink water. Sodas and other soft drinks also contain caffeine, which means they will also quickly dehydrate you.

If it is 3 AM and you realize you’ve only had coffee and soda, get a large glass of water or even Gatorade, which will quickly replenish the needed electrolytes in your body so you won’t experience the symptoms of dehydration. What we try to do is drink the equivalent amount of water as caffeine; for example, if we have a 12 oz Red Bull, we have 12 oz of water. This helps us stay hydrated and thus focused.


...And there you have it: five tips from a panel of all-nighter pros on how to survive your night of work. The best thing you can do for your body the next day is to keep drinking water; dehydration on top of sleeplessness is no fun. And after you turn in your paper or take your exam, make sure to get some rest—you’ll need it!