By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.
If you have super perfect school habits and super perfect teachers and a super perfect schedule, then you won’t ever have to pull an all-nighter.
Yeah, so that’s not gonna happen every day.
I get it: Sometimes work just piles up (especially during midterms and finals), and we have no choice but to pull an all-nighter in order to get everything done. If you ever find yourself in this unfortunate situation, then you should at least know how to pull an all-nighter the right way.
And of course I’m going to tell you that all-nighters are awful, they usually backfire, and they are generally not worth the sacrifice. But I’d be lying if I told you I never pulled all-nighters, because as good as I was at time management, I still sometimes couldn’t get everything done during the day. So yeah, I know a thing or two about nocturnal study sessions, because I’ve survived a ton of them. (Barely.)
Below you’ll find 10 tips for surviving a long night of studying and working.
Before we begin, you might want to check out my 5 strategies for how to study when you’re tired. The tips should help you get through study sessions when you’re exhausted, but not willing to stay up all night.
How to pull an all-nighter – the right way
DURING THE DAY, BEFORE THE ALL-NIGHTER:
1. Conserve energy.
Conserve energy during the day by avoiding strenuous exercise or activity — especially any activity that’s new to you. (Not a good day to see if you can climb rocks if you’ve never rock climbed before.)
2. Be usual.
Stick to your daily routine as much as possible so that you don’t throw off your body any more than you’ll already be doing. So get up at your usual time in the morning. Eat your usual foods at the usual times. And generally try to keep the status quo all the way up until what would be your typical bedtime.
Get in some kind of physical movement (moderate exercise) for between 20 and 45 minutes in the evening. Ideally, try to do this exercise around dinner time (before or after eating, depending on your preference). Some physical exercise at this hour will help you pull off your all-nighter because the extra boost of adrenaline will wake you up.
DURING THE ALL-NIGHTER
4. Use caffeine – carefully.
Just as your all-nighter begins, have about 95 milligrams of caffeine (8 ounces of coffee) only if you are accustomed to consuming caffeine. Caffeine takes only about 10 minutes to affect your body, with peak impact hitting around 45 minutes. Remember, caffeine can stay in your body for 8 hours, which means that even a small cup of coffee at 11PM can carry you through to 7 AM.
5. Eat smart.
You absolutely must eat every few hours during the night, even if you don’t feel like it. Some people get extra hungry when pulling all-nighters, while others feel nauseated. Whatever the case, be sure to eat smart by balancing carbohydrates (for quick energy) with protein (for lasting satiety). A turkey sandwich, oatmeal with yogurt, and soup are all good options. Don’t eat crap or you’ll feel like crap.
6. Drink lots and lots and lots of water.
No explanation needed. (But here’s a scientific one if you really want.) Even the slightest bit of dehydration will completely derail your all-nighter.
7. Take breaks.
Just as you would take short breaks during a daytime study session, take those same breaks during a nocturnal study session. Use the Pomodoro Technique (if you haven’t heard of this yet, OMG) or just take a 10-minute break every hour or so. Don’t nap during this break: get up and move around instead.
8. Stay semi-uncomfortable.
I promise that if you set up your all-night study session in your bed, you will fall asleep with a book on your face. Same thing if you get too comfortable in your favorite chair. Instead, sit someplace a little on the edge of uncomfortable, like the kitchen table or a desk, so that you minimize your chances of falling asleep. Some students even find it helpful to wear regular clothes instead of pajamas, so they’re even slightly more uncomfortable.
THE DAY AFTER THE ALL-NIGHTER
After your long night of working or studying, go the heck to sleep at your first opportunity to do so. In addition to going to bed early at night, try to take a medium-length nap (about 1-3 hours) during the afternoon. You might be tempted to sleep for longer, but don’t. Sleeping any longer than 3 hours will mess you up when you try to sleep at night. If you struggle to fall asleep at night because of anxious thoughts, try these techniques.
After your glorious nap, and after you’ve properly fed yourself (basic care here), take a moment to think about why you had to pull an all-nighter in the first place. If it was just a bad mix of uncontrollable circumstances, then fine, I understand. Stuff happens.
But really — think about what you could have done differently to prevent the pile-up of work from even happening. Did you plan properly? Were you procrastinating? Did you forget how much work you really had to do? The point of this reflection isn’t to beat yourself up over your mistake or misjudgment. Rather, the point is to understand what you can do differently for next time so you don’t have to pull an all nighter again.