Pulling an all-nighter is a rite of passage that separates procrastinators from those students who study and write papers in a timely fashion. The root of most procrastination is perfectionism. OR laziness. Or both. But generally, even if a paper is due the next day, a procrastinating perfectionist won't even get started until late into the night, because he/she lacks the inspiration to write that perfect paper. Inspiration and desperation, at a certain hour, become interchangeable. So by about 3am, the wheels of creativity turn out 7-10 pages, double spaced. So what if it has 1.5" margins and is in Courier, the largest font known to TrueType or Postscript fonts?
While all-nighters can be essential for paper-writing, they are actually counter-productive for most types of studying. If someone knows the material fairly well, and pulls an all-nighter to perfect their knowledge, their ensuing loss of mental clarity due to lack of sleep probably more-than-offsets their increased knowledge due to a night of studying. However, this can produce a net gain, if the student never actually went to class.
I can attest from my undergrad days taking certain liberal arts classes that the cramming all-nighter can be quite effective. If you are sufficiently motivated, you can in fact read 400 pages of psych text in two nights of reading, and still get an A on the material (assuming of course that there are 800 people in the class, so the only conceivable test type is multiple choice. Never try this if it is an essay test). -EricKlein
Dude, actually reading 800 pages is the most inefficient way of studying for a psych test I've ever heard of. But okay, maybe it works for multiple choice tests. -jr
Well, perhaps, but it does work. If the only material for the class is the textbook, and you've already been to all the lectures and sections, then just reading all of the text actually crams quite a lot of useful test info into your head. Of course, I suspect this wouldn't work for most people, but I have a pretty good memory, and read fairly fast. -EricKlein
This strategy applies very well to HUM1 and SOC3. The finals are essays but you can get away with reading all the required text right before the final and get an A. -TerencePhan
From my degree in Psychology, I learned very early on about memory and cognition. The brain requires sleep in order for memories to solidify. Studies have been done that show that students who had a period of sleep in between studying and test taking scored higher on tests than students who stayed up all night studying. It seemed unusual at first that those who studied less the night before did better on tests. The period of sleep allowed the memories to be consolidated and resulted in better recall and better analytical thinking. The students who spent all night studying wasted their time by not getting memory solidifying sleep. In my other Psychology courses I also learned that studying small amounts throughout the quarter was better than waiting until the night before to study for tests. Psychology majors study smart not hard. We know all about memory techniques and reducing stress by not waiting until the last minute. Studying Psychology was never a chore, as it was something that I learned to apply throughout life. Studying a little everyday really made everything easier and then when the test came along, I already had everything down. I wish that more students would take Psychology courses. The information in many of the Psychology classes at Davis really changed my view of life and opened my eyes to everything from studying, to handling stress, life situations, dealing with other people, and even what to do with my life. Looking back, I wouldn't have changed a thing. I would be a totally different person if I had never taken all of those Psychology courses. -MaxLucas
For a list of places to procure performance-enhancing consumables late at night / early in the morning, see the Night Time page.
Unlike caffeine and other energy boosters, sugar has never been scientifically proven to give someone more energy than other carbohydrate rich foods (i.e. pasta) for even a short period of time ("sugar does not make kids hyper story"). However, some students still claim that sugar, if consumed in regular intervals, will keep you energized and awake. However, if you fail to continually introduce sugar into your body, you will quickly become sleepy. Essentially, your body reacts to a large dose of sugar by raising your insulin levels, which has the direct effect of fatigue and lethargy.
Caffeine is an essential part of maintaining the all-nighter. Unlike sugar, it can keep you going all night without the risk of sudden fatigue. However one must be mindful of the caffeine source. If someone drinks REGULAR soda, such as Mountain Dew or Coke, they run the risk of an insulin surge once the sugar is metabolized. This CAN (although not necessarily) be dramatic enough an effect to offset the caffeine. Some people describe the insulin versus caffeine reaction as "very alert tiredness." Diet soda, however, does not contain sugar. While it tastes somewhat gross, if you drink it somewhat regularly, your taste buds will desensitize to its sharp aftertaste. Another trick is to squeeze lemon or lime into your diet soda — you can also buy a bottle of RealLemon or RealLime. What matters with caffeine is that you use it consistently. While this might not apply to an essay or project, it does for exams. If you study with caffeine, take the test with caffeine. Don't stay up studying with coffee and then take the test without it.
Sugar-free caffeine sources
Diet Mountain Dew - This citrusy soft drink contains enough lime flavor to make the aspartame undetectable. It tastes slightly better than regular Mountain Dew because it has more lime and less orange flavor.
Diet Red Bull - Tastes horrible. Some people have other ideas. However, highly effective.
Some people claim that diet sodas containing Splenda makes them lethargic.
A word of caution with diets and artificial sweeteners, they contain Aspartame which may be more harmful to you than the mere effects of caffeine; seriously, this is bad stuff.
No-Doze - be careful with these. these can make your stomach hurt SO bad.
Careful with these. As few as 20 can kill some people. :)
Tea - Avoid caffeine-free tea. Theoretically the caffeine in tea has a slightly different molecular composition than caffeine in other things. It affects certain people somewhat differently. Green tea gives less of crash after the caffeine wears off as compared to coffee.
Black coffee - or add a non-sugar sweetener.
Espresso shots - very effect, but be wary of upset tummies.
Chocolate covered espresso beans - great idea, but watch out for the sugar content.
Excedrin - advanced medicine for pain. Has plenty of caffeine. Don't take too much, but it also helps take care of the headache and neckache you probably have already.
Though it sounds bizarre, one way to quickly get your endorphins pumping and your adrenaline shooting through your body is to exercise. Going on a quick jog for about 15 minutes can get you wired for awhile, and make it difficult to fall asleep even if you try. A jog followed by an energy drink or another dose of caffeine can leave you wired for hours. This is also a great way to wake yourself up if you catch yourself falling asleep as the words in your reading become blurred, or you are making multiple typos in your attempt for the perfect paper. Be careful: know your limits. If you are extremely out of shape, then maybe try an 8 minute jog or so. Whatever you do, don't go for an intense workout that will tire you out, just one that will keep you on your toes.
A Quick Nap is theoretically possible. Some all-night avatars can actually take 45 minute power naps so they can sustain themselves all night without the use of additives. However, most people cannot do this. This ultimately causes people to sleep through alarms and miss finals, deadlines and other horrible consequences. This ultimately results in claims of rare, spontaneous illnesses and the death of grandparents quarter after quarter. Food poisoning is a popular one, due to its unprovable nature. (Some purists claim that even a short nap takes away the honorable designation of pulling an all-nighter.)
I once stayed up for two nights straight working on a final project for a class. I finished the project at 8am on the morning it was due (I had to present at 11am or so), so I went home to have a shower. After the shower, I sat down on the bed, and the next thing I knew, it was 12:30, well after class was over. Quite luckily, my professor had a sense of humor about it, and since I went straight to his office to present it to him in person, everything worked out OK, but still the stuff nightmares are made of. Moral of the story: if you REALLY need to stay up, don't ever do anything that could even make you comfortable enough to fall asleep. Once you are tired enough to have your mind spontaneously stop thinking, sleep can strike at any time. -EricKlein
I've found anything less than three hours is worse than not sleeping at all, since it just makes you crave what you're missing and slows down your spinning head. Plus the sleep is always fitful with dreams about failing to wakeup again. -aec
I agree. Three hours can work wonderfully, though. It's long enough to refresh your mind to some degree, as you can actually dream during three hours — expect dreams about your paper though. I've never actually pulled an all-nighter, due to the fact that I usually think sleep deprivation effects will be worse. But this Friday I went to sleep at 3AM, woke up at 6AM, finished my project, and still managed to stay awake until 1AM the next day. Note that when you wake up, you'll probably want to take a hot shower to start up your metabolism. - BrentLaabs
Advice and commentary
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2004-12-18 23:10:18 This most recent finals I had an evil teacher who had an eight page paper the same day we had a final at 8am, and I swear to god I fell asleep AND STARTED DREAMING in the middle of writing a sentence - the last half of the sentence was my dream and had nothgin to do with what I intended to write about..!! - KrisFricke
All nighters can be really valuable for getting things done, but make sure what you're staying up for is due the next day. Many have fallen ill to pointless all nighers! This is especially likely to happen if you skip class a lot.
2005-06-11 02:46:39 All nighter? A piece of cake for Design students!!! we do that a lot. It's fun... only if you like to design stuff. —DingLiu
One trick I use for staying awake during those late nights is chewing peppermint gum. Peppermint is a natural stimulant, and it works if you need to wake up quickly. I also use Burt's Bees lip balm (with peppermint) regularly. —AnnaHamilton
2006-02-14 17:03:21 Under 30 minutes or above 3 hours- any amount of sleep in the middle just makes you groggy. Of course, the accidental all-nighter is best: absorbed in the material or working in the studio, you realize it's starting to get light outside and you're ravenously hungry. —TorreyaCummings
2006-03-17 06:24:06 Thanks for the Advice....This week has been a string of All Nighters for me, and as its 6:15 am right now, you can see that I just finished one. Luckily i slept from 5am to 5pm yesterday, giving me the energy to be awake from 5 to 6... —MaxMikalonis
2007-02-07 02:19:17 I had more all-nighters than sleep nights in high school. College is awesome, I sleep more. This is only my 4th all nighter but it's hard to keep track sometimes...I heart calculus. —GregWebb
2008-03-23 00:44:44 Brief exercise works really well for me. —JoFeuerstein
2008-03-23 00:48:27 If you study with caffeine, take the test with caffeine. — Funny, I first heard that with regards to harder drugs. —JoFeuerstein
2008-05-06 06:08:22 I'm on one right now. The sun is coming up and I feel fine, and all I've had is some Powerade. I think the trick is that when you feel yourself drifting away, indulge yourself, but only for a short nap. I crashed at 2 and awoke at 3 feeling refreshed, and I still am. But I guess I won't know how effective this session has been until the test, which is still over four hours away. —RichardYeh
2008-07-12 13:14:36 I once stayed awake for 5 days in order to get a project done. My friends told me that I was going insane and forced me to sleep. I found afterward that I had been talking to inanimate objects and the conversation was less then coherent. —SunjeetBaadkar
Are you serious? That sounds scary!—WengFF
Yeah, it was scary in hindsight. I have vague memories of it though. I do remember hearing voices and such, but I didn't remember talking to anything. Good times, though I don't intend on repeating that again. —SunjeetBaadkar
2009-11-19 00:12:36 My all nighters tend to include drinking and smoking... My teachers always complain about the "Flow" of my papers, but I find they flow quite freely. —JamesM
2012-09-10 17:21:54 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyphasic_sleep
See Uberman. Maximum effectiveness. —RYN3O