Youth Canada

How to Pull an All-Nighter

25-07-2008 by Matthew Ho

How to Pull an All-Nighter

Ah, yes, the all-nighter. As motivated, involved youth with schedules packed tighter than a tin of sardines, many of us find ourselves staring down the prospect of a sleepless night. If you’ve ever burned the 4-a.m. oil over a last-minute essay or found yourself plugging away at a textbook while the sun rises, you’ll know why people dread all-nighters. Terrible things they are, but they’re sometimes a necessary evil! But let me get my disclaimer out before someone gets the wrong impression: in no way whatsoever do I endorse pulling all-nighters. They are extremely unhealthy and totally inefficient. No matter how fantastic you are (and I’m sure you are quite fantastic), you are not going to be 100% at four in morning after ten solid hours of work. Avoid all-nighters when you can, especially multiple ones. I knew a guy who pulled two in a row once. He was a real mess—all pale and clammy; it looked like he was going to die. A teacher of mine claims to have pulled an entire weeks’ worth in high school (for all you IB kids out there, he was cramming his E.E.) and he ended up getting pneumonia and missing a whole month of school. So first and foremost, if AT ALL POSSIBLE, Just Say No to All-nighters.

But let’s say, just for argument’s sake, that SOMEHOW you find yourself sitting in front of your computer at 10 p.m. with an essay to write or a final exam to study for. Well, strap in, and here goes:

1) Focus. It all starts with you. You have to be engaged, motivated and focused on the task at hand. If not, you’re probably going to spend the night drifting around inside your head, not doing anything. And that’s the exact opposite of what you want to do, seeing as you’re racing the clock. Have a checklist of things you want to accomplish, and ideally, when you want to have them accomplished by. Breaking the night into smaller, manageable chunks helps to keep you concentrated on the task at hand, and can definitely reduce the panic and anxiety some people feel when racing against a deadline.

2) Situate yourself appropriately. No beds, no couches, no soft carpets. If your workspace is movable, take it as far from your bedroom as possible so that the temptation to drift over there is minimal. Try to work somewhere with good ventilation, even a cool breeze. Lighting should be dimmer to reduce the strain on your eyes. Also, listen to momma and sit up straight—slouching decreases the maximum intake volume of your lungs, which leads to fatigue, which results in you passing out on your keyboard, eventually culminating in you waking up at seven in the morning with eighty pages of commas but nothing you can submit.

3) Feed your brain. When you’re thinking hard, the ol’ noggin consumes a remarkable amount of resources. Drink lots of water, even if you aren’t thirsty. You begin to feel thirsty only after your body is significantly dehydrated, which means that if you wait until you’re thirsty, you’ll have been functioning under optimal capacity for quite awhile. Plus, a glass of ice-cold water is an amazing antidote to doziness. Also, eat light snacks relatively constantly throughout the night. Sugar, caffeine and carbohydrates (i.e. sodas, doughnuts and Red Bull) are no-no’s, because although they do provide a short energy boost, the inevitable crash will destroy you come 2 am. Hear that? Coffee bad! Coke bad! Instead, eat protein-rich foods like nuts, fruits, cheeses and protein bars (with lots of water!) that will keep your energy up long-term. Take them in small amounts, though, because proteins are pretty tough to digest, and you don’t want to divert too much blood from your brain to your stomach!

4) The experts are divided when it comes to napping. Personally, I love a fifteen-minute power nap every hour. But that’s because I can wake up from them easily and they give me a huge energy boost. Other people I’ve talked to say that they are like a death sentence—you either can’t wake up from them, or they leave you more tired than before. Gauge yourself, and decide whether or not you’re a napper. Usually, a nap every hour to hour and a half will keep you energized. If you are napping, make sure they do not exceed twenty minutes! If they do, your brain may go into a different stage of sleep, making it tougher to wake up and leaving you groggy when you do.

5) Take breaks. If you aren’t going to nap, do some sort of physical activity to get your adrenaline going. Jump up and down, sing along to your favourite song (quietly, if your family is sleeping), do some sit-ups, do a lap around your block, smack yourself in the face... something that will change up the scenery, wake you up and freshen your mind. Your own attention span will determine how often you take breaks—just don’t spend too much time on them!

6) Change it up. Too much of the same thing will cause you to zone out! Change working positions and locations every so often, and if you can, switch up the tasks you’re doing every few hours in order to keep things fresh.

7) Don’t suffer alone! Chances are that you’re going to have at least one friend who’s in the same sleepless boat as you. Use the buddy system. Keep each other awake, checking in with each other ever y ten minutes or so, and chatting with each other during your breaks. Motivate and encourage each other to work hard and stay awake, but don’t get caught up in too much chatter... you want to get your work done, right?

8) Minimize distractions. It’s far too easy to lose focus at three in the morning. Get off of Facebook and turn off MSN when you’re working. Some like to have TV or music going in the background while they work; if this is you, make sure whatever you’re listening to is upbeat and arrhythmic. You don’t want to be lulled to sleep.

9) Do whatever you can to stay awake. Strap an ice pack to your chest. Rub mentholatum/Vapo-Rub/Tiger Balm beneath your eyes. Rig up a device that delivers a shock if your head falls too far forward... be creative here. There are tons of ways.

10) Know when to cut your losses. Sometimes, it just isn’t going to happen. You cannot focus for more than ten seconds in a row, you can’t remember what was being said in the line you just read, and you’re typing gibberish. No matter how many times you splash yourself with cold water, you simply just can’t seem to pull it together. In these times, it’s best to just get some sleep, because more likely than not, what you do manage to produce isn’t going to be any good. So just don’t do it—what’s the point, anyways? When you get to school, seek out the teacher and tell them the truth. Honesty is the key, here. Tell them that you screwed up; that you made a mistake, that didn’t manage your time effectively, that you bit off more extracurriculars than you could chew. Teachers are compassionate (sometimes) human beings, after all. Often, they’ll understand, and appreciate that you were so forthright about it. I’ve seen many a person walk away with a due-date extension after doing this, and chances are, if you’re a diligent student with a decent track record, you’ll get some sort of concession.

So there you have it, my advice on pulling an all-nighter. Remember, all-nighters are merely damage control and should not be relied on. But for those odd occasions where you find yourself in a pickle, I hope these tips will help you pull the most effective all-nighter you can.

Cheers and happy sleeping,

MATTHEW HO (his friends call him Matt) was an intrepid Impact in-office intern (i.e., a Four-I's) along with Pretty, William, Imran and Wendy in August 2008. Outside of his office life, and in addition to saving the world by night, he is heading into grade 12 (as of August 2008) at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary in Vancouver, taking IB there. His other interests (when he has time to indulge in them) include sports, music, student government. He neeeever pulls all-nighters ;). He is also a Shad Valley Carleton 2008 alumnus.

Image courtesy of user "patpompak", taken from via Creative Commons License