The Ultimate Guide To Pulling an Effective All-Nighter

Denying your body sleep is unhealthy and can cause short and long term effects. However, there are times when you have no other choice but to pull an all-nighter. If it comes to this, then there are a few things you should do to get the most out of your night.


Before The All-Nighter

Make Sure You’re Ready For An All-Nighter

A lack of sleep as detrimental effects on your memory, attention and ability to focus. If you’re thinking of staying up till 5 AM to study for a 9 AM exam you’re better off cutting your losses. Staying up all night reading words off a page doesn’t mean your brain will retain the information. It’s often a better idea to sleep early and try to get a few extra hours of studying the next day.

However, there are certain situations where pulling an all-nighter might not kill any benefit you would otherwise gain from sleeping.

  • When you haven’t pulled an all-nighter recently. Staying up all night and losing sleep will not make you a better student or do anything to help your grades. If you’ve skipped a substantial amount of sleep within the last few days, don’t do it again until you’ve had a chance to get a good night’s sleep.
  • When you have a light workload the next day. If you don’t have to be on top of your game the next day, losing a night of sleep won’t be as big of a problem. If you have a project due Friday night followed by a free weekend, then your sleep deprovision won’t be a major hindrance.
  • When you have no morning classes or commitments. Now usually if you don’t have any morning classes then you should just go to bed and get an early start the next day. However, if you have something due at 9 AM and no classes until 3 PM, then you can just sleep in the next day.
  • When you have time to nap later on. The only way to cure sleep deprovision is to sleep. If you stay up all night to get work done, take a nap in the afternoon. If an all-nighter means you have to stay up for two consecutive days, reconsider.

Eat Your Dinner Early

Eat your dinner early so that you don’t feel sleepy in the middle of the night. Try to have a smaller dinner and then snack throughout the night. Eating a lot can make you lethargic and sleepy. It’s better to have a light dinner that’s high in protein and low in carbs. Eat a light, healthy meal, such as a stir-fry. Stay away from rice and fatty foods. Lastly, don’t have a large cup of coffee with your dinner. You’ll end up crashing halfway into your all-nighter.

Take A Nap Before You Start

Think of sleep as a way to charge the battery which powers your brain. Taking a nap will top off your metaphorical battery and ensures that you’ll be well rested. Waiting until you’re exhausted to “just rest your eyes” then you’re more likely to fall asleep for hours. The more sleep you can get beforehand, the less you’ll hurt yourself later on.

During The All-Nighter

Avoid Caffeine At First

Caffeine-fueled all-nighters are a staple of college life. Coffee and energy drinks will definitely help you stay awake and even improve focus. However, keep in mind that they will also cause you will eventually cause you to crash so it’s best to avoid caffeine at first.

For the best results, you should avoid caffeine the day before and the day leading up to your all-nighter. Your body will begin to lose its tolerance to caffeine and cause smaller amounts to produce better results. Constantly drinking coffee will cause your body to develop a tolerance to caffeine. The overuse of caffeine will ultimately make it useless when you need it the most.

As an alternative, consider drinking something like herbal tea which will naturally keep you awake due to its extensive amount of herbs.

Eat Protein-rich Foods

If you followed our advice and had a light dinner then you’ll probably want to snack. Your body needs calories to burn if you’re doing something brain-intensive like writing paper. However, where you get those calories can make a big difference. While pizza, chips and cookies are staples of late night study sessions, but they’re also full of carbs.

The problem with carbs is that they cause a spike of glucose into your bloodstream. As your blood sugar rises, your pancreas produces insulin to absorb the sugar. The rapid spike from eating simple carbs can cause your blood sugar to plummet, leading to that groggy crashing feeling.

On the other hand foods with complex carbohydrates and rich in protein will give you energy without the crash.

Foods to eat: Apples, Cheese, Beef Jerky, Protein Drink, Nuts, Non-caffeinated Herbal Tea

Foods to avoid: Chips, Pizza, Cookies, Granola, Milk, Lemons, Turkey, Bananas, Figs, Toast

Stay Hydrated

While you should avoid caffeine you definitely want to stay hydrated. Drink two brimming glasses of ice-cold water every 30 minutes. Not only will the cold water help to keep you awake, but the restroom breaks will also keep you up.

It might be a good idea to invest in an insulated water bottle so that your water stays cold all night. Also, there is no reason why you can’t use the water bottle at other times. Staying hydrated is a good tip for life in general.

Take Power Naps

It’s best to take a nap the afternoon before your all-nighter so that you’re well-rested. Under no circumstance should you start an all-nighter tired. Working until you crash is unhealthy and will probably result in you falling asleep earlier.

However, if you choose to take a quick power name make sure to set a timer. Don’t nap for more than 20 minutes and stay half-awake. Be aware that napping during the night could lead to you to staying asleep, so it’s best avoided. An afternoon nap should be enough to see you through.

Avoid Distractions

Avoiding distractions is a good study tip in general, but this is especially true for all-nighters. If you’re going to miss out on precious sleep then you’d better make the most out of your night. Technically, you should have fewer distractions a night when the rest of the world is sleeping.

Nonetheless, you should turn off IMs, emails, cellphone, TV, and avoid surfing the internet. If you really need help then check my other article for apps that can help you focus.

Don’t Work In Your Bed

Your study environment is very important and you should never study on your bed, couch or floor. The best place to study is a cold, hard desk and chair. It might seem counterintuitive, but studying in a comfortable location makes you feel worse. Your body wants to fall asleep but you won’t let it so you begin to feel groggy.

If possible, work somewhere that’s far away from your sleeping area. Go to your school’s library or other study space. Also, avoid slumping and try to sit up straight. It increases your state of alertness and helps you to feel better.

Do Some Periodic Exercise

Taking a break to take a walk, do some push-up or jumping jacks will help you stay awake. This is a basic physiological response to thousands of years of evolution: if prehistoric humans fell asleep while running from danger, chances are they wouldn’t live very long. Ultimately, the ability to keep your blood flowing is the simplest way to keep yourself awake.

After The All-Nighter

If You Have Time – Sleep!

If you finish your work and still have time then try to catch a few winks. It’s a good idea to pack up the thing you’ll need for class tomorrow and lay out your clothes. This will allow you to sleep in as much as possible. Just make sure not to oversleep!

Also, the time you fall asleep will have a large affect on how you feel when you wake up. This is because your body goes through several sleep cycles: rest, light sleep, deep sleep. You don’t want to wake up during your deep sleep cycle because you’ll feel really groggy. To help you know when to sleep check out and input the time you need to wake up. They’ll produce a list of appropriate times you should fall asleep.

Don’t Fall Asleep Midday

While you probably won’t be exhausted around 10 AM you’ll probably start to feel the effects of your all-nighter kick in around 1PM-2PM. While you might be tempted to sleep you should avoid doing so because you don’t want to end up staying up all night again.

All-nighters can seriously damage your sleep cycle so do your best to stay awake. You just spent an entire night awake doing work so this should be the easy part. It’s okay to sneak in a nap but keep it under 20 minutes.

Sleep Early The Next Night

If you usually go to sleep around 10 PM then it’s okay to go to bed around 8 PM. You’ll probably wake up a bit earlier than usual but that’s not going to be too big of a problem. Just avoid going to bed in evening and then waking up full of energy at 3 in the morning.

Bottom Line: Use all-nighters as a last result and don’t make them a habit!