Anna Schultz-Girl Using Laptop In Cozy Bed

The All-Nighter Survival Checklist

It’s that time of year again. The trees are bare, the sun is gone, professors are piling the work on, and somehow everything is due the same week, no matter how easy the classes normally are. You are tired, probably either catching or getting over the cold that has been sweeping the entire dorm, and you are stressed. All you want to do is curl up under a fluffy blanket and watch sappy Christmas rom-coms, but there is just too much left to do. So you make the ultimate sacrifice- a night of sleep for an empty to-do list. 

You’re truly brave to attempt this, and I fully sympathize. I can’t fix your due dates or cure your cold or give you your night of sleep back, but I can give you some tips to pull an all-nighter that’s almost worth the sacrifice.

Make the decision only as a last resort.

All nighters are no joke, and they aren’t a decision to be taken lightly. Frankly they suck, and it’s a pain to recover after one, especially if you have a full schedule. Don’t just decide to do it because it’s part of the “college experience.” It doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t have to be. If you can wake up early, or ask for an extension, or even get away with just doing the sparknotes for a reading instead of finishing the book, do that instead. All-nighters are the final trick up your sleeve, and should only be used in cases of major time crunches.

Fuel up properly.

While the idea of a pizza and fries and other comfort foods may sound like the perfect study snacks to keep you awake, you’ll have much better luck with healthy foods. Try to have some protein early on in the process, because it breaks down slower than carb heavy foods, giving you better energy for longer. It also is less likely to give you a major sugar crash, since you aren’t getting a sugar high. As the night goes on, go ahead and give yourself a whole mess of snacks to munch on, but try to keep them healthy too. Since you’re getting less sleep you’re going to want to be extra mindful of healthy choices to keep yourself as functional as possible. I also know that it’s super tempting to just chug a full pot of coffee, or go through a bunch of energy drinks, but hold off on the caffeine until later. Start with cold water, which wakes you up and hydrates you. Caffeine is good, don’t get me wrong, but if you wait to have your coffee until you start to crash in the middle of the night, it’ll do more good. 

Choose your study spot carefully.

Do you share a room? Is the library closed? Is your usual study building locked down with the lights out? You may have to move to a different spot than you normally study in, but that can be a good thing. If you only study in the dorm lounge when you’re pulling an all-nighter, it can trick your brain into work mode without you realizing. It’s also helpful to be in a semi-public place, because then you might be more focused. I know I’m less likely to check Facebook if I know people might judge me for it on their way to the bathroom at 3am. You also want to choose someplace you won’t just curl up and go to sleep. Bright lights are really helpful for me personally, but also a room that’s not too warm. I can bring in a sweater and comfy clothes to study in without feeling like it’s time for bed.

Have a playlist or few to listen to.

So I have so many different playlists I usually listen to when studying, but if I’m pulling an all-nighter I really need to focus, so I can’t listen to all of them. What I do is usually have about four playlists I can switch between as I study, so if I notice myself getting too distracted by the music I can switch to something else. I also want to make sure the music is high enough energy to keep me awake without hyping me up too much to study. It’s a fine line, and only you can judge what’s good for you, but know what works for you before you try to start studying.

Make some to-do lists.

I have a few to-do lists going on at any given point in time. I usually have a weekly one, with all my big assignments and readings, a daily one, with my smaller breakdowns of what needs to get done, and sometimes I have lists for individual projects, to make them less intimidating. You need a list for an all-nighter. No matter how good your memory is, there will come a point in the night that you start losing focus and forgetting why you decided to stay awake. Make a list of what has to get done no matter what, and then some easier things to do when you need a change of pace. You may need to work on a specific project all night, but pepper in some smaller things like taking notes on your reading or making a chart for your lab. Maybe it isn’t due tomorrow, but your brain will thank you for the change of pace.

Take a break or few.

This is super important, but also a bit of a trap. When I say take a break, I mean refill your water bottle and have a dance break to your favorite song. Maybe put on a short video (ten minutes or less) and clear your brain. Go take a lap around the hall. Basically you need to get up, get blood moving, make sure you’re hydrated and awake, and give your brain a quick rest. But be careful- that one video can turn into binging a show, or a Youtube rabbit hole. That dance break can turn into listening to your favorite playlist as you scroll through instagram. The lap around the hall can lead right back to your bedroom. It’s critical that you take breaks, but make sure you’re staying on target- remember why you’re doing this!

Make sure you have room to recover after.

You did it. You stayed up all night and finished your project, or paper, or reading, or report, or whatever. You won the battle! But at what cost? You’re going to be exhausted, your immune system is weaker than normal, and your decision making skills are seriously impaired. You may have done your assignment, but now you seriously need to recover. First, make sure you aren’t straining yourself. Maybe you planned to go to the gym for two hours before class first thing in the morning. I am all for exercise and endorphins, but make sure you are listening to yourself. If you’re too tired, don’t just push through it. Make sure you’re drinking extra water, and avoiding extra caffeine. I know it helps you stay awake, but try not to overload your system with it- it’s not worth it. If you have to go to class, make sure you don’t fall asleep. That might mean chewing gum, or filling your water bottle during lecture, or asking your friend to poke you if you look like you’re melting. If you really need to sleep, take a power nap. 20-30 minutes of rest will do wonders when you’ve been awake for 37 hours. Eat healthy food and make sure you’re eating enough food. If you can’t bring yourself to have a full healthy meal with a salad and perfect portions of all the food groups, just eat comfort food. So long as you eat enough, you’ll be good. Most importantly, make sure you have time to sleep the next night. Don’t go to bed super early, but let yourself sleep in as long as you can. I try not to sleep earlier than 9, because it messes with my sleep schedule, but I try to get between 10 and 15 hours of sleep after an all-nighter. Sleep is vital to our survival as humans, and if you really need to sacrifice a night of it, make sure you can sleep enough to even out the average amount for the week.

Basically, if you have to pull an all-nighter, my heart goes out to you. It really sucks. It’s annoying that we have so many assignments piled on us that we feel like we have to do this, and it’s irritating that there isn’t an easy out. But sometimes this is just how it shakes out, and we just have to live with it. So long as we take care of ourselves, it’ll be fine. We’ll make it through.