11 Steps to Avoid Pulling an All-Nighter

Few things are more depressing than staring at an empty Word document at midnight. When your essay is due in just a few short hours and exhaustion is settling in, the last thing you want to do is muster up the energy to write five flawless pages on the role of globalization in China's economy, or whatever the topic du jour happens to be. Besides, all-nighters wreak havoc on your body.

Don't give up! Her Campus compiled tips on how to avoid all-nighters. Syncing your study schedule and sleep cycle in harmony takes a little planning – so follow our guide from how to prep weeks in advance to what to do during crunch time. You'll be fast asleep, work completed, in no time.

Far In Advance

1. Plan out your semester from the start

At the start of each semester, put every due date from each of your syllabi into your calendar – yes, that means every single five-point quiz and ten-minute assignment. When you plan ahead of time, you avoid that horrifying moment at the end of the semester when you realize you have a ten-page paper due the same day as your final exam and your in-class presentation. And by getting all the nitty-gritty scheduling out of the way now, you won't have to worry about constantly updating your to-do list throughout the semester. Go for a planner's notebook if you like a physical calendar, or use your phone or the Stickies app on your computer if you prefer to go digital.

“At the beginning of the quarter, I look at my syllabi and write down the due dates of all the big assignments,” says Katherine Mirani, a collegiette from Northwestern University. “That way, I can always check it quickly and see if there's something major coming up. There were a couple of times Fall Quarter when I didn't look at it and forgot to meet some major commitments, so I've learned my lesson.”

Which leads us to the next point...

2. Check your calendar often

That meticulous schedule you planned out in Step #1 does you no good if you never see it again. If you know you have a hard time remembering to check your calendar, set an alarm on your phone to go off at the same time every day as a reminder. Alternatively, link your calendar with an activity you'd never skip, like brushing your teeth or taking medication.

3. Break down assignments into smaller pieces

When you dread working on an enormous project, you're bound to push it off... and push it off... and keep pushing it off until the last minute. Briana Morgan, a student at Georgia College & State University, avoids this by breaking down big assignments into more manageable chunks with self-imposed deadlines. “For writing an essay,” she explains, “I set deadlines for coming up with a thesis, an outline, a rough draft, and a final draft.” If you stick your deadlines, you should also have enough time to revise your work.

4. Schedule in study times during busy weeks

If you know you have an especially hectic week coming up, take control of your schedule and plan exactly when you can squeeze in an extra hour here or there to study. “I plan out my whole week on Sunday. I figure out when I'll have open time in my schedule and plan to work on specific assignments at specific times,” says Michelle Lewis, HC's Senior Editor. “I also try to give myself more time than I think I'll need, because sometimes assignments will end up taking longer than expected.” Pencil these study sessions into your calendar to ensure you'll remember them – because you always do what your calendar tells you to, right? (You should!)

If you're bored of your standard study techniques, consider some of these more creative alternatives.

The Day Of

5. Take advantage of the times you're most alert

You might be familiar with the concept of tackling your most difficult assignments first. However, if you know ahead of time that you're likely to lack energy when you first sit down to study and will probably get a second wind later, your first tough assignment will feel impossible. Whenever possible, study when you're most alert and can focus on detailed work.

Paying attention to your energy levels throughout the day can also help you determine when to call it a night. If it's midnight and you still need to finish an assignment, consider pushing through if you're a night owl or going to bed and waking up early to finish the work instead if you're more of a morning person.

6. Limit your caffeine intake

Caffeine can stay in your system for up to 14 hours, according to WebMD, so avoid drinking coffee, tea, or soda after your first initial cup in the morning. Without caffeine, you'll be able to fall asleep at a normal hour to keep your sleep cycle in check.

7. Avoid working out at night

Like caffeine, exercise can keep you up at night. To avoid feeling wired right before bed, try working out at least several hours before you plan to go to sleep. As an added bonus, exercise sharpens your focus for the next two to three hours, so an afternoon work-out is perfectly time for a post-gym study sesh. Score!

In the Moment

8. Turn off your phone

We promise, your social life will still exist when you turn it on later. You're not going to make any major leeway on your problem sets in between texts, so don't even bother with the temptation. The lack of distraction will allow you to focus fully on your work. (And hey, doesn't it secretly feel good to turn on your phone to find a missed text or two?)

9. There's an app for that

Sometimes, your own will isn't quite enough to get the ball rolling on study time. Say it with me: there's an app for that.

SelfControl is a free Mac app that allows you to block certain sites – like Facebook and Twitter, for example – for a set period of time. There's no way to turn the app off once it's set, so productivity is virtually guaranteed.

Strict Pomodoro is a similar browser extension for Chrome that locks you into 25-minute study sessions followed by five-minute breaks. You can repeat the cycle until your work is done.

10. Take quick breaks to stay focused

If you're one of the rare few who can power through a four-hour study session without blinking, bravo. We're jealous. The rest of us need to take breaks every once in awhile. Every hour or so, take a few minutes off to chat with your roommate, browse Facebook, get a snack or drink water, or take a brief walk. The time off will keep you refreshed and ready to tackle another assignment. Even when you're stressed to the max and can't imagine slacking off, a quick break can be a life-saver!

11. Set a bedtime and stick to it

The easiest way to avoid an all-nighter? Sleep! Set a regular bedtime and stick to it. Not only does going to bed and waking up at the same time every day give you higher-quality rest, but it also acts as a ticking clock. If you know you have to be in bed by midnight, you aren't going to wait until 11 PM to start your homework. Aside from fatigue, a lack of sleep has all sorts of unpleasant side-effects, like memory and cognition impairment, increased risk of illness, increased risk of obesity, and dull skin.


With a bit of foresight and the motivation to get a good night's sleep, you'll never have to pull another all-nighter again. Enjoy your new stress-free sleep cycle!