7 Keys to a Successful All-Nighter

Sleep is a wonderful thing. As we rest our eyes at the end of each day, our levels of GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter that increases throughout the day making us feel tired, decrease. Our memory enhances. Hormones that correspond to both sleepiness and appetite decrease, helping curb our calorie consumption thus enhancing our ability to maintain a healthy weight. Our stress level decreases. Sleeping well makes us less likely to be depressed and more likely to live a longer life.

But as a student, sleep is the enemy. Imagine all that we could learn, all that we could do if only we didn’t have to give up some of each day to sleep! And so, we fight our need to catch some Z’s, and if the need arises and we are determined, we can pull what is notoriously known as an all-nighter.

All-nighters aren’t just something you do. It takes preparation and careful planning to survive one and be able to face the coming day. As someone who has pulled more all-nighters than any person ever should, I’d like to share with you my best tips to help you with yours.


1. Cut-out Comfortable Clothes

You may be tempted to throw on some baggy sweatpants and a loose shirt for studying all night, but you would be wrong. Those clothes scream, “It’s time to sleep!” And far too often your body will oblige. Instead, wear clothes like jeans, nice tops, and tennis shoes – anything that’s not something that you’d wear to bed.



2. Solidify your Study Spot

Pick an environment that would be hard to sleep in. Not a comfy couch. Not an armchair. Something like a desk or a table with preferably a hard wooden chair will suffice and will surely make your gluteus maximus hurt by the end of the night. For an added effect, switch it up and move from table to table for a change of scenery.



3. Eradicate Erroneous Eating

At some point you will be tempted to snack. As I’ve already alluded to, as sleepiness increases, hormones corresponding to appetite increase, which may explain your case of the munchies. Of course you need to fuel this endeavor, but it is also important to be aware of the amount and kinds of food you’re putting into your body. For example, you can ditch the chips and go for something like nuts or proteins bars that give a more sustained level of satiation and energy.



4. Curb Caffeine Consumption

Of course caffeine is every all-nighters best friend. But there’s a limit to it’s effects. Coffee can dehydrate you (especially if you consume 500 mg of caffeine – or 3-5 cups of coffee – or more a day) and doesn’t add nutritional value. A symptom of dehydration is tiredness, so in the end your coffee consumption may be doing exactly what you’re drinking it to avoid! If you must drink coffee, add some straight up water to your regime to keep yourself hydrated.



5. Actually Aim for Apples

Replace some of your caffeine consumption with apples. Their natural sugar is much healthier than the granulated sugar in your coffee or energy drink and they actually provide vitamins, which are slowly released throughout the body making you feel more awake without leading to the dreaded crash of caffeine.



6. Practice Pomodoro Protocol

You’re probably wondering what the Pomodoro Protocol is, aren’t you? Well it’s actually the Pomodoro Technique but that wouldn’t fit with the alliteration. Anyways, it’s basically a structure for studying developed by some guy named Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. What you do is break down your work into intervals of 25 minutes separated by 5 minute breaks. You can study like crazy for 25 minutes and reward yourself by checking twitter, reading an article on The Almost Doctors Channel, texting friends, or doing something else as long as it’s not focusing on studying for 5 minutes. It is believed that frequent breaks like this can improve mental agility, which can help you make the most out of your 25 minutes study sessions.




7. Exercise for Extra Energy

A good go-to for some extra energy in the middle of the night (or anytime) is exercise! Exercise helps deliver oxygen and nutrients to your tissues, which can help you feel more alert. It can also enhance your brainpower and your memory. While regularly exercising is preferred to best reap these benefits, exercising during your all-nighter surely won’t hurt your ability to stay awake. Something as simple as getting up and walking a little bit can help though I also like to add in abdominal workouts for the added muscle-building effect. Hint: This is a great way to spend a Pomodoro break!

With these seven tips, you should be well prepared to survive your all-nighter. When you do, reward yourself with watching the sun rise. It is such a beautiful thing and yet, as a non-morning person, the only time I see it is when I stay up all night.

Unfortunately, the sun coming up means that class will soon be starting again and without sleep you’ll surely be drifting off in class and not get as much out of the lectures. You’ll be questioning yourself as to why you put yourself through this trouble when in reality getting some sleep could have made your day time hours much more effective. You start to think about what you accomplished overnight and if it could have been more efficiently done if you were well rested or at had a few hours of sleep. Perhaps by the time you survive enough of these all-nighters, you will have become a much more efficient studier and will have realized that there are better options for you than pulling an all-nighter just like I now have.


Featured image from Flickr | cowfish

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Hanna Erickson, "Almost" MD/PhD

Hanna is a MD/PhD student at the University of Illinois and an aspiring physician scientist who aims to specialize in hepatobiliary cancers. She is also passionate about teaching, leadership, and advocacy. The energy she once used to pep up crowds as a college marching band member is now directed toward exciting and educating others about science and medicine, especially through her tweets at @MDPhDToBe and her blog at www.mdphdtobe.com.