How to Pull a Study All-Nighter

by Morgan Wilson December 06, 2019 6 min read

Disclaimer: IVO (including Morgan) does not promote or encourage staying up all night. Every individual should try to get a minimum of 8 hours of sleep at night. This article is just to help those who do pull all-nighters do so in a way that is productive to studying.

What’s the least fun reason to pull an all-nighter? It’s probably not studying, but let’s pretend it is because it certainly isn’t fun. As with any recipe site, let’s wait to discuss how to perform the act and instead discuss why anyone would inflict this upon themselves. But, unlike a recipe site, if you don’t care about the why and just want to know how, it’s marked clearly below where to begin so go ahead and skim ahead, just like you did with your class readings. 

Maybe you study best in condensed, heavy bursts; maybe there were events beyond your control that led you to this; maybe you hate yourself; maybe you have a serious procrastination problem. Whatever the reason, you are making the conscious choice to read an article on how to stay up all night studying. There is little chance you’ll retain most of the information you study for more than a few days after the exam and a single night of sleep deprivation has been shown to significantly increase the proteins that lead to Alzheimer’s disease. Not to scare you before your big all-nighter, but just know that this might not be the smartest way to study. That being said, it is very effective if you have a strong short-term memory and the exam is the next day. In the end, it is your choice.

Throughout the night, you’ll notice a few important changes to your psyche. Of course, everyone goes in motivated and, as time goes on, it gets frustrating and you may start getting upset over the smallest of things. This is because as you deprive yourself of sleep, your emotions will be shot all over the place. Safe to say, you may want to avoid your friends and family and, if you can’t, give them a heads up. That’s not to say it condones you being a jerk, but it gives them the insight to avoid you like the plague. Another important effect is you’ll get hungry and super thirsty. If you’re on a diet, this may not be for you. Finally, if there’s a family emergency and you need your phone on you, this also may not be the right night for your study sesh.

Now that those warnings are out of the way, how to ruin your life:

  1. Find the right spot to do your all-nighter.
    1. I always do my all-nighters in my bedroom. Yes, having a warm, comfortable bed nearby poses its own dangers of succumbing to sleep. But, it’s where I feel most comfortable and can put my hair in an ugly bun and sound on speakers without worrying (more on that later). Some people go to the library (but many fall asleep there, too). It’s where you feel most comfortable. If you have roommates, give them the heads up. If they are sleeping while you study, it’ll be that much more tempting to sleep, too. So long as you fight that temptation, you’ll be stellar. 
  2. Set up those alarms.
    1. First, set alarms on your phone for about every hour and a half. These are both ‘give your mind something to keep it from stalling’ short breaks and insurance that you don’t fall asleep. If you have people nearby, your constant alarms will be super rude. Think about it as adding extra pressure to not fall asleep and keep on top of the time so you can turn off the alarm before it goes off and wakes up everyone. Then, turn your phone on silent. Before you say Friend A and B are planning on calling/texting throughout the night to keep you awake, be honest with yourself with how much you’re actually going to let that distract you. It will be more distraction than actually helpful.
  3. Get your groove set up.
    1. If you’re all by yourself, speakers will work far better than your headphones. Keep the source of entertainment a safe distance away while studying. For instance, I like movies and have my own room--so when doing an all-nighter, I put a movie likeMegamindon my phone and put that on speaker on my bed while I study.MegamindI’ve seen enough times to recite the script and the movie is light-hearted enough it keeps me in a chipper mood. After that, I’d progress to Studio Ghiblis. One of the benefits of movies is that if you’ve seen them enough times, you don’t need to watch to know what’s going on and you don’t feel the need to change the song because you don’t like it. Not everyone has their own space, though. If you need headphones, put your movie (or soundtrack that you won’t constantly be skipping songs) on your phone, and put that a safe distance away from you, i.e. zip it in your backpack so your hands can’t naturally go to it while you’re studying from textbook/laptop. Don’t use your laptop for entertainment, as the YouTube video phenomena will grab you again and you’ll find yourself at 3 am watching brownie baking techniques. 
  4. Make it warm.
    1. If you have your own place and it won’t affect others, make the room warm--like slightly above comfortable. Don’t be sweating profusely or anything crazy, but counter to whatOuransuggests, a cold room will just make you reason that the blanket will keep you warmer and then you go from that to ‘studying on my bed is more comfortable’ and then ‘I can read lying on my side’ to it’s 8 am and you’ve slept through the night. Warmer rooms make you feel less inclined to get into your warm bed. If you don’t control the heater/windows/fans, layer up in pants, long socks, long sleeves, etc. Don’t use blankets. 
  5. Have snacks and drinks ready.
    1. Snack runs are a common distraction. Sweets and sugar and caffeine are big go-tos. Something to munch on will keep your brain stimulated, but your friend might not be the biggest fan when he needs to roll you out of your room with all the sweets you’ve fattened yourself up with. Limit yourself to one energy drink, and maybe one soda. Juice is light and sweet enough to work, as well. Eat lots of fruits before you crack open the Costco candy bag because, once that’s done, it’s a downhill battle. You probably don’t want to eat dinner that night because you’ll likely be doing lots of snacking. If the snacking gets out of control, have a pack of mint gum nearby to keep yourself munching without the calories. 
  6. Naptime?
    1. Yes, the idea of an all-nighter is that you shouldn’t need to sleep at all. But the reality is that sleeping gives your brain time to process what you’ve learned. I could cite that rat experiment where rats could more easily find their way through the puzzle after a night of rest, but an example more relatable perhaps is video game mechanics. Ever struggled with a video game level and then, the next day, it’s super easy? Your brain will work on the puzzle in your head as you sleep and, as a result, your movements get better over time. Napping can be useful for those reasons to study. Try to work in two or three thirty-minute naps throughout the night. Make it a goal to work up to it--a treat for studying so hard. And, when you do sleep, set about three alarms within 10 minutes of your proposed wake-up time, no matter how light of a sleeper you are, as it will be difficult getting back on the horse. Depending on your typical sleep schedule, it’s also possible you’ll get sleep paralysis--if that’s the case, don’t let yourself get scared. Let yourself drift back to sleep and try again at the next alarm. If the next alarm hits and you still can’t move, focus on trying to feel the fabric around you and notice smells. After a while you should be able to move again, turn off the alarm clock and scare off the bent-neck lady from Hill House
  7. Stay motivated.
    1. Honestly, it goes without saying, and the sappiness of a pep talk is far from this article’s goal. But, there will be mood swings with sleep deprivation. Remember it’s only one night you’re doing this and then life will be normal. Count down the hours until the exam is over and remember then you’ll be free. Promise yourself that this will never, ever happen again for the fifth time.

Those are just some key tips to keep your study all-nighter poppin’. Really, by the time your exam hits (hopefully it’s in the morning as all-nighters are hardly effective for afternoon/night exams), you’ll feel greasy and fat and sleepy. But, in that tiredness your brain can regurgitate what you studied from the night before with ease. Afterwards, cuddle up in bed for your likely 12-18 hour nap. 

Morgan has pulled all-nighters for nearly every exam since sixth grade and can attest that with her three bags of Costco candy and 10 12-packs of soda that sugar and caffeine are highly addictive but useful while studying.

Morgan Wilson
Morgan Wilson

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