Christian Montoya

How to pull an all-nighter

If you are thinking about studying electrical engineering at Cornell (I doubt anyone is still reading) then this tutorial is for you. I happen to have a lot of experience in the area of sleep-deprivation, and I'd like to share my techniques. We must first, however, define the term. An all-nighter, at least in my book, is any night where the sun comes up before you go to sleep. If the sun comes up at 6:30 am and you go to sleep at 7:30 am, then that's an all-nighter. It's also very unsettling.

The first step to pulling a successful all-nighter is motivation. There are lots of reasons why you could pull one, but I think the best is homework. There are those nights when you realize you have a boatload of homework due the following morning and there is no way you can waste time sleeping. When one of those nights comes along, you're set. Light the midnight candle.

Here is what you need to do to stay awake:

  • Drink coffee/tea/etc. Not too much that you end up shaking. Just enough to keep awake. Caffeine makes your heart beat faster, which keeps you going. (Update 4-8 at 5 pm: Arash explained the real effect caffeine has on you. He says, "What really happens is the caffein goes straight to your brain and attaches itself to nerve endings blocking your body's naturally occuring adenosine chemical from being able to attach to those same nerve endings. Your body releases more adenosine, starts to panic because it's not having any affect, and adrenaline is released in small amounts as a defense mechanism which increases your heart rate." Thanks Arash!) It also helps to have a drink you like. Treat yourself while you're torturing yourself. I prefer green tea with a dash (tablespoons) of sugar or a canned Starbucks Doubleshot.
  • Eat a meal. You have to realize that you are extending your day to be about 50% longer. If you are on a 3 meal diet, an all-nighter calls for at least one more meal. I find 3 am is a good time to eat. It's also important not to eat fatty foods that will make you sleepy. No one wants to jeopardize their all-nighter with a sudden food coma. Foods with carbs, such as cereal or pasta, give you energy to keep going, and will help to reduce any nausea from sleep-deprivation.
  • Shower. Washing your face is good too. Cold water will refresh you. It also helps to stay clean.
  • Listen to music. None of that wishy-washy classical stuff. Loud music. Music with beats and bass and blaring riffs. I usually go for some mentally stimulating techno or drum-n-bass.
  • If you can afford to, take breaks. I find 30 minutes of playing videogames that involve lots of action and violence to be especially effective at refreshing my batteries between hours of boring, monotonous homework.
  • As a last resort, get up and walk around. Walking gets your blood flowing. If you are in your dorm and you are about to pass out on your desk, walk around the hallway. It also helps you think, in case your mind is about to explode.

All of these things are extremely helpful when you start to feel drowsy, and the key to making them work is to spread out the various techniques over the course of the night (unless multiple showers sounds like a good idea to you).

There are also things you should definitely not do, if you want to see the sunrise:

  • Don't lie down. Don't say you are just going to "put your head down for a second m'kay" because when you look up again it will be the next day. Your homework will most likely be covered in drool too. The point is to keep moving.
  • As I said before, don't eat fatty food. A hamburger and french fries are not power food.
  • Don't turn the lights out. Any reminders that it's nighttime and you should be sleeping are bad. Shine a flashlight in your eyes if you need to.
  • And last but not least, don't be a wimp. You have to be hardcore. You want that all-nighter. You need that all-nighter. You will get that all-nighter, and then you will tear a phonebook apart with your teeth.

Okay, success! So what now?

So let's say you've finished your all-nighter, and it's the morning after. It's time to greet the new day with a big smile and say, "hey, all you happy, well-rested wimps. I didn't sleep at all, and I'm okay with that." Go forward with confidence, remember to take your homework with you, and by all means, catch some sleep in class. You'll be glad you did.

Thank you for reading • Published on April 4th, 2006 • Please take a moment to share this with your friends