Five Ways to Pull off a Successful All-Nighter

It's that time of year when days grow longer and the school year grows shorter. You can see the light at the end of the academic tunnel, but before you sashay your way across the finish line you have one more hurdle to tackle: finals. Yes, that's right, finals. That old school tradition of having to prove what you've learned before you are allowed move on. They are stressful. They are anxiety-riddled. They suck.

And if you are anything close to the type of student I was, finals week means trying to cram in a semester's worth of studying or finishing that paper or project you put off just before the clock runs out. In high school, college and even grad school, I couldn't keep myself from procrastinating those last few weeks. Wanting desperately to be done with my coursework but being barely able to muster up enough energy to crawl my way into summer break. 

And that procrastinating usually led to one thing: an all-nighter. A night where you fuel yourself up on caffeine and sugar. A night where you cram so much information into your brain it's a miracle you can remember you own name come morning. It is almost inevitable that you will experience an all-nighter at least once in your life. And as a veteran of many an all-nighter I have learned how to get the most out of them. Here are my top five tips for being as successful as possible during your all-nighter:

1. Take a brain break

Every 1 ½ hours or so stop what you're doing and watch a YouTube video, scroll Instagram, stare off into space, get up and move around, do ANYTHING for at least 10 minutes (but no longer than 20). Giving your brain a break from studying allows it time to absorb the information you're trying to learn more effectively.  But if you drift away from your studies for more than 20 minutes it will take you much longer to get your focus back – so keep your breaks short but frequent.

2. Vent

Get out all of those pent-up thoughts that keep creeping into your head and pulling your focus: your to-do list, other homework, your weekend plans, the migratory patterns of the Monarch butterfly, and jot them down on an old napkin, a journal, your Twitter feed, tell them to your cat, your houseplant, the mirror – anyone or anything that will listen. Clear your mind of everything that is irrelevant to what you are working on. 

3. Fuel-Up

Not just on caffeine and sugar, but with actual food.  Before an all-nighter, stock up on "brain foods" like blueberries, tomatoes, fish, pumpkin seeds, broccoli, mixed nuts and other memory-boosting goodies to eat throughout the night (sounds delicious, right?!).  Well, your car can’t run on fumes and neither can your brain.  

4. Set the mood

I love listening to music while I write, study, or read – typically choosing something that fits the project at hand: I once binge-listened to banjo music while writing a paper on the disillusionment of rural women in 1930s America.  It struck the right mood and had me writing far more efficiently than if I had been listening to Chopin or Pearl Jam. Find some tunes that inspire your work and crank ‘em up.

5. Stay Hydrated

Drinking plenty of fluids can help boost your energy and help keep you more alert during an all-nighter. Staying hydrated will help the oxygen in your blood circulate more efficiently, and the more oxygenized your brain is, the better it works. Plus, drinking plenty of fluids will have you getting up more frequently to use the bathroom, and moving around more frequently will help you feel more awake. 

All-nighters were unavoidable for me. Mainly because scheduling conflicts, impromptu social obligations, a week of binge-watching Netflix, or working on other things (like that scarf I just had to finish knitting even thought it's almost June) gets in the way of timely studying – over the years I learned to admit and accept that procrastination was part of my "process." But also learning to strategically survive an all-nighter helped me get the most out of them, and that made me and my GPA happy. Good luck to all of you out there who are in the midst of cramming for finals! 


you may also like:

amy sutherland - founder

Hey all! My name is Amy Sutherland (she/her), and I have been passionate about sexual health since before I hit puberty. I've spent most of my adult life working as a writer focusing on health and wellness. More particularly, women’s reproductive health. 

Read more . . .