All-nighters: The Least Unhealthy Way

Get 8 hours of sleep every night. That’s what our mothers and doctors have been telling us since we were young. It’s one of the most important things we can do if we want to ace every course we take. It’s part and parcel of the life of an ideal student. But of course, none of us can be the ideal student 100% of the time, not without sacrificing some other important aspect of our lives.

Our lives as university students don’t just revolve around the courses that we take. There are things that are equally as important, if not more important, and they serve to help us stay grounded and sane amidst the madness of assignments and exams. Things like friendships, volunteerism, and time with family. None of these things come effortlessly – they require major investments of our time, and they, along with our coursework, can make it hard to achieve that ideal number of hours of sleep every night. And as the term progresses and final term paper deadlines and exams near, we might end up finding ourselves with no choice but to pull an all-nighter or two.

I know I’ve done more than my fair share of all-nighters this term. I am not advocating it by any means – sleep is important and regularly depriving yourself of it can cause many problems with learning, memory, and mood. But in the occasional instance when sleep becomes a luxury you cannot afford, there are certain measures you can take to make sure you do an all-nighter in the least unhealthy and most productive way possible:

  • Make sure to have a good night’s sleep the night before. It is never a good idea to do an all-nighter while running low on sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine if you can. While caffeine can give you temporary alertness while you study, it can result in a nasty crash later in the day. Instead, stay hydrated by drinking hot herbal tea or water.
  • Find a motivated friend to study with. It is much easier to stay awake when you have to keep yourself accountable to each other. It also helps to reduce the monotony of studying in the night.
  • Study in a brightly lit area, but keep your computer’s brightness setting on medium and try to focus on an object far away every 20-30 minutes. This helps to reduce the strain on your eyes from staring at an excessively bright screen for long periods of time.
  • Work at a proper desk with a chair as far away from your bed as possible. Sitting upright can help to increase your alertness and feel better.
  • Take breaks often. Get up and move around for 5 minutes at least once every hour. This keeps the blood flowing and helps you stay more awake.
  • If you get extremely tired, set a timer and take a nap break during the night. This will give your brain an opportunity to rest and may give you extra energy. Check out this infographic on how long to time your nap!

    How Long Should You Nap? Used with permissions from: bestinfographics
  • Make it a goal to give yourself time at the end of the night for at least a couple hours of sleep. Set your alarm and have someone wake you up just to be sure. The rest will help you to focus better later in the day.
  • Be aware of when you have hit the wall and no further studying is going to help. At this point, it would be far more productive to go to sleep and wake up earlier in the morning to study.
  • Go to bed early the evening after the all-nighter to give your body a chance to recover.

As you take these tips into account, remember that as human beings, we cannot function properly without adequate sleep. Memory retention is best when we have had enough sleep, and sometimes an all-nighter might just not be worth it at all. All-nighters are particularly more productive in writing a paper than cramming for a big exam the following morning. You will be the best judge of your circumstances. While an all-nighter could possibly help you in times of dire need, use it only when you have weighed all options and decided that it is absolutely necessary to do so. Never pull two all-nighters in a row, and try to minimize doing it as much as you can. If you do decide to pull one, take care to avoid driving the following day as your alertness will be greatly reduced.

Lastly, research has shown that repeated, spaced studying is far more effective at memory retention than mass cramming (Kornell, 2009). Visit the UBC Learning Commons or Wellness Centre to find more resources on time management and tips to help you develop better study strategies for the future.



Kornell, N. (2009). Optimising learning using flashcards: Spacing is more effective than cramming. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23, 1297–1317.


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