Everything You Need to Know to Pull an All-Nighter

By Alyse Borkan  |  Oct 28, 2015
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

We love sleep. Like really, really love sleep. To us, a night without sleep is like a morning without coffee (a total nightmare).

Skipping shuteye is never a good idea, but sometimes it seems as though there are simply not enough daylight hours to get everything done. While your heart says sleep, occasionally your deadlines speak louder. And so you find yourself facing the dreaded all-nighter.

Luckily, an all-nighter doesn’t have to be a nightmare. We’ve pulled some tricks and tips to help you compensate for missing some serious snoozing.

Stagger Your Caffeine Intake

Coffee seems like the answer to everything, but shaking from a caffeine overdose will not make the long night any easier. A Mayo Clinic study says that about 400 milligrams of caffeine in a day is safe for most adults (that’s about 4 cups of coffee).

Stagger your intake of caffeine to optimize your energy. “Often when you’re pulling an all-nighter, you need to concentrate,” says Tamara Melton, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “More than two cups of coffee and you might get jittery — your focus will decrease.” After three or four hours, if you need another boost, you can have another cup of joe.

According to Science of Us, you should continue to strategically plan your caffeine intake the following day. One cup in the morning, one cup mid-morning, and one cup in the early afternoon (right when the mid-day slump comes in hard). No matter what, do not drink coffee after 3pm. (It takes about five to seven hours to get rid of half of the caffeine in your body.)

And there’s always decaf… did we just say that out loud?

You Are What You Eat

It’s 11pm and you are already dreaming of doughnuts. We know the feeling. If you are going to be up all night, you might as well get an early start on breakfast, right? Wrong.

During an all-nighter, it is especially important that you avoid carbs and sugar. According to Dr. Nathan Shier, a Professor of Nutrition Science at Indiana University, high-carb foods release serotonin into the brain, making you lethargic. While you might feel a sugar high from eating a king size bag of Sour Patch Kids, you will surely feel a sugar crash in a few hours.

Long story short, stick to foods that will actually sustain you. Your breakfast dreams aren’t broken though: eggs and bacon are completely fair game.

Light Up Your Life

In the case of an all-nighter, your nightlight isn’t going to make the cut for keeping you awake. Darkness catalyzes the release of melatonin, the chemical that makes your head want to hit the pillow. Eric Olson, co-director of the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Sleep Medicine in Rochester, says a well-lit space is more conducive to productivity. “I don’t know if you’re tricking your circadian rhythm, but a stimulating, light-filled environment is more likely to promote wakefulness,” he says. Artificial lighting will be especially important for suppressing the release of melatonin, and kicking your brain into high gear. Although staying awake all night may have made you feel like a vampire, the sun will not do you harm. Open your curtains wide, and welcome a brand new day. Expose yourself to lots of natural bright light, especially in the morning. This will help reinforce your circadian rhythm while improving alertness.

Jump, Jump, Jump Around

It’s 3:43am and your focus is dwindling. You realize you have been staring aimlessly at your computer screen for the past 15 minutes. Although your first reaction might be to grab a snack or “rest your eyes,” we recommend doing the opposite. If not, those will be your famous last words.

Engaging in physical activity lets your brain know that you need to be alert and focused. Do a few jumping jacks, stretch, or even take a quick walk around the block. You should schedule some sort of exercise the next morning, if you can will yourself out of bed any earlier. Dr. Mark Boulos, a neurologist at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, says to focus on a light exercise (keyword: light) that rejuvenates your energy. A sleep marathon should be the only type of marathon you are considering doing this week.

Work Hard, Sleep Harder

Set yourself up for success if you know an all-nighter is in your near future by making sure you are getting a steady supply of ZZZ’s  beforehand. If you are already running on less than seven hours of sleep a night, you are going to be feeling more of the negative cumulative effects of sleep-deprivation, including low mental acuity, productivity, mood, and energy levels. Alternately, if you are sleeping between seven and nine hours each night, you will be well-equipped for a faster recovery.

That being said, we know you can’t always plan ahead. If you find an all-nighter sprung upon you, naps are going to be your new best friend (if they weren’t already). Make sure you take a nap before you begin your sleepless journey to the next morning. According to a study from Sara Mednick, Ph.D., a power nap capped at 20 minutes might be your best bet. If you have the extra time to squeeze in 90 minutes of a full sleep cycle before your all-nighter calls, you really win.

If you happened to be able to sneak in a few minutes of sleep at the end of your late-night working session, make sure you set the alarm. We know how painful it is when the blaring Marimba sound of your iPhone alarm clock goes off, do not — we repeat — do not hit the snooze button. A few more minutes might be tempting, but you are only setting your sleep cycle up for an even bigger crash. If you can squeeze in a quick nap at work, go for it (coffee nap, anyone?). Otherwise, try to stay up until your normal bedtime so you can get back on track with a healthy sleep schedule.
While pulling all-nighter might have been a bragging right in middle-school, the times have changed. If you’re going to do it now, make sure you’re doing it right.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestEmail this to someone