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How to Pull a Successful All-Nighter


Despite the fact that my most recent post on course-notes.org discussed reasons  "why the infamous all-nighter is a terrible idea," I would like to share some advice for those of you that will, without a doubt, pull numerous all-nighters in the coming years.  

For starters, it's common knowledge that the human body is not meant to ever spend 24 hours awake at any given time. In order to pull an all-nighter successfully, the combination of preparation, planning and execution are essential. I use the word successful boldly; there is a major difference between staying awake for 24 hours versus having the ability to efficiently and effectively study throughout the night. If you're able to abide by the majority of the suggestions below, you'll be much better off than you otherwise would be.


  • Choose your study location wisely. I recommend selecting a bright and stimulating spot where you can focus on your studies with minimal interruptions.  If possible, open a window or two; the combination of naturally occurring sounds, the breeze as well as cold air will help you stay awake.
  • Study buddy. It's always risky attempting to pull an all-nighter on your own. If you have a good friend that will be staying up late, be sure to do so as duo. I recommend doing so with only one other individual. From my experience, adding a third person into the mix creates distraction and will decrease your productivity for the night.
  • Be sure to lower your screen brightness throughout the night to ensure your eyes are not strained excessively.
  • Be sure to limit the number of possible distraction you surround yourself with. If you are to remain focused for hours on end, the TV should be off, your cell phone should be set on silent and you should only surf the web if it's a value-add to your studies. It's very easy to get sidetracked when tired, especially when your overall motivation to study is lacking.


  • If you work well to music, subtle background music will help keep you focused and alert. Don't play the music too loud and be sure to select genres and artists that will benefit your overall concentration. Avoid slow and depressing music at all costs.
  • Set an alarm to go off every 30 minutes. Doing so will help you manage your time and productivity as well as give you the much needed quick break here and there your mind and body so desperately need. After each alarm sounds, try to do a combination of jumping jacks and pushups to increase your heart rate; doing so will increase alertness. In the event you nod off, your alarm will help minimize the risk of you accidentally sleeping for hours on end.
  • If you're one of the lucky people that can fall asleep quickly, I recommend taking several very brief 20 minute power naps throughout the night. WARNING - Only do so if you have someone to keep you company that will ensure you're awake on time and that you get back to your studies promptly.  
  • Laughing and smiling keep you awake.  Every so often, watch a five to ten minute youtube video you know you'll enjoy. I suggest compilation videos that consist of epic fails, bloopers and the best vines.
  • If you're becoming excessively tired and grow increasingly concerned with your lack in alertness, take a quick and extremely cold shower five minute shower and you'll return to your studies feeling rejuvenated.


  • Avoid caffeine! If caffeine is absolutely necessary, limit yourself to a sip every 30 minutes (when your alarm sounds - wink wink) to prevent yourself from crashing later on. Consuming large amounts of caffeine throughout the night is a terrible idea. Not only do you put yourself at risk of crashing around exam time, but your body builds a tolerance to caffeine throughout the night forcing you to consume far greater amounts of caffeine in order to feel the same effect.
  • Stay hydrated at all times; dehydration makes us sleepy and lazy. Unlike room temperature liquids, cold liquids shock your system and can help you stay awake. Consuming large amounts of water will force you to use the restroom often which provides you the opportunity to take a quick study break as well.
  • Don't drink alcohol or depressants of any kind.
  • Avid fatty, sugary and carb loaded foods.
  • Eat foods that help maintain your blood sugar levels; Apples are perfect for the occasion.
  • Pour on the hot sauce! If you don't mind a little spice, add some hot sauce to everything you consume throughout the night. The burning sensation (lips and mouth) will keep you awake and ensure you keep up on your fluid intake.
  • Avoid eating heavy meals. Stuffing yourself (think Thanksgiving) makes you full, bloated and excessively sleepy. If possible, eat small, protein rich snacks. Remaining hungry will limit how tired you get; we all know how hard it is to fall asleep on an empty stomach.

Good luck!


Daniel Blackgraduated from Claremont McKenna College in May of 2011. Considered by many to be a thought leader in the education space, Daniel is a regular contributor to a number of sites and blogs and enjoys providing advice, suggestions and recommendations to both students and recent college graduates.

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