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6 Things You Can Do to Get Away with an All-Nighter

6 Things You Can Do to Get Away with an All-Nighter

As much as we try to avoid it, every now and then we come up against a looming deadline that simply requires us to pull an all-nighter. They’re by no means healthy, and shouldn’t be sought out, but when the rare one does come up, you want to be prepared for it. By using these six tips based on sleep science and psychology, you can significantly mitigate the negative effects of an all-nighter and make it as productive as possible.

1. Don’t have caffeine.

What? Don’t have caffeine? Isn’t that part of the all-nighter image? Being hyped up on energy drinks and coffee? It may be part of the image, but it’s actually not the best thing to do. There’s a major problem with having caffeine this late at night in order to stay up: the fact that there are no free lunches.

Let’s assume that the main reason you’re pulling an all-nighter is to finish some big assignment or project that you’re in crunch time on. If that’s the case, then you want to be as productive as possible throughout the night. Caffeine is frequently touted as a wonder drug for productivity, but there’s one big problem with it: we tend to only think about productivity in the short term and not the long term. In the short term with a high dose of caffeine, we get hyped up and super focused, but that lasts 1-2 hours tops and then we hit a wall for the next ~4 hours. There are no free lunches: when you burn up your mental energy quicker than normal, you always lose some later, and frequently, you lose more than you gained.

While this is true during the day, it’s especially true at night when you’re already tired and weakened. Your body simply won’t handle the crash well and you’ll spend much of your all-nighter groggy and lethargic from the earlier caffeine buzz, and lose a lot of your potential productivity. Instead of high-caffeine drinks, try substituting in green tea and water to keep you hydrated. You’ll find that as long as you’re drinking something it’s not that hard to stay awake, especially with the other 6 tips on this list.

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2. Move around.

The worst thing you can do for an all-nighter is sit in the same spot in front of a computer or textbook for eight hours. This is a bad habit during the day, but it’s especially bad at night when your mental energy will be diminished and you’ll be more prone to zoning out or losing focus.

Our minds naturally go through cycles called an “ultradian rhythm,” which hits a peak and a trough in around 90 minute intervals. That means that every 90 minutes or so your mental energy will feel depleted and you’ll be in a bad state to try to get any work done. Trying to push through this wall actually burns up more willpower than normal work does, so the best thing to do is take a break.

Just any break won’t do though: it’s the perfect time to get up and get some light exercise. The simplest way to do this is to simply walk to a new workplace, at least 10 minutes away, every 85 minutes or so. Not only does this make sure you’re letting your mind get back in shape at the end of each ultradian cycle, the light exercise will pick you up better than caffeine. In addition, you can set goals for each work place like “I’ll finish reading through my history notes when I’m at the library, and outline the essay when I’m at the undergraduate business lounge,” which will force you to put time constraints on your work and leverage Parkinson’s Law to be more efficient.

3. Drink a lot of water.

I hope you like water or tea, because you’re going to want to drink it like it’s your job. If you’ve never experienced the productivity and energy boost from massive water consumption then you’re missing out—it’s my single favorite beverage for enhanced productivity out there.

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We spend a lot of our lives dehydrated without really knowing it. Coffee/soda/alcohol/anything with sugar/caffeine actually dehydrates our bodies. Dehydration can lead to fatigue, a deficit of attention, jitteriness, grogginess, trouble getting out of bed in the morning, poor sleep, low productivity, low motivation, and a host of other issues.

Luckily you can solve all of this just by drinking water. To be clear, I don’t mean a couple glasses a day—I mean at least one gallon and ideally closer to two. That’s a lot of water, but once you try it you’ll never go back. When you’re trying to stay up all night, every glass of water will give you renewed energy to push through the evening, and keep you hydrated as your body burns more water/food than usual in order to keep you going.

If you don’t do it, expect headaches, brain fog, and general unhappiness.

4. Take naps.

This can be a double edged sword, and having a buddy (like we’ll discuss in the next tip) is just about necessary. If you’re pulling an all-nighter or semi all-nighter, you’re not planning on sleeping very much if at all, and that can start to take its toll on your mental effectiveness and physical energy.

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The one good thing about staying up so late is that you get your body into a state of extreme exhaustion. When you’re exhausted, you slip very quickly into REM sleep, the most restorative part of sleep. Since you can get immediately into REM, naps while exhausted are very refreshing and can give you hours more of fuel that you might not have otherwise had.

There is a risk of course. When you’re that tired, it will likely be very difficult to wake back up, and that nap might turn into an 8 hour siesta. Having a buddy is almost necessary in my experience since you will not want to wake up after those 20 minutes. Having someone who can make sure you’re up and pour water on you if necessary will save you a lot of worry.

Ideally, don’t have them more often than every 90 minutes. If you do then you’re not spending enough time awake and you’ll slip into a pseudo-awake-pseudo-asleep zombie state where you won’t get anything done.

5. Keep eating.

Here’s the fun part of pulling an all-nighter. To make it as successful as possible, eat anything and everything you feel like eating. This addresses two problems: your quickly depleting energy from the day, and your limited willpower.

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We eat the 1500-2500 calories we need in a given day to sustain us for the 16 hours we should be awake. When you get in to all-nighter territory though, you’re going well beyond those normal 16 hours and you’ll likely not have eaten enough to keep yourself energized. If you try to keep to a strict diet while pulling an all-nighter you’re gonna have a bad time—you need more food than you’d usually have in a day, and it’s easier to eat things that are quick and cheap than to stress about being healthy.

The other reason you want to just eat whatever’s tasty and available is that as humans, we have a finite amount of willpower to apply towards any task at hand. Willpower lets us push through work we don’t enjoy, and resist tasty treats, but spending willpower on a diet leaves us with less to use towards studying and you don’t want to get into that bad situation. Don’t waste your mental energy resisting the bad food that you have easy access to; just eat it so you have the energy to focus on studying or finishing your project.

6. Have a buddy.

Having a buddy is the last and most crucial trick in getting away with an all-nighter. Staying up all night is lonely, and going at it alone can not only become boring but challenging as the night progresses. You’ll want to have someone to talk to, someone to get food with, someone to walk to new places with, and someone to make sure you didn’t pass out as you test your mental and physical limits by staying up all night.

Now don’t get me wrong. Pulling an all nighter is hard and you won’t have an awesome time doing it. But if you can follow these tips, you’ll mitigate a lot of the negatives and not have such a hard time the next day. Just don’t do it too often!

Featured photo credit: Sleepy, SXC via SXC

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Nat Eliason

Nat is the founder of the marketing agency Growth Machine. He shares lifetyle tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

More on the Importance of Taking a Break

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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