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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!

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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 July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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