Cramming for finals, finishing that report for work, getting stranded in the airport… No matter the reason, almost everyone has pulled an all-nighter at least once. Nobody likes the mood swings and overall drowsiness associated with staying up all night, but sometimes it’s inevitable. Faced with looming deadlines or multiple exams, we have no choice but to pull an all-nighter.
Unfortunately, insufficient sleep comes with a cost. From a lowered immune system to memory problems, there are plenty of reasons to avoid all-nighters whenever possible. Wondering how to stay awake all night without seriously damaging your productivity and health? Read on to learn how you can pull a safer all-nighter.
Sleep Deprivation and Productivity
Anyone researching how to stay up all night will find a host of reasons not to do so. Chronic lack of sleep is associated with decreased immune function and an increased risk of certain long-term health problems, including heart disease and obesity.
Sleep deprivation also takes a heavy toll on productivity. Tired individuals have slower reaction times, take longer to make decisions, and struggle to stay on task. They’re also more prone to errors and work-related injuries. According to the CDC, employers lose almost $2,000 each year per employee due to insufficient sleep-related productivity issues. Even a single night of lost sleep can have devastating effects on cognitive performance.
How to Stay up All Night When You Can’t Avoid Pulling an All-Nighter
An all-nighter is essentially a trade-off: you might be able to work for a longer period of time, but you may also struggle to work quickly and accurately. Unfortunately, sometimes there’s no alternative to staying up all night. When you find yourself pulling an all-nighter, the following tips can help make the situation a little more bearable, and help you recover the next day.
- Get Enough Rest Ahead of Time: A quick nap before an all-nighter goes a long way. Well-rested people are more productive, more alert, and less likely to drift off when they should be working. A late-night nap can easily turn into four or five hours of sleep if you’re already tired. However, experts state that only 10 to 20 minutes of shuteye can greatly improve cognitive performance and physical stamina.
- Brew Some Coffee (But Not Too Much): When going to sleep isn’t an option, many people turn to coffee, tea, energy drinks, or other caffeinated beverages. While it’s no secret that caffeine boosts energy and improves focus, the amount you consume and the time you consume it matter more than you’d expect. Most healthy adults can tolerate up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day. However, drinking large amounts of caffeine at once can leave some people jittery and anxious, and may lead to an unpleasant crash a few hours later. Avoid a rough comedown by consuming a moderate amount of caffeine — roughly 200 milligrams, for example — over the course of several hours.
- Get Some Exercise: While there’s some debate over whether or not nighttime exercise can worsen chronic insomnia, a little cardio might help you stay awake in the short term. Exercise causes the body to release brain-stimulating endorphins and raises the body’s core temperature, improving alertness and circulation. Don’t overexert yourself, however — too much exercise can make you more tired in the long term. A brief walk around the house or a few jumping jacks are enough to get the blood flowing.
- Eat Strategically: Although we tend to associate carbohydrates with increased energy, it’s better to stick with high-protein foods when you’re pulling an all-nighter. The body stores carbs with the intention of burning them later, during strenuous exercise — not while you’re cramming for a test or finishing a big assignment. All those stored carbs can make you feel even sleepier. Instead, opt for protein-based snacks that will keep you fuller, longer.
Getting Through the Next Day
- Resist the Urge to Take Long Naps: You’ve made it through the night and accomplished your goal, but you’ve also thrown your sleep schedule off balance. While it’s tempting to spend the next day napping, you’re better off waiting until your usual bedtime to go to sleep. If you absolutely can’t make it that long, stick to a 10 to 20 minute nap in the afternoon. Anything longer can do further damage to your sleep cycle.
- If Possible, Avoid Driving: Drowsy drivers may cause up to 6,000 roadway fatalities every year. Sleep deprivation mimics many of the effects of alcohol intoxication, making a sleepy driver just as dangerous as a drunk one. Arrange for a friend to take you to work or school the next day, use a ride-share app or a cab, or use public transportation.
- Get a Full Night’s Sleep: Like napping, going to sleep several hours before your typical bedtime can further disrupt your normal sleep schedule. However, there’s nothing wrong with getting a few extra hours in the morning. Sleeping in for an hour or two can help you recover and make up for lost time.