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Here’s What to Do If You Absolutely Must Pull an All-Nighter

Always optimize, even if you know you won’t be at peak performance.

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BY Kenny Kline - 14 Feb 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Let's get the disclaimer out of the way first: All-nighters are terrible for you. The sleep deprivation they require is liable to make you irritable, impair your thinking, and diminish your productivity and creativity. And the more all-nighters you pull, the worse their cumulative effects.

But as we all know, it's not always possible to do what's right for your body 100 percent of the time--especially when you're on a deadline. So if you absolutely, positively have no choice but to pull an all-nighter , here's how to do it with the greatest chance of success.

Catch up on sleep beforehand

If you're lucky enough to see an all-nighter coming (instead of having one sprung on you), then you can set yourself up for the best chance of success by stockpiling sleep time in advance. That means getting plenty of sleep in the nights leading up to the all-nighter and maybe even taking a nap on the day of the all-nighter if you're able.

Eliminate distractions

As the night drags on and you get more and more tired, the harder it will be for your brain to multitask or to stay focused in the face of distractions. So eliminate as many of them as you can. That means silencing your phone, turning off the TV, clearing clutter from your desk, and minimizing open tabs so you can focus exclusively on the task at hand.

Crank up the lights

Dark or dimly lit rooms are scientifically proven to be conducive to sleep--which is the opposite of what you want when pulling an all-nighter . Instead, keep the room as bright as possible to help trick your body into thinking it's still an appropriate time to be awake. The closer the light is to your face, the more effective it will be; so consider scooting a few lamps closer to your desk.

Mind what you eat (and drink)

You've heard the saying "food is fuel?" Well, that's especially true in an all-nighter situation. The fuel you consume during these sessions can make or break your efforts to stay alert, so pay attention:

  • Drink plenty of water; hydration is critical for concentration
  • Use caffeine, but don't go overboard. Too much can backfire by making you jittery, which can diminish your capacity for focus
  • Resist the temptation to gorge yourself on sugary treats and eat small, frequent snacks containing protein and complex carbs instead. This will provide you with sustained energy and minimize energy crashes
  • If you do find yourself craving sugar, consider chewing some gum. Research suggests doing so may boost alertness and cognitive performance

Take short activity breaks

Instead of falling down an Instagram rabbit hole, use your breaks for short bursts of physical activity. Do a few jumping jacks, walk quickly up and down the hall, or strike a few yoga poses. This will help get your blood flowing, which can have an energizing effect that keeps you going longer. Physical activity may also boost cognitive performance.

Once you've survived your all-nighter, it's important to mind your recovery the next day. As much as possible, try to stick to your normal routines so you can get right back on track with your regular sleep schedule. Avoid driving if at all possible, eat well, and plan to go easy on yourself. Before you know it, this will all be a distant memory.


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