What are the best tricks for staying awake and alert during an all-nighter?
May 1, 2005 8:29 PM   Subscribe

What are some tried and true tricks for staying awake and alert for an all-nighter?

As I get older I find it harder and harder to stay up past 11 or 12 pm. Unfortunately for me, I have a tremendous amount of work - ie, exams, papers, real life coming up in the next 11 days. It looks like that at least one or two of those nights, including tonight, will be without sleep. What are your best proven ways for staying awake and getting little energy boosts? How do those of you in college cope?

Just a note, caffeine doesn't seem to do much to my system anymore.
posted by tozturk to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This isn't especially good for you, but I find that smoking does wonders. Just the act of getting up, walking outside and having a cigarette helps me.
posted by amandaudoff at 8:31 PM on May 1, 2005

I try to write down a schedule for the entire 12 (or whatever) hour session near the beginning. I sometimes fall behind, but it keeps me productive.
posted by gsteff at 8:33 PM on May 1, 2005

massive vit. C works for me. It may give you a stomach ache though
posted by edgeways at 8:46 PM on May 1, 2005

How serious are you about staying up all night? Various illegal stimulants, from coke to meth will keep you up.

Far less likely to land you in jail are the Ephedra/Caffiene mixtures available at your local gas station/convenience store. (AKA "The Trucker's Special" - Simpson's joke, I think)

Do not eat sugar or starch.
posted by unixrat at 8:55 PM on May 1, 2005

unixrat, I'm reallly not interested in using any illegal stimulant. But..thanks? for commenting anyway
posted by tozturk at 9:01 PM on May 1, 2005

If you can get a prescription, Modafinil (Provigil) is much easier on the body and mind than caffeine. I take it for fatigue related to my multiple sclerosis, but on a few occasions I've used it for all-nighters. It just makes you not be tired.
posted by alms at 9:02 PM on May 1, 2005 [1 favorite]

I constantly drink rather large volumes of water. Nature will take care of making sure you're up and about reasonably frequently.
posted by SemiSophos at 9:03 PM on May 1, 2005

toz, just throwin' them out there. ;)

There's a saying that I learned long ago: "You cannot skip sleep, you can only borrow against it." Try and factor in your crash times if you must pull some all-nighters - 11 days is a long haul.

Be very careful what you eat - try and keep your blood sugar stable, which will prevent you from getting sleepy when it crests and wanes. The Caff/Ephedra mixture will keep you awake, but leave you jittery (as will most stimulants). Combine all this will a little night-time exercise - brisk walks, jumping jacks, anything to keep the blood flowing.

And don't let it get dark - circadian rhythms and all that.
posted by unixrat at 9:11 PM on May 1, 2005

lots of water. Yes you'll pee alot, but that will keep you awake too. nobody fell asleep while eating.

20 min. naps...in fact naps <3 5 minutes (no rem sleep)...or in 90 minute cycles. 2 cycles are better than so 3 hours are great...but 4 hours are bad (you'll still in the sleep cycle, even if you're awake). better to get 3-4.5 hours a night...and two 20 minute naps during the day.br>
stay away from sugar + carbs (the sugar drop will make you sleepy.)

Finally, 10 minutes of walking/hour. Physical exercise will help keep you awake.
posted by filmgeek at 9:26 PM on May 1, 2005

11 days is a long haul
but only
one or two of those nights, including tonight, will be without sleep

I have found caffeine pills (about 400 mg or so) work well for one or two days. However if I take more I get a stomach upset. Also, if talking doesn't distract you too much, try putting on radio or TV that has diametrically opposed views. I keep Fox News Channel on. Nothing keeps me up like righteous indignation!
posted by Monochrome at 9:29 PM on May 1, 2005

Furthermore, if you can find another night owl, I highly recommend it. It's a lot harder to fall asleep when you have someone else staying awake with you.

Music with a fast tempo helps some people but not others.
posted by Monochrome at 9:32 PM on May 1, 2005

Second the really bright light. Move a second halogen into your room. Despite that, keep the room cold. Don't work in bed.

Schedule the boring, repetitive work for when you're not so sleepy yet, and the creative for when you are. I saw a fine Nova (? or something) many years ago that showed people kept awake for days having no trouble playing charades, but totally dying when presented with a computer "game" requiring them to press a button when a light came on.

When I was in college, there was no Fox. (Sigh...we had it so hard.) So I made do with a Christian rock station.
posted by Aknaton at 9:41 PM on May 1, 2005

Speaking as a professional procrastinator (and in college), I'd agree with SemiSophos and filmgeek: Drink lots of fluids! It keep you awake, keep you hydrated, and I find also help keep you on task because you have built-in breaks (put something inane and sound-bitey like an Us Weekly on the back of the toilet, if you need to take a mental break). Water really is best, I personally alternate with that and unsweetened tea.

Bonus if your washroom is on the other end of the house from where you're working, I find getting up and moving around every hour or two keeps me more alert as well.

If you had more time, I'd recommend finding out your own nap-schedule, like filmgeek brings up. As it is, unless you know a fair bit about your own sleep cycle you DO NOT want to risk it. There is nothing worse than forcing your body to wake up in the middle, you'll just be more groggy and unable to think. Before I figured out what my body could handle, several of those "naps" turned into credit-threatening full nights of sleep.

In that respect, on nights where you can afford to do so, go to bed as early as possible and get the solid number of hours you normally need, if not a bit more. Your body needs at least 48 hours to fully recover from one complete sleepless night, so be as gentle with yourself as you can. It'll make the next all-nighter than much easier.
posted by nelleish at 9:47 PM on May 1, 2005 [1 favorite]

posted by Kifer85 at 9:57 PM on May 1, 2005

As soon as you feel dead, and that you can't stay up any longer...get drunk. It will buy you 2 hours, than you will pass out.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:03 PM on May 1, 2005

nelleish mentions your nap schedule. If these 11 days are free from obligations other than getting this work done (i.e. you don't have to go to work, socialize, or anything like that), I've had success with just sleeping when I can't keep my eyes open and working whenever I can. This can work for a week or so at a time for me.
For one-night all-nighters, Red Bull and lots of it works well for me. I don't like coffee, so that's what I drink for caffeine. Enough of it will keep you up and make you pee a lot, and as others have mentioned, getting up to do your business helps keep you up. As for the upset stomach, that happens to me too, but quite frankly it's worth it. When I'm having one of those nights I'd rather be awake w/ a stomach ache than asleep and not getting my work done.
posted by PhatLobley at 10:18 PM on May 1, 2005

Can I second Adderall?
posted by cyphill at 10:31 PM on May 1, 2005

As others have mentioned: water. Keep a glass or pitcher of water handy and get in the habit of drinking it regularly. I find this helps for "all-dayers" too, when I have to slog through an unusual amount of work. (My off-the-cuff theory is that whatever waste product builds up that makes it hard to keep concentrating is more easily disposed of if you have a regular flow of water through your body.)

My experience is that stimulants help only up to a point. They don't really help against fatigue, only against sleepiness.

Also, see a previous AskMe thread.
posted by hattifattener at 10:43 PM on May 1, 2005

Take a quick break once in a while and listen to an absolutely rocking song. For me, doing my best Wayne and Garth impression while listening to "Bohemian Rhapsody" will get my blood flowing. Other mega hard rockers will work too (Back in Black has worked in the past), but nothing really beats Bohemian Rhapsody.

The more head banging = the better.
posted by apple scruff at 11:09 PM on May 1, 2005

I'm in the midst of an all-nighter, here (6:01 AM, right now). I have to say smoke breaks help -- not so much to smoke as to recollect oneself before the task at hand. I wish, wish, wish I had some Adderall. I can't say I recommend Ask.Mefi breaks, since they tend to suspiciously swell to half-hours.
posted by ori at 2:59 AM on May 2, 2005

Do you smoke? That helps. Especially if you have to go outside to smoke.
I always preferred pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) to ephedra.
When you're really on the verge of falling asleep, pull something really cold out of the freezer and hold it against your solar plexus for a few minutes. You'll hate it, but it'll wake you up.
I've noticed that if I'm not going to get at least 7.5 hours of sleep, 4.5 is just as good as anything else. And if I'm not going to get at least 4.5 hours of sleep, I might just as well not sleep.
More of your classmates than you think are using illegal stimulants for this sort of thing, FYI.
posted by willpie at 6:33 AM on May 2, 2005

More caffeine. At one point, I resorted to instant coffe w/ hot tap water and snorting No-doze. Seemed like a good idea at the time. And whatever ambiant music keeps you grooving without being too distracting.
posted by LordSludge at 6:34 AM on May 2, 2005

I have never been one to do all nighters, but I had a friend who used to chew Nicorette gum and get all sorts of stuff done and he wasn't a smoker. He said that it helped him focus and also kept him alert, plus you don't get the smoking side effects.

He did end up getting pretty addicted to nicotine gum though, so weigh that option.
posted by jonah at 2:41 PM on May 2, 2005

My strategy was always to accept the fact that I would need the occasional mental break, and schedule them pretty strictly -- not when to start them, but how long they should be. For example, if you find yourself in need of a break, tell yourself, "OK, I am going to websurf for 15 minutes (or watch The Simpsons for 1/2 hour, or play Freecell for 10 minutes)." This way, you don't feel guilty about the "time off" and you prevent the 5 minute breaks from becoming 1 hour breaks.
posted by Rock Steady at 3:50 PM on May 2, 2005

I was a design student who frequently stayed up for multiple all-nighters. All of the above advice is great. I think NASA studied the problem and came up with something like 20 minute naps every four hours. A friend of mine used that schedule with great results (he also drank gallons of grapefruit juice and swore by it). I went the less healthy route that worked great for me. Adderall, coffee and smoking - incredibly effective. The main thing is to take naps but not longer than 20 or 30 minutes. I always had a much harder time waking up from longer naps than short ones. Of course synchronizing your naps with your various drug intakes can become quite complex. I recommend a schedule planned ahead, optimized and perhaps laid out in a well organized spreadsheet This will also serve the procrastinator in you quite well as I'm sure that that is how you got into this situation in the first place. - good luck!
posted by spirograph at 4:33 PM on May 2, 2005

I'm jealous of you kids and your Adderall. In my day, we had to make do with Jolt cola and No-Doze.
posted by xo at 5:01 PM on May 2, 2005

Provigil (modafinil) works like a charm. I've heard that a lot of lawyers and law students are on it these days. Kid you not. It's available online (often under the "Alertec" foreign brand) and ships to your door.

That's just what I've heard. Obviously take care dosing yourself prescription drugs, but it seems safer than caffiene or diet pills.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 4:17 PM on May 17, 2005

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