must... stay... focused
February 13, 2007 11:13 PM   Subscribe

I have a few exams to cram for... the thing is, I need to stay awake. Can anybody suggest some natural ways to stay awake while being deprived from sleep? (No coffee/caffeine or pills)

I have a couple exams to study for. They are all back to back. The thing is, I started studying much later than I should have. You know how it is, its easy to get carried away with other things at university... Anyways, I have a vast amount of material that I need to know before the midterms, and I plan on studying into the night. However... I find from personal experience that staying up to study leaves me drained and very unfocused the next day.

I've noticed with caffeine, that while it keeps me awake, my mind is a bit... jittery. Its hard to focus for me when I have caffeine in my body. I was just wondering, how do you guys stay awake and focused when you're sleep deprived? I've heard from a friend that drinking water when you become drowsy helps. Any other suggestions?
posted by veol to Education (29 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Stay a little colder than is totally comfortable.
posted by phrontist at 11:20 PM on February 13, 2007

Multivitamins (make sure they have vitamin Bs) and eggs (protein + fat help my brain work). Also, do a set (or three) of pushups or crunches every now and then.
posted by mustcatchmooseandsquirrel at 11:25 PM on February 13, 2007

When you start feeling drowsy, get up and walk around.
posted by amyms at 11:29 PM on February 13, 2007

drink a lot of water so that you have to constantly get up and go to the bathroom. (plus it keeps you feeling refreshed and less run down)
posted by mittenedsex at 11:35 PM on February 13, 2007

If you're the kind of person who doesn't mind a little background noise, see if you can find a good all-night diner that will let you have a booth in the back. Hard to fall asleep with that many people around.

I also like brief spurts of exercise - do a few jumping jacks when you feel yourself waning.

Also, if it's cold outside, step out for a minute with no coat. That always wakes me up really fast.
posted by chrisamiller at 11:36 PM on February 13, 2007

Response by poster: i'm getting sleepy already... heh. I guess i'm just used to sleeping early. Anyways, i should stop checking askmefi and study more.
posted by veol at 11:43 PM on February 13, 2007

In reading advice on coping with insomnia, I've read that you should avoid eating late because, apparently, digestive processes can keep you awake. So, reverse that.
posted by cribcage at 12:04 AM on February 14, 2007

In my experience, taking a cold shower or walking around the block helps. When that doesn't help any more, you're tired enough that studying more tonight won't help you during the test tomorrow.

Good luck!
posted by Lucie at 12:25 AM on February 14, 2007

The goal is to keep your body and mind in a steady, receptive state for the maximum amount of time in a given period. The best way to do this I have found:

Eat small nutritious meals regularly (avoid large meals, as they'll make you sleepy). You will need extra energy to fuel your extra wakefulness, prepare for this. Avoid junk food, this will give you a rush then a low, making you more sleepy overall. Snack on fruit. Make sure you get enough water, especially if you're drinking caffinated drinks also.

Take frequent short breaks, and regular long breaks. Stop and exercise when you hit a lull. Shower, change clothes and leave the house regularly.

Try to avoid full night sleeping, if possible go with around two naps per day. How long you sleep depends on how many days/nights you plan on keeping it up for. If you're like most people you'll be naturally most sleepy around 4am-6am, don't fight it, just sleep.

So get into something like a routine if possible, allocating rough times for work, exercise, eating, napping, and frequent short breaks. Work out a system that suits you and adapt as appropriate.

Plan to get a good sleep before exams whenever possible. One decent sleep can be worth days of revision (and conversely going into an exam too tired can totally wipe out whatever you've been cramming).

Above all, remember not to go over the top. You'll stop learning/building memories if you work yourself too hard, which is useless. Aim for an even period of consistent, concerted effort, rather than a crazy burnout.
posted by MetaMonkey at 12:47 AM on February 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Do something not in your usual bedtime routine.

I used to take a bath or Shower before a late night study session, espeshally with Mint Shower gel - that stuff rocks
posted by informity at 12:50 AM on February 14, 2007

Are these exams multiple choice or essays? Apparently cramming with no sleep works fine for the former, but sleep is required for the more complex thinking used in writing out an exam.
posted by Deathalicious at 1:01 AM on February 14, 2007

On the topic.

In short, no sleep = no memory.

posted by oxford blue at 1:37 AM on February 14, 2007

Try protein instead of sleep. When push comes to shove, I stock up on gallon jugs of drinking water, bacon and eggs. Tired? Eat breakfast. Again.

I don't know how effective this truly is, but at the very least it serves as a routine to help keep me on track.

I also find it helps to make the room extremely bright. This year I invested $75 in CF bulbs of varying color temperatures to better simulate daylight (CF bulbs also make it possible for my nine lamps to draw only about 130W of electricity).
posted by reeddavid at 4:12 AM on February 14, 2007

Get up early. Give yourself 1/4-1/2 hour catnaps when you absolutely have to snooze.

I find if I need extreme energy.... I carb up on pasta, etc. the day BEFORE and I am up all frigging night, wide ass awake. I usually take one of those B-complex vitamins (the kind with 100mG of everything) along with it. It really only works for a day or two and I cannot imagine what it does to one's pancreas or any of those other endocrine bits, but the neurons love it.

Caffeine works for me, too, just not too much. Especially judicious quantitites of Diet Coke. It's usually better for activities as opposed to thinking, and it's diuretic, so you have to drink water and pee a lot. I don't drink it cold, either.

Best to keep ahead of your studies to eliminate the need to pack in a month of work in a week. No matter what you do, you've only got 168 hours in a week. There IS a point of diminishing returns. You might want to consider WHICH class is most important and settle for lower grades in the less important ones. (Sad, but you dug the hole.)

Incidentally... long distance drivers take their shoes off. It might work studying, too.

Jeez I am really glad I already know everthihng there is to know and don't have to study any more!

Good luck with exams!
posted by FauxScot at 4:19 AM on February 14, 2007

You may get something out of this previous question: "What are some tried and true tricks for staying awake and alert for an all-nighter?" The asker noted that caffeine didn't affect their system very much, so most of the answers are the "natural aid" type you are seeking.

Drinking a lot of fluids was my main method. Paired with a bathroom on the utter other end of the house, the combo "get up and move" plus "regular thinking breaks" is a winning one.
posted by nelleish at 5:28 AM on February 14, 2007

I've never tried it, so I can't speak for it's efficacy, but what about polyphasic sleep?

Wikipedia article.
posted by Solomon at 6:05 AM on February 14, 2007

Embrace pills; especially modafinil.
posted by aramaic at 6:11 AM on February 14, 2007

Everyones ideas have been great, but I have a couple of notes to the methodologies. Two things that have worked great for me (besides the requisite coffee) is the catnaps (1/2 hour) and showers.

The note on the catnaps is that you need to set awesome alarms to wake you up. More often then not (especially late at night) I've intended to take "catnaps" and woken up 6 hours later 2 minutes before my midterm/final. Do yourself a solid and set crazy alarms.

The note on the showers is that they have to be lukewarm to cool. Although hot showers = awesome, in my experience they put you straight to sleep. The cooler showers, though less awesome, will perk you up for a good hour or two.

Good luck - I feel for ya - going through midterms myself now.
posted by jourman2 at 6:30 AM on February 14, 2007

I've had good experiences with glasses of Emergen-C - it makes me more energetic but without jitters.
posted by cadge at 7:04 AM on February 14, 2007

Having a study partner who is also a crammer. (Make sure that they are willing/have the stamina to stay awake for lengthy hours)

catnaps (1/2 hour)

As a crammer, these two most stand out to me. As already mentioned, you do need some sleep. When time is of the essence, in my experience, cat naps work the best in terms of a trade off between sleep and time wasted sleeping. If you try to get a few hours of sleep (2-4), you'll probably wake up so tired that you'll just go back to sleep.

The crammer partner also help tremendously. When studying solo, it's very easy to call it an early night or get distracted. But with a study partner, those issues are mitigated. By the same token, I also suggest taking breaks to just shoot the shit with your partner. The mind needs a break from cramming to really soak things in.

That said, I don't think I would have made it through my cram sessions without copious amounts of sugar and caffeine (though mixing the two in large quantities is not a good idea!). 24/7 coffee shops are a godsend. Good luck.
posted by jmd82 at 7:08 AM on February 14, 2007

Watch Back to School with Rodney Dangerfield. He pulled it off.
posted by thilmony at 8:13 AM on February 14, 2007

Probably not going to help much now, but cramming is actually counter productive. When you sleep, your brain does something called "memory consolidation" where everything you learned from the day is in a way rehashed and connections are formed between memories. Studies have shown that your memory for facts learned is improved by getting a good nights sleep, such that when having to remember a list of words, people performed better after sleeping than after going an equivalent amount of time without sleeping (ie. learn in morning, test 8 hours later at night). So, usually the best thing you can do for yourself in preparation for a test is to actually get some sleep, even if you do feel like you could have spent those extra couple hours cramming a bit more information in, because really, while you might pick up a small amount more, you are going to lose loads due to the lack of memory consolidation.

Things you learn being a cognitive psychology grad student.
posted by JonahBlack at 8:28 AM on February 14, 2007

Keeping some classical music in the background while studying helped me keep my mind focused and it drowned out other distractions.

But I would recommend still trying to get some sleep. AT LEAST around 3 or 4 hours.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 9:43 AM on February 14, 2007

stare into, or shine bright light into your eyes whenever you feel drowsy. force your pupils to constrict.
posted by twistofrhyme at 9:53 AM on February 14, 2007

posted by koahiatamadl at 12:16 PM on February 14, 2007

There is plenty of stuff from Google on this topic... a recent blawg post by some kid got popular.

Liquids - Green Tea and Mate agree with me more than Coffee or black tea for late nights. Eat if you're staying up really late (but eat good things and you'll feel better, obviously. tuna sandwiches, etc.)
If you can, I find that it helps to set some sort of rhythm to studying. For instance, have a watch with an alarm that goes off every 30 minutes or so, and you'll notice when you're falling behind or how much work you're getting done per section.
posted by tmcw at 3:13 PM on February 14, 2007

Vitamin B.
posted by xammerboy at 3:27 PM on February 14, 2007

Sugar water. Make some generic kool aid mix at double strength. That will help, but as you get more tired, make double strength kool aid and then add straight sugar until you can't drink it anymore. Bring some to the test, so you don't crash halfway through.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 4:36 PM on February 14, 2007

I'd drink plenty of water and the occassional cup of tea. I find it less acidy than coffee. Also, do a few push-ups every hour or so - it gets the blood moving and gives you something to do when you get tired of looking at a book.
posted by kjars at 5:58 AM on February 15, 2007

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