When I was a mechanical engineering student, I did all-nighters regularly. You’ve either done a few all-nighters already or you will. There’s a lot of things I did wrong, and through trial and error, I’ve learned how to do an all-nighter.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
An all-nighter is an all-out, last ditch effort to complete something before a looming deadline. You must sacrifice an entire night of sleep and risk your health to an extent to finish up what you need to get done.
This should never be something that you do regularly.
An all-nighter should be done once every 2 weeks, at the most. Even this is too often and is an indication of overall poor planning and time mismanagement.
An all-nighter requires planning to be very effective. In particular, don’t consume any caffeine the day of an all-nighter. Caffeine puts you in a stimulated, energized state. You will eventually have to rest when the caffeine wears off. Even if you try to take another shot of caffeine at night, it won’t have nearly as much effectiveness, will wear off quickly, and will make you feel even more tired.
I eat food during planned rest sessions. Don’t eat large meals. Stick with light snacks spread out throughout the night.
This is the same reason people eat 6 small meals throughout their day instead of 3 square meals; it helps maintain their energy.
Contrary to popular belief, caffeine can benefit an all-nighter, if used correctly.
Caffeine puts you in a stimulated, energized state. You will eventually have to rest when the caffeine wears off. Even if you try to take another shot of caffeine, it won’t have nearly as much effectiveness, will wear off very quickly, and will make you even more tired after.
Human beings evolved to be idle and at rest most of the time, with brief moments of all-out physical activity like running away from a wild animal or chasing after an animal during a hunt. Being in a heightened state all day from coffee will require a rest period at the end of the day, which you can’t afford.
If possible, don’t take any caffeine days in advance before an all-nighter. The more days you go caffeine-free, the more effective it will be during the all-nighter.
Second, don’t worry about consuming too much. An all-nighter is meant to be an all-out last ditch effort to finish something before a deadline. 3 cups should be more than enough for a single all-nighter. I wouldn’t go over that amount though. I personally only need 2.
Third, coffee is a diuretic; it stimulates urination, and this is believed to dehydrate you, impede blood flow, and make you feel sluggish.
You feel sluggish, you get jitters, and you may even get cold hands and feet because of vasoconstriction: your blood vessels constrict and blood is unable to circulate efficiently throughout your body. This becomes especially noticeable after drinking multiple cups of coffee in a short time.
The best way to compensate for this is to eat beets. Beets are vasodilators (expand blood vessels and make blood flow easier). The increased blood flow will stop the jitters and make you more clear-headed and allow for sharper thinking.
However, it’s still generally good practice to drink plenty of water.
Try to spend as much time outside as possible on the day of an all-nighter. The best way to make this happen is to study outdoors, eat outdoors, and/or go on a brief jog outside during the day.
This section will go over setting up your environment to maximize productivity during an all-nighter.
How you dress can affect your mental state and mood.
Don’t dress in pajamas or clothes you normally sleep in. It sets your mind into preparation for going to sleep.
I personally like to dress business casual. The formality associated with dressing this way keeps my mind alert and focused. Instead of a button-down shirt, a polo shirt tucked in to a pair of slacks or khakis is perfect.
The ideal sleep temperature for humans to maximize productivity is 70-77 degrees Fahrenheit. Too cold, and you’ll be distracted. Too warm, and you’ll be too relaxed.
This is due to your body’s circadian rhythm, which regulates your overall energy. You feel warm and your body temperature rises during the day when you need to be alert and energized. You feel cold and your body temperature lowers when you can rest. Your body naturally wants to rest during the night, so it lowers your body temperature. Just put on a sweatshirt or jacket and continue working.
Refer to my blog post “Working Smart vs. Working Hard: Mindless Busy Work vs. Productivity” for a detailed overview of both mentalities. Basically, it means either having cycles of focused, intense work and short rest intervals, or working at a steady, consistent pace with no breaks.
The rest sessions are perfect times to have light snacks of the all-nighter foods I previously mentioned.
The Marathon Mentality creates the illusion of unlimited time when used during an all-nighter. The illusion of unlimited time will inevitably lead to procrastination.
While on a Sprinter’s all-nighter, I also highly recommend incorporating brief exercise into your rest sessions.
Human beings naturally experience greater cognitive activity during physical movement since we evolved to only move during emergencies like running away from a tiger that wants to kill us.
The exercises should be anything that can be done in a limited open space and have moderate intensity, such as:
These are productivity hacks that I learned from Tim Ferriss’ book Tools of Titans:
Movies and music can be used during work to induce a focused, meditative state.
During meditation, people say ‘ohm” to themselves repeatedly as a mantra to help focus. This technique with the music has a similar affect.
I listen to:
I create a playlist on YouTube and include videos of the above 3 songs, and repeatedly it.
Additionally, I watch a movie on silent while listening to the music if I’m by myself. The movie will reduce the feeling of isolation. This is especially useful for people who work best in groups.
The movie should be one that you think is interesting, but isn’t one of your favorites. For example, The Dark Knight is one of my favorite movies, so using it would be a bad idea since I’ll be too distracted by watching it.
I personally watch Hot Fuzz. I think it’s interesting, but it’s not one of my favorite movies and doesn’t distract me.
As I’m writing this on my laptop, I have the 3 albums playing in loop on my phone and I play the movie in a separate window on mute.
Don’t drink any coffee at this point.
You just need to get through the rest of the day. To maintain wakefulness for the rest of the day:
It’s also a given that you should sleep as much as possible throughout the day, whenever you get the chance.
Sleep. That’s all…
Ideally, spend the next 1-2 days sleeping whenever you feel even the slightest bit tired. If your schedule doesn’t allow that, extend your daily sleep as much as possible until you feel back to normal.
So, these are tips for getting the most out of an all-nighter.
I actually wrote this blog post during an all-nighter, and a lot of these tips were implemented as I was writing!
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All the best,