The Grown-Up’s Guide to Pulling An All-Nighter

The Grown-Up's Guide to Pulling An All-Nighter

See how to pull of an all-nighter the right way, without totally wrecking your week.

Everyone knows it’s best not to procrastinate in the first place, but sometimes things happen. If you find yourself needing to pull your first all-nighter since college, we’ve researched how to make the most of your time and minimize the effects of missing valuable sleep.

Ideally, you’d begin fully rested from the night before. Also, know that it’s probably better to just get some sleep and wake up extra early to get your work done (unless you’re a night owl). If you absolutely must power through the night though, try these steps to pull an all-nighter like a truly responsible, functional adult.

Have a goal and a plan of action.

Pulling an all-nighter is hard on your body, so if you are going to do it, this is one time you don’t want to procrastinate. Make a clear outline of what you need to accomplish tonight, and set a couple goals.

Maybe you need to memorize a 10 page speech or make a 20 slide presentation tonight, so break that down to one page or two slides per hour, for example. Setting goals will help keep you on track throughout the night so you know where you stand.

Take a caffeine power nap.

Caffeine boosts alertness and it may seem like a no-brainer to down Red Bull and coffee till sunrise, but too much may actually backfire. Instead, use caffeine wisely by starting your all-nighter with a caffeine power nap and using it selectively to fight your natural drops in alertness.

Mastering the caffeine nap:

  • Nap a little before your normal bedtime, to coincide with your natural peak in drowsiness.
  • Drink a serving of caffeine right before the nap.
  • Dim the lights and keep cool, but just during naptime.
  • Set an alarm for 15-30 minutes – no longer!
  • Wake up and move around, then get started on your to-do list.
Mastering the Caffeine Nap

The best times to take caffeine during an all-nighter are the times when you feel tired. You might take a caffeine nap at the beginning of the evening, halfway through, and again in the morning.

And since we’re responsible adults now, it’s important to know your body and your sensitivity to caffeine. The average healthy adult can safely consume around 400 mg of caffeine per day. However, for some people excess caffeine can trigger anxiety, and caffeine tolerance can also be significantly lower for people with heart problems, diabetes and other health concerns.

What 400 mg of Caffeine Looks Like: (suggest to depict as an image)

  • Five 8-ounce Red Bull
  • Five shots of espresso
  • Eight to twelve 12-oz cans of soda
  • 16 to 32 ounces of coffee

Block unnecessary distractions.

Who hasn’t set out with lofty goals only to be derailed by entertaining YouTube videos or Reddit threads? During an all-nighter, your time is limited and valuable though, so take steps to avoid your common attention stealers.

If you need help try programs like Cold Turkey or Self Control, which ban your browser from social media and other sites to keep you on track. Think of it as your boss standing over your shoulder, all night!

Keep the room warm and bright.

In the evening, around when you usually sleep, your body’s temperature drops slightly. This drop, along with cool temperatures and darkness in general, are associated with encouraging drowsiness.

Since you are trying to stay awake all night, break all the rules. Keep your room warm, possibly even uncomfortably warm if you start to feel tired. Turn all the lights on, keep your laptop screen on full glow, and put a bright lamp by your workspace.

Pretend it’s that tropical vacation you’d rather be on. Hawaiian shirts and leis, anyone?

Snack smart.

Nibble on small, frequent snacks rather than big meals to keep your metabolism going and avoid swings in blood sugar. It’s smart to avoid simple carbs like rice and bread, since these are known to induce drowsiness.

The best ways to fuel your all-nighter are protein-rich goods like chicken, tuna, cheese, nuts and protein shakes, as well as fresh fruits and veggies like oranges and carrots.

The best ways to fuel your all-nighter are protein-rich goods like chicken, tuna, cheese, nuts and protein shakes.

Soy sauce, spicy foods and chocolate also contain ingredients like tyramine and theobromine, known to boost alertness. Don’t forget to drink a lot of cold water, too.

Listen to energizing sounds.

Play upbeat music with a fast tempo and energetic lyrics. Classical tunes can be helpful for learning and memory, but they might also put you to sleep and derail your all-nighter. Better to go for fast, happy music you like.

Binaural beats are another tool to try. These audio tracks are designed to tune your brain waves to a desired pattern by using different frequencies. For energy and focus, look for tracks and apps designed to encourage beta waves (patterns associated with wakefulness), or make your own custom pattern.

Use energizing scents.

Certain odors are known to promote alertness, so it can be helpful to have a few on hand. Some of the best are coffee beans and peppermint, with citrus fruits and cinnamon also offering potential benefits.

Take activity breaks.

Moving around is helpful for staying alert, and taking short breaks can help you maintain focus. Set a timer for every hour or so and do something that gets your blood pumping, but doesn’t exhaust you — for example a few jumping jacks, high knees, a quick walk or just dancing.

Schedule recovery time.

As much as we like to feel invincible, after pulling an all-nighter, your body and brain will need time to recover and catch up on missed sleep. Book a conference room for a midday nap and plan an early night the next day so you can get back to your normal self.

Warning: do not drive!

One last thing to mention: driving while sleep deprived is just as dangerous, if not more so, than drunk driving. Do not drive until you’ve a good amount of rest. If you have an early meeting after your all-nighter, make sure to plan reliable transportation so you don’t endanger yourself or others.

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Rosie Osmun

Rosie is the Creative Content Manager and resident writer at Amerisleep. She finds the science of sleep fascinating and loves researching and writing about beds as an ambassador of the Amerisleep brand. Her favorite mattress is the ultra-plush Liberty Bed, and she is also passionate about traveling, painting, languages and history.