The all-nighter: Use sparingly and be economical

Posted by Michael Rainsford in

The Easter holidays have been and gone and now all minds on campus are firmly fixed upon the looming exam season and dissertation deadlines. A year's worth of hard work and hard partying boil down to these next six weeks. The well-oiled cramming machine steps into motion and the drill of morning-to-night revision and the daily pilgrimage to your favourite quiet spot in the library gets underway.

Highlighters and sticky notes at the ready, StuRents takes a closer look at what is, for most, a right of passage also known as the "all-nighter". If, after all avoidance methods have been exhausted and the prospect turns to reality, then following these simple tips can at least help make you economical in such situations.

On the horizon: Spotting the signs

It's mid-morning, and a brief look at the diary tells you that you still have a seminar and two lectures to endure. Sandwiched in between, you have coffee with a friend, and you can't forget to pick up your gym kit for the 5.15pm spinning class. 7pm means home and a shower, and it's your turn to cook dinner for the house. Beans on toast it is (don't forget to pick up beans and bread on the way home). Digest the beans, make a cup of tea and watch an episode of 'Breaking Bad' on Netflix. Only then can you sit down to write the final 2,000 words of your dissertation due in tomorrow. Should now be the first time the alarm bells are ringing? It is, possibly, too late.

The customary mid-morning look at the diary was the time to act. Next time cancel the gym, switch your cooking night with your housemate and put off Netflix to tomorrow. Remind yourself that you are much more productive during the day. Now back to the night of work ahead. The deadline remains, and what now stands between you and submitting on time are 12 hours of hard graft into the darkness.

Prepare: Fill a jug of water, and stock up on healthy foods that are easy to digest e.g. low-fat proteins. Turn down your screen brightness if using a computer to avoid straining your eyes when tired. Work at a desk, with a comfortable chair.

Schedule: Write a to-do list, starting with the time you expect to finish and work backwards. Schedule in breaks, and what you'll do in them. Breakdown your work into chunks and create a checklist. Working through a tick list is satisfying and will encourage you to complete the task at hand. Start with the dull tasks and leave the more interesting elements until the early hours.

Be Timely: Start work well before you would normally go to sleep, otherwise your body will have already started shutting down for the night.

Enjoy Regular Breaks: Plan what you'll do when you're on your breaks. Take 10 minutes every 1.5 hours. Do some gentle exercise, watch a short video on YouTube, listen to a couple of songs and make a cup of peppermint tea.

Minimise Distractions: Do not stray onto Facebook, Twitter or similar. Avoid all internet browsing, games, your mobile phone and TV.

Do Not: Drink caffeine, or if you must, consume sparingly and in sips. Too much caffeine is believed to cause anxiety and panic. Eating sugary and fatty foods cause large swings in energy, can be harder to digest and can make you feel bloated, distracted and sleepy.

To Finish: Try and get at least a little sleep before embarking upon the next day. Pack for the next day; get your clothes ready and set your alarm (or two) as late as possible to maximise sleep.

Kick the habit early

All-nighters should be seen as a last resort. The repercussions for sleepless nights go beyond the dreaded dark circles underneath your eyes the next day.

Memory: Your body uses the time when asleep to process the memories from studies and activities from the day before. Denying yourself sleep can make you both memory impoverished and lacking in energy. Your decision-making can become impaired, and concentration levels will suffer.

Eyes: Advice recommends taking a break from Reading or computers every ten minutes. You are more likely to strain your eyes when tired and have to work harder to concentrate on the task at hand.

Posture: Slumping your body when tired becomes a natural habit. Poor posture can result in chronic back pain.

Weight Gain: When sleep deprived, it is believed your body's production of various hormones changes, resulting in an impact on signals for hunger, and for the sensation of subsequently being full. Tiredness can result in a slower metabolism and a tendency the next day to try and "eat-through" the tiredness. This paired with a reduced likelihood of exercise can lead to weight-gain.

Mental Implications: Sleep deprivation can cause people to lose the ability to accurately read the emotions of others. It is also believed that it may lead to depression and anxiety.

Immune System: Lack of sleep weakens the immune system, making you more vulnerable to colds, throat infections and other ailments that are commonly passed around on campus.

More Serious Complications: Sleep deprivation has been linked to a whole string of more serious health problems, from impacts on blood pressure, to increased susceptibility to heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

One "all-nighter" now and then is unlikely to do you any harm. Appreciation for the long-term implications of sleep deprivation, paired with better organisation and work ethic will reduce your likelihood of resorting to them more often. Your body will thank you for a hard day's work over staring at your laptop whilst sipping peppermint tea at five in the morning.

Image courtesy of Flickr.