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Pulling an All-Nighter? Read this First!

College student working on a laptop as the sun goes down

The holidays are almost here, but for college students one thing comes first, one monumental thing: finals week. For many college students, finals week can be a massive source of stress.

From studying routines to eating routines to sleeping routines, it seems anything goes during finals week. If you find yourself faced with pulling an all-nighter to study for a final exam, this can wreak havoc on your mind and body for days to come.

College students, we feel you. We remember all too well the stress of finals week and the misery of pulling an all-nighter. But, don’t let the stress of missing sleep stress you out even more! We can’t send you a care package or join your study group, but we do know a thing or two about healthy, restorative sleep here at Happsy.

College student working on a laptop outdoors after sunsetCollege student working on a laptop outdoors after sunset

How does pulling an all-nighter affect you?

Forcing yourself to stay up all night goes directly against the body’s natural circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is like an internal clock that is designed to respond to darkness or lightness. When the brain interprets darkness, it begins releasing hormones like melatonin that help prepare the body for sleep.

Pushing through the body’s natural release of these hormones is not only difficult but can be dangerous as well. Pulling an all-nighter can throw off your circadian rhythm weeks. It might sound crazy, but it can take up to four days to fully recover from losing just a couple hours of sleep!

Sleep deprivation and your mind

Much of the information and emotions we take in while we are awake are processed while we sleep. This is how our brains commit important information to memory, moving that info from short-term to long-term storage. Staying up all night affects your ability to:

  • Access memory
  • Concentrate
  • Solve problems
  • Think creatively
  • Regulate emotions

Not really ideal when you’re heading into an exam, is it?

Physical effects of losing a night’s sleep

Missing just one night of sleep affects your body, too. For one thing, denying your body of that melatonin release means that your cortisol – AKA “the stress hormone” – levels increase, which can cause anxiety or restlessness.

You can expect your immune system to take a hit, too, which is never good heading into the holiday season. After pulling an all-nighter, you may also experience:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Upset stomach
  • Increased pain sensitivity

Be aware that losing out on sleep slows your decision-making and reactions times, too, so be very careful if you need to drive the day after pulling an all-nighter.  

5 Things to try during your all-nighter

OK, so pulling an all-nighter is all kinds of bad. But, we understand an occasional all-nighter is necessary. Luckily, you can help yourself get on the road to sleep recovery even during the wee hours of the night. Here are a few natural tips to help you make it through with the least amount of damage:

1. Drink caffeine 

Perhaps the most obvious way to get through an all-nighter is to consume caffeine. Caffeine is a natural stimulant that can help you stay alert and remain energized because it blocks adenosine receptors in your brain. Try consuming several smaller doses of caffeine throughout your all-nighter to avoid symptoms of anxiety or shakiness.

We recommend steering clear of energy drinks and sugary sodas as your caffeine source. Coffee, tea, espresso or even dark chocolate are all better sources of caffeine.

2. Have a healthy snack

Snacking on healthy foods throughout your all-nighter can help keep you alert and energized. Reaching for nutritious and crunchy options like carrots, cucumber or celery with healthy nut butters and hummus are safe options. You’ll want to consume snacks high in protein and healthy fats.

It’s also important to remain hydrated and consume filtered water – especially when consuming caffeine – to avoid dehydration. Stay away from heavy meals, junk food and processed sugar.

3. Incorporate light

As mentioned, our circadian rhythm is controlled by light exposure. Light has a powerful impact on the body’s ability to stay awake. When you have to pull an all-nighter, working in a well-lit space will help keep you awake longer. Avoid fluorescent lighting if you can, though, because it can trigger anxiety.

4. Stay active

Getting up frequently to move around can help keep you awake. Nothing induces sleepiness like comfort, so try forcing yourself to get up whenever you begin to feel too comfortable. Going for a quick walk (outside is better!), doing a few jumping jacks or stretching are all great ways to gently re-energize the body.

5. Take breaks or power naps

Taking momentary breaks to look away from your screen or study guide, closing your eyes, or allowing yourself a quick fifteen-minute power nap can help you recharge to continue your all-nighter. You’d be surprised by how much giving yourself even five minutes of self-care can help. Need five-minute self-care ideas? We have lots!

College student taking a power nap with his dogCollege student taking a power nap with his dog

How to recover from your all-nighter faster

College student yawning in front of a stack of text booksCollege student yawning in front of a stack of text books

So, you’ve made it through your all-nighter – now what? Although you may feel like crashing and sleeping the day away, it’s best to remain on a normal schedule. Here are some easy ways to recover from your all-nighter faster and more effectively:

  • Nourish your body – Drinking plenty of water and eating nourishing foods will help support your body and its ability to recover faster.
  • Take a shower – Wash the grogginess of your all-nighter away with a shower that can help refresh and energize you to make it through the following day.
  • Get outside – Fresh air and sunlight work wonders on a tired body and mind. Exposure to sunlight will also help get your body back onto a natural circadian rhythm.
  • Avoid caffeine – Since you’ve likely already consumed caffeine during your all-nighter, it’s best to lay off it the next day and prepare your body for a good night’s rest without any interference from stimulants.
  • Skip the long nap – Although it may be tempting to take a long nap after pulling an all-nighter, this will only prolong the damage done to your circadian rhythm. Power naps only!
Young woman drinking coffee and working the day after an all-nighterYoung woman drinking coffee and working the day after an all-nighter

So, how long will it take to recover from your all-nighter?

It’s impossible to say precisely how long it will take to recover from a night of lost sleep. How long it takes depends on everything from the quality of sleep you normally get to your body’s unique response to stress to your overall health and more. However, it is true that often, the less we stress or over lost sleep, the more quickly our hormones regulate and the faster we recover.

All-nighters are rough. But, hopefully by following these tips and being kind to yourself, you can recover quickly enough to enjoy your break after finals. If all else fails, there are some delicious foods this time of year that can help you get some much-needed sleep!