By Charlie McKenna, Staff Writer
We’ve all been there. It’s 2:00 AM, and you’re still up with that nagging feeling that you’re forgetting something. You’re about to go to bed, but then you check your phone that last time, and you see the text. “Ready for that test?” Your heart starts to beat just a touch faster. There isn’t a test. Is there? So you shuffle through the mass of papers on your desk, only to find that yes, there is a test for that class you’re not so great at. And it’s at 8:30 AM, giving you a grand total of 6 hours to prep. Time to pull out the Red Bull.
Sometimes, there’s just nothing that we can do. We have to pull that all-nighter. People always say it’s bad, we shouldn’t do it, and then do it anyway because they have to. But what does an all-nighter do to you, and what’s the best way to recover?
What It Does
How does out brain work while studying? Essentially, the four parts of the brain’s memory system are the phonological loop, visuospatial sketchpad, episodic buffer, and central executive. The phonological loop is assumed to temporarily store what you hear; the sketchpad, to keep what you see, and the episodic buffer to integrate information from several different sources, and the central executive to interpret all this incoming information, and is ultimately responsible for basic cognition. When we pull all-nighters, all these wonderful functions are impaired by sleep deprivation. Here are some possible changes we can make to survived the last minute all-nighter.
Avoid Caffeine Overload
Despite the fact that you might outright fail a test if you don’t pull an all-nighter, there are some serious things to consider. First, that coffee/red bull/ monster/ mountain dew/ espresso/ any caffeinated drink you can get your hands on ALL AT ONCE can do a number on your focus. It’ll be fine at first, but six hours and fifteen cups of coffee later, Side effects include jitteriness, headache, and lack of focus. Which is exactly what will kill you on that third essay question.
So what’s the alternative? Try a similar drink without quite as much caffeine like green tea. You’ll still get the boost, but without quite so much of the bleary eyed, crazed blank slate effect. Or try a caffeine free option. I know that makes many of the devoted coffee groupies recoil in horror, but just hear me out. Drink one cup of coffee to get your fix. Then drink ice cold water and chew mint gum, and blow some cold air in your face. This will work like magic, even for the most devoted coffee cult followers.
The lack of sleep aspect is a killer. Speaking as a devoted all-nighter student, it’s just about the most stupid thing you could possibly do to your brain the night before a test short of getting wasted. And if you were that kind of student, you probably wouldn’t be reading this anyway. It messes with your memory (which as you probably guessed, is crucial for passing the test).
In the most scientific terms I can muster, you’re shutting down your brain just where it matters most for the big test. So now that we know that, what can we do? I’m sure not going to give up my sacred ritual of procrastination, so what’s the best recovery strategy? For starters, grab as much sleep as you can. If you can get two hours in, then get two hours in. Don’t just push through until after the test. Just two hours can give your brain the time to partially recover and improve focus.
Eat Healthy and Hydrate
If you know you’re going into an all-nighter, plan ahead. Try to incorporate as many veggies and fruits into your diet as you can. Stay hydrated so that when you do drink your caffeine filled beverage of choice, you don’t get annoying side effects from dehydration. Keep this conscious effort to eat healthy going into the morning of. Along with the pre-test coffee, drink some water and eat an apple or something of more substantial nutrition. This will give you the energy to focus, without the side effects of the chocolate filled croissant. Save that for the post-test celebration (if you don’t pass out first).
Now this doesn't mean that you should have all-nighters every night. But we might as well be ready for when the time may come and utilizes these strategies along with others. So to all the fellow procrastinators and all-nighters out there, let's step up our game and become the fully functional all-nighters we know we can be.