No matter what anyone tells you in college, remember this simple fact: the all-nighter is never worth it. It may get you a few extra points, and may save you from crafting that "something came up and I had to leave campus" email to your professor. But the cost of stealing those hours of shut-eye is not worth the small benefits an all-nighter may offer.
It may not seem this way twelve hours before your midterm exam or final-round interview. But truly, there's no denying that the time spent in bed will prepare you just as much, if not more than those last few hours spent cramming. And if you do decide to see your work through till sunrise, be wary of the repercussions. They're unpredictable, unhealthy, and unavoidable.
I myself am guilty of the occasional all-nighter, and I'm not proud of it. No one should be. My focus and energy wanes with my shaky computer battery. I've only successfully executed it once, though, and wouldn't be so inclined to award myself any medals for accomplishing this feat.
"No matter what anyone tells you in college, remember this simple fact: the all-nighter is never worth it."
It's only when I'm climbing up the steps to the Lower Quad library that I realize maybe it wasn't the smartest idea to have celebrated my friend's birthday in Chinatown for the last three hours. I can't tell if I have a stomachache because of the number of soup dumplings I just inhaled or if it's the fact that tomorrow is the last day of classes. That means I have less than twelve hours to submit my final paper on Copyright Law to my professor's inbox. As of now, I have two sentences and a handful of bullet points on an opened Word document.
I sit down, throw my laptop case underneath my full-batterie'd computer, and plug in my yellow-tainted headphones. I get a few minutes of solace--four, maybe five sentences in--until a friend swipes a nearby chair.
"It's all good dude," she says as if she knows exactly how I'm feeling and what I'm doing. (She does.) Turns out she's planning on pulling an all-nighter for a computer science project that's due at noon. "You and I have all the time in the world. And then we'll just sleep when we're out of class tomorrow!" she suggests.
I want to believe her, but I don't. I feel a headache coming on, and in the back of my head, The Clash is on repeat: "Should I stay or should I go?" Trying not to look at the clock, I start outlining. With every indent comes another yawn, each slightly larger than the one before. Every new paragraph is another new tab opened on Safari, whether it's a Rolling Stone article or a YouTube video that I've seen a hundred times over.
Looking through the window grilles, I see people's room lights switching off. I turn up the brightness on my laptop.
I've written two paragraphs. Are you kidding? It's about to be tomorrow, and I'm not even at a five hundred words yet. Get it together. I can do this.
I can do this?
My friend is making her way towards me again, just this time she's off to sleep. She salutes me with exactly what I need to hear.
"Don't you work so much better when you're under pressure with time and everything else? I just finished all my stuff. And I thought I was going to be up all night. Good luck. You got this!"
I wish that was true for me, but I'm just not seeing eye to eye with her. I smile. I give her a hug. I glue my eyes back to my Word document. Not much has changed since an hour ago, and it's confusing me why it seems as if I'm the only one awake - I'll soon find out this isn't the case - so I take a couple minutes to walk around. Hoping to be inspired by some bathroom chats or a whiff of December air, my stomach starts to rumble. This time I know it's not the soup dumplings. Eight hours left, baby.
There's a little less than fifteen hundred words, a little over two pages, and twenty or so footnotes. There's eighty plays of the same Coldplay song (and counting) on iTunes. There's one other guy here now, but his music is playing so loud that he couldn't hear me when I asked him his name. With no one to text, no more motivational interruptions, and a whole lot of Copyright arguments left to build, I switch off Coldplay and write. As I yawn, my eyes begin to water.
40% battery, with a touch of a headache
I'm one thousand words out.
20% battery, with a touch of an everything-ache
It's done. I can't tell if I'm laughing because I actually finished two week's worth of work in the last three hours or because the sky is some orange-magenta tint that I didn't even know Philly skies could make. I congratulate myself with a blueberry Nutri-Grain bar and stretch my arms for a second. My mind feels like the world's most twisted run-on sentence and I have no idea what to make of it.
Why couldn't I have worked this furiously by the light of day? No clue. But something worth considering, I've learned.
"Why couldn't I have worked this furiously by the light of day?"
My fingertips and palms are clammy. I'm trying to edit but the sentences aren't sentences. Speeding through misplaced commas and filling in missing words here and there, I slap down a title and read through the eight pages one last time.
I close my computer, and with it, my eyes. When I emerge from the library and eventually through the wooden door that leads into The Quad, the December sun beats down onto my face and there's a blue sky. A hard hitting, brisk wind jolts the last possible bit of energy into me, and I navigate my way to my room. After setting two obnoxiously loud alarms for 8:49 a.m., I crawl underneath my comforter.
My eyes look like I just spent a few days swimming wide-eyed in the Atlantic, and I'm in the same clothes as I was yesterday morning. By some miracle, I eventually sit down in the seminar room before 9 a.m. I don't remember much of what ensues during class, but according to my neighbor, the lecture given is one of the better ones of the semester. But my paper is turned in. Finished.
It was all worth it.
It's still a mystery how I conjure up the strength to dart back to bed, but I do. I set six alarms on both my phone and clock since I know getting myself out from under the sheets in an hour and a half for my next class isn't going to be easy. I give zero other thought to it and lie down.
My eyes and ears open to my roommate walking into the room - he knows exactly what just happened. It takes me thirty seconds or so to realize that I just slept straight through all three of my classes on the last day of the semester. My heart sinks and I enter some state of panicked exhaustion, but I'm not confused about how this happened. It's entirely on me, my decision to stay awake for twenty-four hours, and my expectation that everything during and afterwards would be like normal.
"No, I wasn't any more productive than usual and, no, the caliber of my work didn't improve just because I dedicated a full night to it."
I like to think that I've learned my lesson and won't pull an all-nighter again, but I can't say that with one hundred percent confidence. Yes, I got the work done and, yes, I did sleep for most of the following day (and woke up still feeling subhuman). No, I wasn't any more productive than usual and, no, the caliber of my work didn't improve just because I dedicated a full night to it. The value of the all-nighter is a myth, one that, because of their priorities in the moment, college students continually buy into. But it comes at a high price.
This post is part of our series on sleep culture on college campuses. To join the conversation and share your own story, please email our Director of College Outreach Abby Williams directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can find out here if the #SleepRevolution College Tour will be visiting your campus, and learn how you can get involved. If your college is not one of the colleges already on our tour and you want it to be, please get in touch with Abby.