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An Expert’s Step-by-Step Guide to All-Nighters

Updated: May 5, 2020

By Salyha Mughal

Being the lawless, procrastinate-or-die, night owl that I am, I can honestly say all-nighters just come naturally to me. The stillness of a near-empty library at 4am is truly unmatched. The odd car zooming down a silent road and stars gazing down at you, like glowing cheerleaders motivating you to soldier on. Ah, such good vibes. Okay enough of the romanticising.

Truthfully the (future) doctor in me must warn you that all-nighters are most definitely NOT the way to survive med school- quite the opposite actually. I could lecture you endlessly about the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation and how just being moderately organised will mean you won’t ever have to succumb to the night. But you’re not here for that.

You, like almost every student to have ever existed, are under the pressure of a deadline. Its 8pm and the weight of your task-list is heavy on your shoulders, the textbooks are calling, time is ticking, you know it has to be done. Oof, I’ve been there more times than I’m proud to confess. So, let me just say a gigantic you’re welcome because friends, in the next 750 words of this how-to guide, I am going to change your studying night life.

1. Bank sleep

Okay, this has to be done in advance of your scheduled all-nighter (yes, scheduled, I’ll tell you more about it in Step 9). Consider yourself a phone battery, if you’re going to be using your phone continuously the next 24 hours, it goes without saying you’ll want to start off with a full charge.

2. Grab Supplies

  • Snacks – Go for something high-sugar that will give you a kick when you need it, I love those sour strawberry laces that burn your tongue.

  • Caffeine – it varies from person to person, I usually grab an energy drink, some prefer coffee, or tea, or you may not even need any. If you do though, save them until the absolute last minute – you’ll know it when your eyes start burning... (WARNING I by no means endorse excessive caffeine intake, this is so harmful to your health, please only consume in moderation!!)

  • Water – get a big water bottle and drink plenty. It’s the key to survival, especially if you are having caffeine which will dehydrate you.

  • Study equipment – make sure you have all the books, stationery and resources you’ll need for the night and remember your laptop charger!!

3. Location, location, location

If you have a 24-hour library - use it! It’s decidedly more motivating to be in a space designated to studying rather than somewhere with temptations (like your warm, cosy bed). Blankets are a forbidden fruit, swaddling up is a fast-track path to dreamland, so resist the urge! Either way, pick somewhere with bright lights and a relatively cool temperature. I’d recommend only listening to instrumental music whilst studying (lofi hip-hop beats to study and relax to gang come thruuu) to avoid starting a concert mid-study. Alternatively, you can try a study-with-me video, some good ones are by: Kharma Medic, Thomas Frank and UnJaded Jade.

4. Phone a friend

All-nighters are 10X more successful when I’m with someone else. The companionship makes a great break when you need it, and more importantly a great inspiration to keep working.

5. Plan it out

Be realistic with the amount of work you want to do (remember SMART goals?). If you have a major deadline, focus solely on that for the night. Break down your task and set targets for each sub-task. This will encourage you to avoid procrastination and will also help you feel accomplished through the night.

6. Take a stroll

Breaks are essential to maintain consciousness. Go for regular walks to avoid stiff limbs and to rest your eyes. Definitely get fresh air. If you’re feeling particularly close to dozing, splash some ice-cold water on your face to jolt yourself back to reality. You are likely to get hungry during the night, so come prepared with something light, such as fruit or something high protein. DO NOT go for a Phat carb-y scran midway through the night. We all know this will swiftly land you in a food coma, disaster!

7. Put the phone away

A generic studying tip is to turn your phone off to avoid distraction. I find it all the more vital during the night, when your mind’s willpower is at its weakest. I use an app called Forest in, which you can grow these super cute trees, but using your phone will tragically kill them (you get emotionally invested, its cooler than it sounds ok?).

8. Surviving the “hangover”

Congrats! If you’ve successfully made it to step 8 and completed your goals for the night well done! It’s time to meet the final boss: your 9AM class. Go home around 6/7AM to freshen up and prepare for the day. I find going on a run wakes me right up, and a coffee later means you wouldn’t even know I haven’t slept. Have a good breakfast, drink water and chew gum to keep yourself alive as far as you can. However the chances are you won’t make it long which leads me on to.


If you know you will be doing an all-nighter, ensure that the morning after you can sleep in! I don’t need to tell you about how essential sleep is for your physical and mental health. Regardless, you most certainly will not be functional (let alone productive) the next day anyway. So, unless absolutely necessary, have a clear timetable for the day after your all-nighter to sleep soundly, feeling accomplished.

And that’s it! My simple survival-guide for the perfect all-nighter will guarantee you’ll make it to see sunrise with success. Just to mention a point I missed above, I’m not a fan of naps at all. Personally, the risk of falling into an 8-hour REM cycle is just too high, so I never indulge. However, I know 10, 20, and 30 min power-naps work incredibly well for others, so I’ll leave that to your discretion. All in all, I wish you the best of luck on your late-night nerdy adventures, say hi to the stars from me :)

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