At a particular hour of the night, the body will call for sleep, but sometimes deadlines and due dates take priority.
College students often put homework, projects and studying before a good night’s sleep. Such habits can disrupt their circadian rhythms, which are daily patterns of bodily functions, including the different levels of sleepiness or alertness that people experience throughout the day.
Manipulating the environmental regulators of circadian rhythms throughout the night can help students “pull an all-nighter” in the least disruptive and most productive way. It can also get them back into a proper sleeping schedule as soon as possible.
Students can alter the light in their study environment to keep alert. As light in the environment fades, the body responds by lowering its temperature and raising its levels of the melatonin hormone, which makes people less alert. Studying to artificial light, such as that given off by electronics and energy-efficient bulbs, keeps people awake since the brain is especially sensitive to low wavelength light.
Another environmental cue for sleep that students can manipulate is room temperature. People sleep best when the room is cool, around 65 degrees according to the National Sleep Foundation, and warm environments can induce drowsiness. To stay awake, students should strive for an in-between sweet spot of about 75 degrees.
Certain drinks and foods help students stay alert throughout the night. Late-night studiers should typically stay away from caffeinated drinks because caffeine induces wakefulness for a few hours followed by an ugly energy crash. Students should instead focus on keeping hydrated since dehydration leads to grogginess and pounding headaches.
Snacking is also a good strategy to keep awake, but what students ingest plays a big role in the success of an all-nighter. High-carb foods induce high levels of the lethargy-inducing serotonin hormone into the brain, while protein-rich foods, such as nuts and seeds, are healthy sources of energy. Students should also avoid large meals since they make the body spend too much energy on digestion. Marketing senior Lisa Senecal said she’ll grab a late-night snack to get a boost of energy.
“I never eat a full meal during an all-nighter because that makes me tired,” Senecal said.
The day after pulling an all-nighter, students will be tempted to crash into bed as soon as they get back home. International relations and global studies junior Isabella De La Rosa said she feels like a zombie after staying up all night working on an essay.
“Yesterday was my recoup day,” De La Rosa said. “It was not fun.”
While sneaking a 20 to 90 minute nap can help their tired bodies get through the day, students should wait to crash until their usual bedtime to prevent upsetting their circadian rhythms further.
William Mupo, UHS health promotion coordinators, said it’s important for students to realize that there is no such thing as a “healthy” all-nighter. The human body needs its nightly sleep to function properly, and all-nighters should be an occasional incident, not a routine practice.
“Studies show sleep deprived students perform worse but think they do better,” Mupo said. “There is a gap between that expectation and actual performance.“
There are occasions when all-nighters are inevitable and even helpful in meeting the upcoming deadline for a project or essay, but staying up all night cramming for an exam may be a bad idea. The brain needs sleep to consolidate memories, securing information it acquired through the day into permanent long-term storage and keeping its short-term storage tidy and alert.
“Sleeping is like house cleaning for your brain,” Mupo said.