'Tis the season for sleepless nights: Finals are nigh and late nights will soon become the norm. Working through the wee hours may not offer the thrill of launching Looney Toons-inspired Santa traps, but all-nighters need not be miserable. I pull many of them, and while I can't speak to the health benefits of foregoing forty winks, I can offer a seasoned set of tips for how to do it best.
First and foremost: Sustenance. You can expect to get hungry as your body's energy stores get sapped drier than Experience Weekend. Opt for high-protein snacks (I prefer almonds and pecans, but hummus is another staple) and fruit. Needless to say, hydration is a must—keep refilling your water bottle. If nothing else, getting up and walking to the sink will wake you up.
In addition to real food, I like to nosh on strongly flavored snacks like cinnamon Altoids and wasabi peas to keep conscious—the sheer shock to your taste buds will stave off sleepiness. The mere act of chewing gum, regardless of flavor (though I opt for an aggressive mint), can also help, especially if you don't normally chew it.
This is not to suggest that an oral fixation is the only key to a successful all-nighter (though that may be the case). Another strategy is to hold a pencil in your mouth, a proven way to combat the inevitable blues that often accompany sleep deprivation. Our brains are wired such that when we smile, our nervous system produces the chemicals that make us happy.
One choice that can make or break your all-nighter experience is ensemble: If your sweater feels mildly scratchy by day, it will be unbearable at 3:30 a.m. Comfort is paramount, but don't put on pajamas—their association with bed is bound to undermine your focus.
When it comes to clothes, layering is also vitally important. Your body temperature will drop like a stone as the night goes on, due to your diminishing resources and your body's attempts to sabotage your anti-sleep campaign. (We naturally cool down while we sleep, and your body will try to put you in the zone by doing so even when you don't want it to.) Even if you don't think you need an extra pullover, you'll be happy you brought it before the night's out.
With regard to students' little helpers, there are a range of products that will keep you up, ranging from natural to semi-natural.
Natural stimulants are the most accessible, and, of those, coffee and tea are the most obvious. I find the temperature of these drinks to be even more helpful than their caffeine content, as the contrast of the heat with the early morning chill works as a wake-up call in and of itself.
However, if time is of the essence, and the minutes it takes to brew or buy are simply more than you can spare on deadline, try mate pills. Yerba mate (pronounced mah-tay) is a South American infused drink made from dried leaves, which are powdered and steeped in hot water.
Not only highly caffeinated, mate is also rich in vitamins, minerals, anti-carcinogens and even more antioxidants than green tea. While drinking mate from a particular type of gourd is part of the ritual, you can cut to the chase and get all the benefits in pill form available at Morning Glory on Maine Street.
Semi-natural stimulants include Emergen-C powder (the vitamins B6 and B12 energize the body by metabolizing food and helping red blood cells to circulate oxygen more effectively) and 5-Hour Energy. The noxiously colored little bottles of the latter contain only a coffee cup's worth of caffeine, but boast more B vitamins than you can shake a stick at.
While Emergen-C provides 500 percent of your daily value of vitamin B6 and 417 percent of a day's worth of vitamin B12, 5-Hour Energy contains2000 percent B6 and 83333 percent for B12.
It is more than possible to pull an all-nighter without stimulants, however. Pushing yourself to stay up late naturally produces waves of adrenaline, and you can be incredibly productive while riding one—if you can withstand the slumps in between.
When you feel one of those mind-numbing crashes coming on, stand up immediately. If you continue to sit, the sleepiness will sink in fast, and before you know it, you will be jerking your head up, only for those heavy eyelids to close again.
Breaks are important, but keep them under control. Walk around the building you're working in every hour and a half or so. The cold outside air will wake you up, as will your increased circulation. If you stay inside, indulge in escapism with a fixed time limit. My Boggle app keeps me honest with 3-minute games, as will TV episodes. In other words, never go on Facebook.
The main enemy you will encounter, will, of course, be the temptation to nap. Seductive and smooth, your body will try to convince you a "power nap" is all you need to get back into gear. Do not listen. The adrenaline will return if you can withstand this test.
While all-nighters do not come doctor-recommended, they have certain advantages. If you have never seen the sun rise over campus, doing so will take the edge off a hard night's work. As you watch people trickle out on to the Quad, the world becomes increasingly surreal: Tile patterns become hypnotic, small moments like the light hitting the museum become painfully beautiful, and everyone else's now robotic-seeming routine of sleeping all night may strike you as mildly limited and sad.
That said, if you happen to be crashing by the early morning hours, your experience will be quite different. Just about everything, from the fork holsters in Moulton Dining Hall to the distance between Kanbar and Sills will appear challenging, burdensome and miserable on a level previously unknown to mankind.
During the dark moments, just steel yourself and remember that break is days away.
This article was edited for correctness on December 9, 2011.