man sitting at desk to pull an all nighter
Sleep Health

How To Pull An All-Nighter: 10 Tips to Staying Up All Night

    Last Updated
    April 11, 2022
    min read

    There are many reasons why you may want or need to stay awake all night. Maybe you need to prepare for a test or were scheduled for an overnight shift.

    Although missing too many nights’ sleep is far from ideal, most people choose to stay awake for a night on occasion. If you’re going to do so, it’s important to be prepared. Here’s how to pull an all-nighter successfully.

    How To Prepare For An All-Nighter

    Like with most things in life, you'll be able to conquer your all-nighter better if you plan ahead. In fact, the choices you make the day before an all-nighter can help you have a more positive experience and resume your normal sleep cycle after a night of lost sleep.

    1. Get A Good Night's Sleep The Night Before

    Sleep debt is cumulative, meaning that the less sleep you get, the more debt you'll incur and the more your cognitive performance (and overall health) will suffer. For example, if you only get three hours of sleep each night for a week, you'll accumulate a sleep debt of 21 hours in total.

    As such, make sure to get as much sleep at night as you can before subjecting yourself to continuous hours of sleep deprivation.

    2. Plan Ahead

    Whenever possible, you should plan ahead for your all-nighter. Since lost sleep is hard on your body, you don’t want to stay awake all night unless it’s truly necessary. Make sure you know exactly what you need to accomplish and set clear goals for yourself.

    For example, let’s say you need to wrap up a 15-page research paper overnight. First, determine how many hours you have to devote to the task at hand. If you have eight hours, you need to write nearly two pages per hour to stay on track. Creating a course of action will keep you on track and help you make adjustments to meet your goals.

    You should also have supplies you need readily available. For a research paper writing session, you’ll need a computer or laptop and a bright desk lamp. You’ll also need to know how to adjust the temperature in your room or have layers of clothes ready to keep you warm to promote alertness.

    3. Take An Afternoon Nap

    Do you know how long you can go without sleep? If you're not used to pulling all-nighters, it's a good idea to take a power nap or a caffeine nap in the afternoon. This will give you an extra boost of energy later when you tackle the night shift.

    What is a caffeine nap, you might ask? A caffeine nap involves drinking coffee before taking a short nap of 20 minutes or less. According to scientists, it takes about 20 minutes for caffeine to enter your bloodstream and energize you. It can also block adenosine receptors in your brain, a chemical that can make you feel tired.

    4. Be Smart About Your Snacks

    If you decide to pull an all-nighter, be mindful of your food choices. For many people, late nights are a prime time for snacking on junk foods full of carbs and sugar. Not only are those snacks unhealthy, but they can also make it harder for you to stay awake. Simple carbs, like rice and bread, can even induce drowsiness.

    However, eating during your all-nighter can help you stay awake. Instead of big meals, opt for small, frequent snack breaks. Skip the sugary foods and choose protein-rich options like chicken, tuna, nuts, and protein shakes. You can also enjoy your favorite fresh fruits and veggies, such as apples, carrots, or oranges. Spicy foods, condiments, and chocolate can also increase alertness.

    The bottom line is: swapping out empty calories for nutrient-rich food choices can fuel your next all-nighter.

    How To Stay Up All Night

    What can help you successfully pull an all-nighter? Consider everything from your environment to food, drink, sounds, scents, and activities. By creating the right atmosphere, you can stay alert throughout the night.

    It’s also a good idea to know exactly what you want to achieve and establish clear goals for yourself. By following a few smart steps, you can learn how to pull an all-nighter.

    5. Hydrate

    Water won't necessarily keep you awake, but it'll keep you from becoming dehydrated, which can make you feel fatigued and sluggish. Ice-cold water is the best drink for pulling an all-nighter. Aim to consume two or three glasses of cold water each hour.

    If you feel like reaching for a high-sugar caffeinated beverage, like an energy drink, you should pause. Although you may get a brief jolt of energy, you’ll crash after the sugar wears off. You’ll end up feeling more tired and could find yourself dozing off.

    A single cup of black tea or coffee can give you enough caffeine for the night. Drink tea or coffee slowly, in small sips, for optimal effects.

    6. Take Breaks

    Staying in the same spot for hours is almost certain to dim your energy. That’s why taking regular breaks is a must during an all-nighter.

    At a minimum, you should aim for a quick movement break every 45 minutes. If you’re studying or working, step away from your space and do some light stretches or take a short walk. These brief activity breaks will help you stay energetic and alert.

    Also, be sure to give your eyes a short break at regular intervals. Long hours at a computer can cause eye strain and fatigue. Take a few moments to pause from your work and look away from your screen. Focus on something in the distance to help you relax your eye muscles.

    7. Work In A Well-lit Room

    How much light we're exposed to at night affects how well we can sleep. This is because light can suppress the production of melatonin.

    In fact, a study found that as long as our eyes continue to perceive light, the part of our brains that produces melatonin won't kick up the production. This is why good sleep hygiene involves avoiding the blue light from our screens an hour before bedtime.

    But if you're planning on staying up late, naturally, you'll want to do the opposite. Working in dimly lit rooms will only make you sleepy, so keep the lights on if you want to stay awake.

    8. Get Some Fresh Air

    Going outdoors is always a great way to boost your energy, raise your body temperature, and promote alertness. If you need to stay up well into the morning, get some sun, too. A bit of sunshine in your eyes can help you feel alert and awake.

    9. Chew Gum

    During an all-nighter, you can chew gum to help you stay awake. Chewing gum stimulates your facial muscles and can increase blood flow to your brain. Also, note that mint can improve cognitive function and memory. This makes mint gum a good choice for college students who care about academic success.

    10. Try Aromatherapy

    Specific scents can promote wakefulness and help you pull an all-nighter. It’s a good idea to keep some scents readily available to help you stay awake. A few great examples include candles, room sprays, and essential oil diffusers.

    Which scents work best? It’s no surprise that the aroma of coffee can inspire alertness. After all, coffee is one of the most popular morning pick-me-up beverages in the world. Peppermint is another go-to scent that can help you feel energized. You might also try citrus scents. Other scents that promote energy and wakefulness include rosemary and eucalyptus.

    Is It A Good Idea To Pull An All-Nighter?

    While it can be necessary to pull an all-nighter every now and then, frequent nights of missed sleep can cause unwanted health consequences, so don't overdo it. A sleepless night or two should be okay, but chronic sleep deprivation could harm your body in countless ways.

    Sleeping too little can cause you to have sleep debt, making you feel mentally or physically fatigued. Incur too much sleep debt and you can end up enduring a disrupted metabolism, diabetes, and even anxiety and depression.

    According to researchers, staying awake for just 24 hours straight can decrease one's mental performance to that of someone who has a blood alcohol content of 0.10%, well over the legal limit for driving in the US. So, how much sleep do you actually need to function properly? The answer varies from person to person, but sleep experts suggest staying awake for no longer than 24 hours.

    Another study found that just one night of sleep deprivation can dramatically increase one's risk of being in a vehicular accident. According to the NHTSA, drowsy driving-related crashes killed 697 people in 2019 alone.

    Keep these risks in mind when you’re contemplating how to pull an all-nighter.

    Know How To Pull An All-Nighter...And Recover

    Nearly everyone pulls the occasional all-nighter. From college students juggling busy course loads to doctors with intense jobs, all-nighters can be necessary at times. But remember that sleep deprivation (especially chronic sleep deprivation) comes with risks, from a decrease in performance the next day to long-term effects like heart disease and obesity.

    If you truly need to pull an all-nighter, plan ahead. Know why you’re staying up, what you must accomplish, and create a detailed timeline and goals to accomplish.


    About the authors

    Cecilia Gillen

    Cecilia brings over five years of writing experience primarily centered around lifestyle and health topics. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Media and Journalism from the University of South Dakota. She’s both an advocate for sleep and a night owl at heart.