How to pull an all-nighter effectively and still do well on your exam
Cramming weeks of biology or accounting material into the 12 hours prior to the exam is a prevalent trend on college campuses. It is amazing to me how many students are able to stay up all night and then take an exam. Our sleep and wakefulness cycles are governed by the circadian rotation of the earth, and overriding these cycles is extremely difficult, and so So I guess you deserve kudos for that in a semi-backwards way!
According to Dr. Charmane Eastman, director of Biological Rhythms Research Laboratory at a medical center in Chicago, what makes interrupting these cycles so difficult is that they exist even in the absence of time cues such as sunlight and clocks.
Part of the issue is that most students enter the 12-hour “all-nighter” period without having slept the previous 12 hours, so their brain is already working less efficiently.
Unfortunately, there is no way to beat the clock completely as staying up all night takes a toll on both your physical and mental performance. However, Penn State undergraduate studies say that understanding exactly what is happening to your body’s natural rhythms throughout the night can help all the night owls out there maximize brain power.
10 – 11 p.m.:This varies for most people but around 11 p.m., the first yawns start to occur as your usual bedtime is approaching. Taking an early evening nap will slow your body’s decline around this time.
11 p.m. – 12 a.m.: Your body temperature will begin to fall as it mimics the circadian rhythm cycle. If the room you are studying in was comfortable, it may now feel cold. Instead of turning up the heat (which can put some people to sleep), throw on a sweater or jacket. At this point, caffeine is not your friend. It will make you feel antsy and anxious. It will also be less and less effective the later (or earlier) it gets. Reach for a light, healthy snack if you feel the urge to chug a Starbucks beverage.
1 a.m. – 2 a.m.: The best strategy is to study the toughest material first because it requires the most brain power. Save the easier work for the early morning hours as you will probably be exhausted and much less motivated. Exercise can also help with drowsiness so drop and give me twenty! Just teasing … but going for a short walk can definitely help you feel invigorated. Relocating can also be helpful.
This is also about the time you start feeling hungry so snacking is the best way to defeat drowsiness. Obviously, you want to avoid eating a four-course meal. Grabbing a yogurt, cottage cheese, fruits or vegetables is going to be your best bet. Iced tea, club soda and fruit juice will be more beneficial than coffee or soda. Chocolate milk is another hidden treasure as it provides both caffeine and sugar. Can’t beat that!
4 a.m. – 5 a.m.: You’re probably feeling pretty darn good at this point as the second wind is kicking in. Shortly following this is the desire to take a “quick” nap because your biological clock is ticking quite slowly. If you have between one and two hours to spare, I would recommend taking a nap because waking up will be easier than if you just doze off for 15 minutes.
6 a.m. – 7 a.m.: Go outside and view every all-nighter’s ultimate reward: the sunrise. Grab a light breakfast consisting of some carbohydrates and protein (or one of the two) but try and avoid as much fat as you can. Fat takes awhile to digest, which can make you feel sluggish.
8 a.m.: TEST TIME APPROACHING. A great pre-exam plan is to exercise, shower and eat a high-protein, low-fat breakfast (I would take advantage of the pit omelet station for some egg whites with veggies).
After the test is over, the carbohydrate-deprived can now binge on pasta, bread and cereal in preparation for sleep. To get your body back on track, taking a one to two hour nap will be more effective than sleeping all day. And congratulations! You have successfully defeated your circadian rhythm!
Just don’t make it a habit.