Remember when you were a kid and all you wanted to do was stay up late? When you’d say anything just to stay up for five more minutes, even if your parents were watching the news? You’d find yourself putting on a big show about how “not tired” you were, trying to push bedtime as far away as possible.
You know what I’m talking about. Don’t even try to deny that you did all of those things. When we were young, it was like bedtimes were more of a challenge than a rule—and after a year and a half of post-secondary education, it’s clear that we were all wrong.
Sleep is neither a rule nor a challenge. It’s a privilege.
Following my first, and hopefully last, all-nighter last Tuesday/Wednesday, I’ve only just started to return to my normal self. Tuesday evening began with the intent to have my history paper done for midnight. I had made decent headway in the previous couple of days, and with 4 or 5 solid hours of work I could be free of potatoes and the colour green. (My paper was on Ireland, just for some context.) These intentions were noble, but obviously not achievable for someone of my attention span. The projected 4 hours of work turned into 2 hours of eating, then another two hours of work mixed with frequent Facebook checks. After all of that, though, I felt that I deserved a break. So, at 11:30 p.m., I set an alarm and lay down for a 20-minute nap.
Waking up at 2:30 a.m. (that’s only 20 minutes, right?), I attempted to further recharge my battery with caffeine-free Pepsi. Honestly, that stuff makes no sense. Anyway, for some reason that didn’t help and, up until 5a.m. when I finally completed my paper, my bed constantly beckoned.
I was fortunate not to have class the next day, but getting to school after only 2 hours of sleep is not a fun trip. I had pushed my body to a point of fatigue that I had not experienced in a long time and was suffering the consequences. I actually felt hung over. I was hungry, but not; tired, but wide awake. At any minute I was going to snap.
Having never done a true all-nighter on a paper, I was not prepared for the amount of time I would need to recover and even more unprepared for the toll it would take on my writing. Rereading my paper the following morning at 7 a.m. was laughable. Sentences made practically no sense and there was little to no coherence between paragraphs. I also happened to nod off during my conclusion. Luckily, I had some amazing editing help (something I thought would never be available at 7 in the morning and am forever grateful for) and finally finished the essay for real this time.
During this midterm (nearing finals) time of year, the all-nighter may seem like your only option. If you can’t avoid it, here are a few things that might help:
- Caffeine-free is not your friend (obviously): I realize the “duh” factor in this tip is off the charts, but I just thought I would make sure we’re all crystal clear on this.
- 20-minute power naps are fine: 3-hour naps are not. Don’t just set one alarm. Tell a roommate, a parent, a sibling to come wake you up when you need to be. We can’t all rely on erratic sleep patterns like me.
- Arrange for editing: Ask a friend you can rely on to help edit your paper when you are done. Hopefully they won’t mind getting up early, and even more important, hopefully they got a full night’s sleep!
- DO make it fun: I know, it’s not easy to do when writing a paper, especially for an elective you’d rather not be taking. I challenged myself to find a way to work a little sexual innuendo into my arguments, and this self-imposed goal made the whole process a little more bearable at 3 a.m.
Anyway, I sincerely hope you do not have to pull an all-nighter any time soon. It’s my goal to get my work done well in advance, but let’s face it, I don’t have the best track record.
As always, good luck to those of you writing midterms, writing papers, living off coffee! Winter break is coming soon, I promise!
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