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Stay Up Late
A harm-reduction guide to all-nighters
by Emily Zimmerman
A few too many nights out, a misread syllabus or a bad case of writer’s block, and suddenly a deadline that was weeks away is somehow tomorrow morning. A paper is going to have to be completed, possibly even started, between now and then.
In the course of a university career, most of us will have to pull at least one all-nighter.
Prairie dog does not endorse this kind of irresponsible behaviour among students but we know it’s going to happen. There are a few things you can do to make the experience a little less hellish. So pour yourself a big cup of coffee and pay attention.
First, give up any notion of writing a perfect paper. The object of the all-nighter is to turn in something that’s complete, not something that’s perfect.
Now that you’ve accepted the fact that you’re going to be working on this paper all night, the temptation will be to procrastinate even further. Why not stick around to watch Mad Men with your friends if you’re going to be up all night anyway? Fight this urge and get to down to work. Your best writing is not going to happen at four in the morning. Get a nice coherent outline done in the early evening, so you can be spellchecking by the time you start to lose your faculties.
Don’t over-caffeinate yourself. Jitters or a stomach ache are not going to help you write a logical argument. Eat some protein-rich snacks, like peanuts or chickpeas, and drink plenty of water.
Get up and stretch your legs every hour or so. A little light exercise will wake up your brain in a useful way, and shake off the cramps from being hunched over the computer for eight hours.
In the morning, your only goal for the day should be to hand in the paper. Check with your prof to see if they’ll accept it by e-mail. Many won’t. If you have to submit it in person, don’t drive. Consider yourself basically drunk: a full night without sleep will mess up your vision and judgment.
Cancel or skip out on any non-essential appointments that day. If there’s something you really need to do, try to get it done in the morning when you’re still running on adrenaline and (not too much) caffeine.
As you collapse into bed (probably sometime in the late afternoon), you’ll probably be promising yourself to never, ever do an all-nighter again. Let’s pretend for a moment that you aren’t just deluding yourself. Think of a few ways that you can schedule your life better. A giant wall calendar might help you to keep better track of your assignments. Remember that if you have a legitimate reason (illness, family emergency, four essays due in three days) many profs can be approached about an extension.
Try not to make a habit of this. It’s easy to convince yourself that this is the only way you can write, to get a kick of the last-minute adrenaline. But sometimes, you’ve just gotta get that paper on the teacher’s desk. So take care of business and don’t let this happen again.