How to Study All Night

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Students of any age often have tests, papers, or other assignments that may require staying up all night. Although it is generally a bad idea to pull all-nighters because it can impair your memory and concentration, you may occasionally need to stay awake through the night to study.[1] It can be a challenge to study without any sleep, but if you keep yourself comfortable, stay alert and study efficiently, you can pull an all-nighter with relative ease.


Studying Efficiently Through the Night

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    Figure out what you need to study. Chances are that if you have to stay up all night, it will require that you study specific information. Finding out exactly what you material you need to study can help you formulate a plan to effectively get through the night.[2]

    • Check your syllabus and carefully read through the instructions or information on the material you need to know. Check your class notes to see if the teacher or professor made any special announcements you should consider when formulating your plan.
    • Make a list of all of the material you need to cover over the course of the night. Prioritize which information is most important for your exam or assignment and put that at the top of your list. You may also want to put less relevant topics for later in the night.[3]
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    Gather necessary materials. Lecture notes and course readings are an integral part of any class. Having these materials at your fingertips can help you keep your work flow going and, in turn, study more efficiently throughout the night.

    • Make sure you have your notes, books, and any other materials you might need. This includes extra paper to take notes, pens, your computer with power cord, and any snacks and beverages you need. This will keep you from getting up unnecessarily and disrupting your concentration and schedule.
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    Set a schedule. Since you know you only have a set number of hours to study at night, it’s a good idea to make a strict schedule for yourself to follow. This can help you stay focused and on task throughout the night.[4]

    • Dedicate time to the most important material you need to study. Conversely, you might want to spend more time on material with which you’re less acquainted. Consider putting either earlier in your study session or after a break so that your brain can retain the information more effectively.
    • Be as specific as possible for each section of time and remember to build in breaks. For example, you could write: “8:00pm to 9:00pm: read pages 60-100 of history textbook; 9:00 to 9:15pm: break; 9:15 to 10:15pm: read pages covering primary documents 4-10 in history sourcebook; 10:15 to 10:30pm: break.”


Use your best study methods. Every person has a different style of learning. Knowing how you study best can help you tackle getting through the night in the most effective way. It may also help you retain information better.[5]

  • Think about when you’ve pulled all-nighters in the past or the conditions under which you’ve studied most easily. For example, you might need total silence, so you could study in a library or at home. If you need a little noise or commotion to focus, consider working at an all-night café.
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    Take notes as you study. Having a notebook and pen handy can help you retain information as you study through the night. It’s important to take your notes by hand, though, because you’ll learn and understand the material much more effectively than if you type them into a computer.[6]

    • Write only the most important points or keep a list of keywords or headings with a short 3-6 word explanation.[7] Keeping notes may also help you stay awake and alert throughout the evening.
    • Review your notes the next day before the exam or when your assignment is due.
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    Pace yourself through the night. It’s important to work methodically and stick to your schedule as much as possible through the night. This will ensure that you get through the material you need to cover without getting tired.

    • Review your schedule before you start to remind yourself what you need to accomplish.
    • Break down each assignment into manageable sections. For example, if you have to read 40 pages in an hour before a break, aim to read 10 pages every 15 minutes. Likewise, if you’re working on math problems, you might want to get 15 problems done every 30 minutes. Your pace might require a bit of tweaking throughout the night, but sticking to a basic and manageable formula may help you most effectively get through the material.
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    Study with a group of people. If there are several people studying the same material, consider asking some to make a study group. Having a group that does work together or exchanges ideas may help you stay awake and alert and get through required material in a more effective way.

    • Consider splitting up the workload among participants and then presenting individual sections to one another. Every person has different learning styles and strengths. Material you may not know well someone else may have studied or understood better. When each person presents, ask questions to clarify points you don’t understand.[8]
    • Be aware that study groups can often turn into social groups as members get tired. Sticking to a schedule and a work plan for every person can make sure that you learn the material effectively. You may find that just having people around you to study is sufficient to keep you awake and alert through the night.
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    Stop studying. After about 8-10 hours of studying, you’re likely to be very tired and may be stressed and confused by your work. Set aside your study materials and allow yourself to get a few hours sleep if you can. Remember that even a nap of 90 minutes can help you refresh and refocus for the day.[9]

Staying Alert All Night

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    Turn up the lights. Bright white light stimulates your body to stay awake. Making sure there is enough bright light in the place you chose to study all night can keep you from getting drowsy and may help you concentrate better on the material you need to cover.

    • Find a place with a bright white light source. If you are studying at home, consider switching out your normal light bulb for higher watt, clear option.
    • Consider getting a mini-light or lamp to illuminate the material you are reading or consulting. This may provide further stimulation to your brain to keep you awake and alert.
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    Avoid distractions. If you’re up all hours studying, it can be tempting to keep your devices and chat messengers open for stimulation. This can distract from your study session and ultimately harm your performance on the test or assignment.

    • Turn off your phone or tablet if possible. If not, consider switching the sound to silent so you’re not tempted to check it every time it sends you an alert.
    • Let your friends and family know that you need to study and they should not contact you during the evening unless it’s an emergency.
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    Chew gum or suck on a mint. Having something to occupy your mouth may help you get through the night. Mint gum or candies can also improve your mood and increase alertness.

    • Chew any kind of gum because it will help you stay alert.
    • Consider keeping a small vial of peppermint oil close by to smell. Its scent can stimulate your brain and help you memorize more information.[12]
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    Draw or doodle. If you find your ability to concentrate waning, try drawing or doodling on a spare sheet of paper. Doing something creative like doodling, drawing, or even rolling a piece of clay may make you more alert and relaxed.

    • Doodle, draw, or do something else for no more than 10 minutes. Consider rolling something in your hand or gripping a stress ball while you’re reading. This may soothe you and help you focus better.
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    Have a snack. Studying all night can require a lot of energy. Eating a snack every couple of hours can help you stay alert and give you a chance to relax. Eat something light with protein like a piece of cheese, fresh fruit, a granola bar, or some pretzels. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich is also a good option.

    • Make sure to have a cup or bottle of water with your snack to stay hydrated.
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    Give yourself short breaks. If you are concentrating on material and information diligently, you’re likely to get tired and lose focus. After 60-90 minutes of studying, you should give yourself a 10-15 minute break to refresh and refocus.[15]

    • Go for a short walk, pace the room, or do some light yoga or stretching. Any activity will circulate your blood, oxygenate your brain, relax your body, and help you get back into the flow of work.
    • Take the opportunity to use the bathroom if necessary.
    • Avoid pushing through the 60-90 minute time frame without a break. This could make you more tired, affect your mood, and even less efficient at learning.



Being Comfortable All Night

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    Bank sleep. You may know in advance of an upcoming assignment or test that may require you to stay up all night. Anticipating this by slightly changing your sleep patterns may make it easier to stay awake all night when the time arrives.[16] Remember to not bank sleep too often because it can backfire and hurt your stamina and ability to effectively study.

    • Go to bed earlier or wake up later in the days before you know you’re going to have to study all night. You don’t need to alter your schedule by much, just an extra hour or two can help you stay up all night. This extra time can cue your body to the all-nighter as well as give you some extra hours of sleep reserve on which to draw when the night comes.
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    Take a nap. If you didn’t anticipate having to study all night, you can take a “prophylactic nap” to help get yourself through the evening. This can not only help you push through the night, but may also boost your memory, creativity, mood, alertness, and cognitive performance.[17]

    • Sleep for 90 minutes between 1 and 3 pm for optimal performance. If you decide to take a brief nap during the night, napping between 1 and 3 am can also help your study session. Either way, a 90 minute nap can be as effective as napping for three hours.
    • Be aware that the effects of napping last only 8-10 hours. You might want to consider taking a brief nap just before you begin studying to get you through the night.
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    Eat light and stay hydrated. If you’re going to be up all night, you want to keep yourself not only comfortable, but also properly fueled. Make sure to drink water throughout the day to keep yourself hydrated, which can also improve the way you feel and keep you alert. In addition, making sure to eat light meals will promote alertness and fuel your study session without weighing you down or making you feel lethargic.

    • Drink at least 8 ounces of water every hour throughout the day and during your all-nighter. Dehydration can cause fatigue and decrease alertness. It may also cause headaches or dizziness that could prevent you from studying effectively.
    • Feel free to drink coffee or tea, but be aware that it may not help you stay awake longer or be more alert.[18] In fact, if you’ve been drinking a lot of caffeine or even energy drinks, they may make you jittery and unable to effectively study.[19]
    • Avoid alcohol in the days and hours before an all night study session. This can make you drowsy and unable to concentrate.
    • Stay away from heavy meals the day you have to pull an all-nighter. Heavy foods divert blood away from your brain to aid in digestion. Consider lighter choices such as soup and a salad with a protein like chicken. These can increase your energy to get through the night without weighing you down.
    • Avoid foods with too much sugar, which may decrease your alertness and negatively affect your mood. Consider going for a ten minute walk instead. This can give you more energy, relax you and improve alertness.[20]
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    Wear comfortable clothing. Not being comfortable can make an all night study session drag on and feel like torture. Choose comfortable articles of clothing that allow you to move and won’t get tighter over the course of the night.[21]

    • Choose pants and tops that are not form fitting. For example, a pair of skinny jeans instead of sweats or yoga pants could make your legs fall asleep.[22] Consider layering your tops depending on where you are studying. This can keep you from getting too cold or too hot during the night. For example, wear a light t-shirt with a sweatshirt or sweater and a light scarf. You can add or pull off each article as you need.
    • Wear comfortable shoes. If you’re sitting for a long period of time, your feet might swell. This can make any shoes you wear uncomfortable. Consider wearing slippers, running shoes, or flat shoes.[23]
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    Sit with proper posture. Sitting up straight can keep you alert and help you avoid tension in your neck and shoulders.[24] Maintaining proper posture throughout the night may help you study more effectively and get through the night more easily.[25]

    • Make sure you are in a chair with a back, which offers support and will help you sit properly and stay alert. Keeping your feet on the floor will help you sit in a proper position. [26]
    • Keep your head and neck in a neutral, straight position. Pull in your abs, straighten your back and push back your shoulders, all of which will help you get enough oxygen to keep you awake and alert. Avoid slouching as much as possible because it may make you drowsy.
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    Stretch your legs. Every hour, get up or do small stretching movements with your legs. This can not only give you a much needed mini-break, but also help you stay alert by circulating blood throughout your body.[27]

    • Try different movements and stretches such as pushing your legs forward, pushing and pulling your toes towards and away from you, and doing ankle and wrist circles.
    • Consider getting up to stretch if it doesn’t interrupt or bother anyone in your general vicinity.

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