Pulling the All Nighter: Does It Really Work?

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Most nights at four in the morning, Nicholas Kostreski, a sophomore aerospace engineering major at the University of Maryland, College Park, is fast asleep in his bed. Usually, he’s dreaming of rock climbing or riding around campus on his unicycle—two of his favorite hobbies. But this night is special. Kostreski has something very different on his mind: space flight dynamics. And he’s about to pull an all nighter.

“I’m probably pulling an all-nighter tonight,” said Kostreski one Monday night in April, when he was constructing a miniature airplane. “Sometimes it’s just something you have to do.”

But is the all nighter really going to help Kostreski pull off a passing grade?

This all-too-common study habit plagues most students at one time or another, who suddenly find themselves unprepared for an exam or assignment that seems to creep in out of nowhere.

During an all-nighter, one stays up the entire night to study for an exam the following day or to finish a project that is due. All-nighters can be fueled by sheer will or unhealthy amounts of caffeine—found in sodas, coffee or, in dire situations, a Red Bull Energy Drink. Fortunately for Kostreski, long nights turn into a sunrise viewing only a couple times a semester. Others in the university’s A. James Clark School of Engineering may not be as lucky.

“The program is rigorous enough to weed out the weak,” Kostreski said, blaming the need for all-night studying sessions on poor communication between professors, who seem to schedule all their exams on the same day. “But to be able to survive, it’s not that bad.”

Legally Blonde

Some students like Gary Jon Martin, a business major, have never had to experience the dreaded all-nighter. “I manage my time wisely,” Martin said. “I always go to my lecturers and stay up with the material…I usually only need to study the day before a test for three hours.” Though Kostreski may call his marathon study sessions “the engineer’s all-nighter,” the ritual is not exclusive to engineering majors.

“I’ve pulled an all-nighter when i had to write a 10-page paper,” said Marc Gimbel, a sophomore government and politics major also from the University of Maryland. “It was almost a pre-planned thing. I put it off…I just procrastinate on everything.”

Student workload management experts warn that most all-nighters hinder a student’s ability to retain any of the information they ingested that night. This could create an even bigger problem when final exams roll around, they said.

“People do get themselves in a crunch, but [the all-nighter] is a lousy use of time,” said William Holliday, a university researcher and lecturer on learning techniques. “I know students are very busy, and they have a heavy social and academic life… but you’ve got to allocate your time.

pulling an all nighter the social network

The Social Network

But Shirley Browner, an academics skills counselor at the University Counseling Center’s Learning Assistance Service, concedes that an all-nighter can sometimes help students pass a test.

“Cramming can work,” Browner said. “It’s not going to stay with the person over time for any length of time, but people can pull it out at times…but it’s not something i would advocate. It’s not a healthy thing to do.”

David Yager, a neuroscientist who teaches classes on sleep and biological rhythms, said staying up all night before an exam is “a terrible idea” because the brain more permanently retains information during the body’s idle period.

Sleep is required for learning, and a substantial amount of sleep after studying will increase your performance,” he said. “Also, be sure you get up at least an hour before the exam, preferably an hour and a half, because it takes you at least that long to shake off the sleep, called ‘sleep inertia.’”

Browner and Holliday suggest students keep a schedule of tasks due in all of their classes, and study notes for an hour or two before and after lectures. By doing this, students will actively learn the material, instead of just memorizing it temporarily. When all hope is lost in the hours leading up to a test, students have one last option. “Engage in some hoping and prayer,” Holliday said. “They say that prayers will never be outlawed as long as we have exams.”

A Slacker’s Schedule for an All Nighter

10:00 pm Denial

11:00 pm Freak out about your unwritten paper

12:00 am First paragraph finished, checking Facebook

1:00 am 10 minute power nap and then productivity

2:00 am Red Bull break

3:00 am Ask friends in the class how far along they are and complain to one another

4:00 am Productivity

5:00 am Beat highest Snood score

6:00 am Save paper five times in a row

7:00 am Printer doesn’t work! Panic as the sun rises

Mark Millan > University of Maryland College Park > Sophomore > Journalism

*Originally published in College Magazine’s print publication, Fall 2007 issue.

Thinking of pulling an all nighter?

Don’t go into the depths of the night without a game plan. Read “How to Pull an All Nighter for Finals Week” to prepare your mind, body, soul and snack bag for what your night will need.

how to pull an all nighter for finals week

And without an almost distraction-free zone to study, you can kiss your passing grade goodbye. Finding the perfect study spot for your all nighter will make you a cramming champion. College Magazine writers and readers across the country know all the hidden spots on campus to crack open your books. Find out where you need to set up study camp at your campus:

So you survived the All Nighter. Get your sleep schedule back on track.

*Updated July 18, 2018 to include College Magazine resources on how to pull an all nighter, where to study and how to get your sleep schedule back on track.

College Magazine Staff

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