Friday, May 10, 2013

The Art of the All-Nighter

Inspired by my own failures to remain awake and attentive throughout the course of an entire night, I did some research and have figured out the methods and mistakes that often accompany such an event’s success or failure. For many, the all-nighter is an event that accompanies a failure to adequately plan or results from procrastination. However for a gamer, a youth minister, or a monk seeking heightened spiritual awareness (seriously) it’s an anticipated part of life. As such I write this guide for those who want (rather than need) to pull an all-nighter, but simply omitting the steps that don’t make sense for your situation should help it be applicable to all. Building on my own research and experience, I will guide you in your quest to pull an all-nighter.

Assemble the computer before you start your all-nighter
As with most things in life preparation is going to be the key. There are many things to gather and to do in order to prepare you for an all-nighter and if you’re reading this the day of, you’ll want to get started right away.
1. Set-Up – First and foremost you’ll want to set up the area you’ll be using for the all-nighter. Make sure computers are working and updated so there are no unexpected delays, make sure resources you need (pen, notebook, textbook, strategy guide, etc.) are readily available in this area so you can focus on the event rather than these little details. Be sure that your seating arrangements are somewhat uncomfortable preventing you from easily reaching a stage where you can just drift off right where you sit. You may also want to make sure there’s some energetic music going like techno, which will help you stay energized without distracting you with an overabundance of meaningful lyrics.
2. Gather Consumables – If you’re going to be awake for the entire night, you’re going to get hungry and thirsty. Typically you don’t notice this because you’re asleep, but while conscious it will be painfully obvious. Since you’ll be eating and drinking you’ll want to stock the area with food and drinks that will help you stay awake and alert without further contributing to your steady decline. Sometimes the unhealthy snack options are unavoidable, but as often as you can choose high protein, low carb snacks. A small serving will give you a small amount of extra energy consistently over the course of about an hour and a half where as a sugary snack is going to bring your energy level way up for a short time and then cause a crash. Fruits and some berries, trail mix, whole-wheat crackers with peanut butter or a low-fat cheese, and even cereal with low-fat milk are all good options (and of course there are more). Be creative and find things that you like, that you can stop yourself from eating all in one sitting (pre-portioning helps with this as fatigue lowers inhibitions), and that are not terribly disruptive to your activity (cereal doesn’t mix well with console gaming for instance).

Your drink choice is also going to be important. Water is going to be your best choice and should be included even if it’s only used as a supplement to other beverages. At least one glass every half hour should help maintain hydration and focus through the night if that’s all you’re drinking. Sugary drinks are dangerous and caffeinated ones even more so. Anything with sugar in it will have the same effect as sugary foods, causing an energy spike followed by a crash. The high protein snacks can help to mitigate this effect, but they’ll be more effective if your drinks lack sugar. While most artificial sweeteners mess with your cravings especially over a long term period, for the purposes of staying up for a single night, they offer your best compromise between just water and full on sugar. Caffeine is also dangerous for those pulling an all-nighter. While it will help you stay awake, it like sugar is a short term effect resulting in a crash afterwards. However if you have few if any plans early the following morning,  you can use caffeine to bridge the gap between night and morning by stretching out your consumption (drinking a little at a time so that a single can of soda [preferably diet] lasts about an hour and a half). Because the sodium and caffeine in the soda, coffee, or tea will increase the dehydration effect (which makes you tired) you’ll want to increase your water intake as well to 1 pint for every can or cup of soda, coffee, or tea. This will not only stave off dehydration, but keep you active with frequent trips to the bathroom. For an all-nighter drink absolutely NO ALCOHOL! Alcohol will dehydrate you, decimate your focus, increase the frequency with which you feel the need to use the bathroom (cutting into available time more than necessary) make you feel warm and sleepy, and possibly irritate anyone pulling the all-nighter with you. In certain circumstances it’s also highly inappropriate (running a lock-in for instance). If you really plan on staying awake the whole night, leave the alcohol in the cupboard.
3. Sleep – The best preparation you can do for pulling an all-nighter (assuming you have the time) is to sleep beforehand. Take a disco-nap (a short nap of no more than half an hour), take a full on hour or two nap, or just get 4 to 6 hours of sleep before the event begins. Having just woken up when things are getting started will allow you to more easily remain awake and aware through the whole night.

During the event you’ll want to make use of all the materials you gathered beforehand to help you keep up energy levels, but there’s more to it than just eating a handful of trail mix and sipping on a soda. Even with these strategies fatigue may come knocking. In order to stave it off, you’ll want to employ some additional strategies.
1. Stay Engaged – As much as possible you need to keep yourself engaged. Boredom will bring on fatigue regardless of how much energy you have at the time. Avoid mindless activities in comfortable locations as these are a sure fire way to accidently fall asleep. If you’re at a LAN party and you see an entertaining program on TV with a comfy chair complete with a decorative  yet fluffy pillow, mind the sage advice of Admiral Ackbar (“it’s a trap!” for those of your who don’t know). Switching activities each hour or so can help stave off boredom and keep you engaged longer and video games are one of the best ways to keep yourself engaged and your mind active through the whole night.
2. Stay Active – Making sure you occasionally get up, stretch, and generally move a bit every hour or so is an important step for staying conscious during an all-nighter. While it may not always be feasible (as you could be in the middle of a dungeon run) typically when it’s not you’re already engaged and as such fairly alert. A quick walk around your area, a trip to the bathroom, or a resupply run to the kitchen can suffice then you’re back on the war path, so to speak, alert and ready for the next challenge.
3. Avoid Power-Naps – You may think that going to that super comfortable couch and sleeping for five or ten minutes is a great way to shore up your reserves for the rest of the evening, but I can assure you, it’s only going to make you feel even more tired than you did before the nap. In order to get actual beneficial rest your body has to reach stage three of the sleep cycle known as R.E.M. (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. This is the state in which dreams typically occur, but they’re also not remembered. Dreams that you remember typically occur in stage two sleep, while you’re still partially aware of the outside world and before you’ve actually gotten any rest. While R.E.M. sleep comes faster to those who are more fatigued, the chances of getting any beneficial amount of R.E.M. sleep after only ten or even fifteen minutes of sleep is minimal, especially if you slept the night before your all-nighter (which I hope for your sake you did).

So the night is over. The Sun is up. You made it through the night, now to make it through the day. If you have things coming up immediately (like an exam, a presentation, or some other important task) keep doing what you’ve been doing. Stay active and engaged, eat your energy foods, and stretch out your caffeine intake supplemented with plenty of water until you can get to a comfortable place and catch some Z’s. Ultimately the only true recovery solution is going to be a good night’s sleep and additional hydration. When you’re ready to finally hit the hay, find a comfortable spot with low light and low sound and sleep for six to eight hours. Unfortunately sleeping beyond the eight hour mark won’t help you recover any lost sleep, but a couple nights of consistent sleep should do the trick quite nicely.

While an all-nighter may not always be the healthiest choice, sometimes it’s necessary, and it can even be fun. With the proper preparation and execution you can make it through with flying colors (and if you’re properly hydrating that statement can be taken literally) and the appropriate recovery techniques will have you ready for another go in no time at all. Just be sure not to push yourself too hard as you struggle to stay awake in your N3rd C0rn3r.