How to pull an all-nighter in university | Ontario Agricultural College

How to pull an all-nighter in university

Posted on Wednesday, November 30th, 2022

Written by Emma Cervinka

Two female students with long blonde hair working on a landscape architecture project.

Well, there you are scrolling through TikTok when you know you have a huge assignment due tomorrow. Or worse, your computer just crashed, and you have to start your essay from scratch. Or even worse, you’ve been studying since 7:00 a.m. and your to-do list is nowhere near complete.

That’s it. It’s time for the dreaded all-nighter.

In first year, I swore to myself that I would never pull an all-nigher. I thought they were for people who couldn’t manage their time, people who left things to the last minute… Four years later I look back at my 18-year-old self and laugh. I had no idea.

Sometimes there just isn’t enough time in the day. And as someone whose program’s brand is ~no sleep~, I’m here to give you my best tips to survive an all-nighter, whether it’s your first one, or your 100th.

What is an all-nighter?

The definition of an all-nighter probably varies from person to person. In my opinion, it means I’m staying up past 4:00 a.m. to finish a project. But in extreme cases, I’m staying up until my classes the next day (thankfully, I’ve only had to do this once in four years). A big part of landscape architecture is technology and group work, both of which do not always cooperate with our need for sleep, so all-nighters are pretty common in our program. 

A big part of the design world is meeting deadlines, but those deadlines don’t always cooperate with life or work commitments. So, if you’re finding yourself staring down ten hours of work due in nine, you have come to the right place. 

Tips to surviving an all-nighter in university

A person with crossed legs sitting in a bed with laptop and multiple books spread out in front of them.

1. Make an all-nighter work plan

Write down what you absolutely need to get done tonight – no ifs, ands, or buts. That’s what you need to do first. Then, define what can wait, or what you can get away with not doing tonight. Set a deadline or goal for each item on your list that needs to be done before the sun rises. What time does it all need to be done for?

Bonus tip: If you’re a Landscape Architecture student, remember to plan time to format, export and compress your files ;) InDesign can smell fear. 

At this point, my task lists are scrawled across whatever spare paper I can find, but if you’re looking for a better structure, here’s a task-list template from the Library.

2. Wake yourself up

What keeps you awake? Coffee, tea, caffeinated chocolate, RedBull, Monster, you name it. Stock up! The LA Starbucks closes at 11pm and the library Starbucks closes at 10pm most weekdays, so be sure to get there in time. If you miss it, there’s always the library vending machines. Check out the Hospitality operation hours here.

Sometimes we know the storm is coming, If you know you’re going to need to forgo sleep, try to get a decent sleep the night before your all-nighter, It can really help get you through.

Bonus tip: I personally love a good cat nap at 3:00 a.m. Even 20 minutes can boost productivity. Just don’t forget to set an alarm, or several. 

3. Get some late-night snacks, or eat a solid meal

Three containers of bright fruit and vegetables, that includes peppers, cucumbers, carrots and berries.

Your brain needs fuel to get you through a long night. Drink lots of water and try to snack on something healthy like fruits or veggies. Nutrient-rich snacks will help keep your energy up and avoid late-night sugar crashes. Be sure to eat a solid meal as well - make time for dinner and breakfast even if you’re rushing around to get assignments submitted! I usually like to snack on berries, trail mix or chocolate – there’s not much time to cook. Here are some examples of brain food for studying. 

4. Choose a soundtrack to get that assignment done

Find something that helps you get into the groove and stay focused on the work ahead. I have tried Mario music, classical, white noise, ambience videos and the radio. Sometimes I’ll even put on a show I’ve seen a million times, just so it won’t distract me. Maybe binging that brand new Netflix show in the background isn’t the most productive choice.

I know many of us are probably familiar with this lofi hip-hop study beats YouTube live… she’s there 24/7.

5. Set alarms for studying, sleeping and deadlines

I have dozed off only to wake up in a panic countless times. Avoid this by setting an hourly alarm or reminder to make sure you’re keeping track of time and staying awake. 

Pro tip: Make it the most annoying alarm sound you can think of. 

6. Take a study break or a step back

Looking at a computer for hours on end isn’t great for your eyes or your brain. Take a break and walk around, grab a snack, do some stretches, lay on the floor (not your bed… bad idea), whatever you’d like. I love to use the Pomodoro technique (Pomodoro timer) to help my breaks have a structure, and to work towards a reward. 

As tempting as it is, try to avoid scrolling on social media during your breaks. It’s just another screen to stare at and you can easily end up scrolling mindlessly for 30 minutes – and that’s 30 minutes you could use for a nap. 

After the all-nighter

A person laying in bed holding their glasses in their hand and a pillow on their face.

Firstly, if you need to get to class, or work, get moving and get some coffee (or your caffeinated beverage of choice)! There’s time to sleep later. 

Otherwise, congratulations! You’ve made it through, submitted your assignment(s) and now it’s time to get some rest. You deserve some relaxation. And… maybe some reflection to help yourself not have to do it again! It’s a lot nicer to set up a work plan when you get a project and work at an assignment piece by piece than all at once – and it probably translates to better grades.

Time management is a life skill, and a difficult one to master, no matter how organized you are. So, maybe next time you’re scrambling at the last minute your goal can be to be in bed before 4am, and with time, a full night’s sleep will come.

About the blogger: Emma is a fourth-year student in the landscape architecture program at the University of Guelph. Despite her campaigning for the importance of sleep, and her best attempts at organization, she still falls victim to the dreaded all-nighter at least once a month.

In this series of blog posts, OAC students take us through some of the ups and downs of their journeys at the University of Guelph.

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