All-Nighters Are For Owls

Billy Ferguson/ Fourth Estate


One of the best pieces of advice I have ever heard from a professor is that no perfect paper is ever written at three in the morning. A passable paper, sometimes. But a truly good paper? No. Poets may swear by the inspirational light of the moon as a muse for sublime writing, but when you are attempting a close reading of those poets, it certainly helps to write that literary analysis in bright daylight after a good night of sleep.

The temptation to stay up all night to cram for an overwhelming cumulative test, finish a crushing project or write a grueling paper is an all too prevalent practice in colleges across the country—for that matter, across the world! How many young people have pumped their hearts full of late-night coffee and forsaken their pillows for the sake of a few frantic hours of frenzied work? Some students swear by it, insisting that the pressure is the only thing which can convince them to get their projects done. Everyone has a different work ethic, that’s true, but the way that we approach deadlines can have a huge impact on our mental and physical health.

If anything, we tend to make light of the negative physical impacts of staying up all night. There are countless memes, jokes and funny gif images to draw a tired smile out of students who can easily sympathize with the struggle of holding their eyes open. Sleep deprivation isn’t a newly discovered phenomenon, and the red, puffy eyes of a tired student are not an uncommon sight. Fatigue, headaches and increased appetites are all consequences of denying your body the rest it demands. To add insult to injury in that increased appetite, many people tend to have high sugar cravings to compensate for the lack of energy. Our bodies are very clear about how a lack of sleep limits their ability to function. But what about our minds?

Pulling an all-nighter is problematic for the mind in two ways. First of all, there is the obvious lack of sleep. Secondly, there is the question of why you are staying up in the first place. The heavy burden of frantic stress that accompanies a last-minute rush to finish an assignment is not something that just comes and goes without leaving a mark. The lack of sleep can cause feelings of nervousness, anxiety, irritability, depression and lethargy. The stress of rushing through that paper, project or final study session only heightens the symptoms of sleep deprivation.

A lack of confidence in the quality of your schoolwork can follow, which is not misplaced when the assignment you are handing in was drafted in the dead of night. Studies have shown that late-night cramming for a test will not improve your grade, no matter how convinced you are that staring bleary-eyed at your flashcards will suddenly result in miraculous memorization.

What is the point in enduring all of this unless it results in a stellar grade? If the grade tends to fall within a range of passable to poor and the ordeal you endured to get it damages your body and mind, why on earth do it?

Desperation and stress work together to compose the deceptive siren song of an all-nighter, but there is a way to avoid falling into that trap. It’s easier said than done, but it truly is crucial to plan ahead and budget your time so that you do not feel compelled to stay up until the crack of dawn. Owls may be a symbol for education, but that doesn’t mean we should mimic their sleep-schedule.