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It’s 10 p.m., and your big paper is due in 12 hours. You know you can’t ask for an extension, so you only have one choice: pull an all-nighter.

Almost every student has done this at least once, and many do it multiple times. Unfortunately, this is a self-defeating process, and it could end up in your grades taking a huge hit. In fact, science is against the philosophy that all-nighters are somehow an acceptable method of finishing projects.

Why Staying Up All Night Is Bad Mentally

First, it’s important to talk about why staying up all night negatively affects you. From a purely physical standpoint, it isn’t going to ruin your body if you do it now and then. Sure, you might feel a little fatigued muscle-wise, but you’ll probably be able to rebound — especially if you’re a teen or young adult. With that being said, what happens mentally is far more important.

When you deprive your brain of the rest it deserves, it quickly starts to decline in performance. In general, you’ll rapidly begin to experience:

  • A drop in mental sharpness — This is why it takes you ten minutes to put together a simple sentence at three in the morning.
  • A drop in reflexes — Are you having difficulty typing? That’s your brain telling you it needs a break.
  • An increase in mistakes — You may not notice many misspellings or grammatical errors on your paper. That’s because your brain just isn’t functioning normally.

The Problem with Caffeine

energy-drinks-caffeine

At this point, you may be worried, but you know the answer: caffeine. So you reach for a caffeine-packed energy drink, a bottle of soda or the trusty coffee pot. This, too, may not be the best answer.

Like a band-aid, caffeine just masks the real issue — it’s a cover-up. It might make you feel more awake, but it doesn’t necessarily increase your mental acuity. You’re still likely to make more mistakes when you pull an all-nighter, and you won’t feel any better in the morning. In fact, you may have a headache-inducing crash when day breaks. Sure, you’ll have a finished project to hand in, but it may only net you a subpar grade.

Additionally, caffeine causes a host of unwanted side effects, not the least of which is the constant need to go to the bathroom, as well as the tendency toward uncomfortable bowel problems. Plus, who wants the jitters? You won’t be able to focus well because the caffeine in your body is increasing your heart rate and possibly making it tough for you to string together paragraphs that make any sense at all.

This Isn’t Just Anecdotal

You might scoff and assume that all these warnings are anecdotal, but they aren’t — they are backed by science. At St. Lawrence University in New York, a study was conducted among those who pulled all-nighters on a regular basis and those who did not. One group had an average GPA of 3.1, while the other had an average GPA of 2.9. Guess which group got the lower GPA? The all-nighters, of course.

Even if you think that your all-nighter isn’t affecting you, it is. It’s stealing your memory, and it’s robbing you of your good sense. In the morning, instead of feeling glad you finished your project, you’ll start to worry about what you submitted to your instructor. Was it decent, or will it net you a terrible grade?

How to Avoid All-Nighters

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The best way to avoid all-nighters is to plan for your success. This includes:

  • Completing large projects in smaller chunks — When you know you have a big project coming up, do a little bit every day. Set a stopwatch for 15-20 minutes and just work. When the time comes to put the project together, you’ll be further along.
  • Reminding yourself of upcoming assignments — Ideally, you should mark down every assignment due date in your calendar and set automatic reminders. Set multiple reminders per assignment to ensure you get plenty of notice about the upcoming due date.
  • Working with a group — It can sometimes be helpful for those who tend to procrastinate to work on projects with other classmates. Not only does this foster a sense of camaraderie, but it’s also tougher to put off doing your work when everyone else is doing theirs.
  • Get a good night’s sleep … every night — The more often you allow your body to rest, the better it will feel. You’ll have more energy during your waking hours and be able to perform better.

Of course, if you know you won’t be able to finish a project on time, always talk with your instructor at least two weeks before the due date. You’ll be much more likely to snag an extension — just don’t procrastinate on the extension!

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