Survive the All-Nighter & Slay the Exam

Tips for a painless and productive study session

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Pulling an all-nighter to study for an exam or write a paper can be rough, but it’s something you may end up doing from time to time. While we can’t say that skipping sleep is a good study strategy — because sleep is crucial to memory, cognition, learning, and other brain functions — we have a few tips that can make your last-minute cram session more bearable and productive, and keep your brain sharp so you can ace that test or polish that paper the next day. 

Stock up on sleep beforehand. 

If you know you’ll have to pull an all-nighter ahead of time, sleep as much as you can on the days and nights, or even the afternoon, leading up to it. Sleep is something you can “bank” over short periods of time, by getting a little extra in advance of your one night of deprivation. Studies show that by getting an hour or two of additional sleep each night before a sleepless one, you’ll be less tired during and after your all-nighter, and have better brain function.

Snack yourself smarter

It may be tempting to fuel your all-night study session with sweets (candy, cookies, soda). And even though sugar can temporarily raise your energy level and mood, it often ends in the inevitable crash that can leave you feeling foggy, unfocused, and more drained than you were before. 

So, instead of processed sugary snacks, opt for “good carbs” like whole grains and fruits, which pack more nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, to keep your mental and physical game strong through the night and beyond. Be sure to also include some quality protein and fat — especially foods like nuts — in your overnight diet. 

Here are a few ideas:

  • A banana with peanut butter (or almond butter) powers you with carbs, fat, a little protein, plus potassium and magnesium, both of which have been shown to improve brain function. 
  • A few handfuls of nuts (especially walnuts, almonds, and peanuts) can boost your brain power with essential Omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients. Plus, those healthy fats keep you fuller, so you can focus on studying, not on a grumbling stomach. 
  • A hard-boiled egg and slice of whole grain bread give you fat, complex carbs, and protein, and can improve memory, helping you retain all the knowledge you’re sacrificing sleep to get. 


Take a (super)power nap with the help of some coffee

A power nap of 20 minutes can refresh and rejuvenate you when you start to feel sluggish. It can also help the things you’re learning stick better in your mind. Drinking a caffeinated beverage (like a cup of coffee or tea) before a power nap can make that nap even more effective, and prevent you from feeling groggy when you wake up.

Caffeine stimulates the brain by binding to the receptors otherwise used by adenosine — a chemical compound that makes you feel drowsy — replacing that sleepy feeling with wakefulness. Since it usually takes about 20 minutes for caffeine to kick in and rev you up, your shuteye won’t be affected by the jolt, but you’ll wake up feeling more alert and focused. 

To make a coffee nap work, drink your cup quickly, set an alarm for 20 minutes, then immediately hit the hay. 

Just remember not to go overboard with the coffee or other caffeinated beverages, or you’ll feel more jittery than refreshed. 

Walk it off or strike a (yoga) pose.

Our brains process information best when we’re in motion. While you may not be able to walk on a treadmill or ride a bike the entire time you’re studying, short bursts of exercise can make your mind more effective at remembering and synthesizing what you’re learning. Plus, movement helps stave off physical fatigue, along with muscle and joint stiffness. 

So, get your blood flowing and your brain re-energized by taking a short walk outside, up and down the hall, or even just around your room, every 1 or 2 hours.  

Yoga is another great brain-boosting activity to do during your all-nighter. It can combat aches, pains, and stiffness from sitting for long periods of time, calm your mind if you’re stressed or frazzled, and help you concentrate. A 2012 study on college students found that 20 minutes of yoga actually improved cognitive function (including focus, memory, and learning) more than either aerobic exercise or no exercise at all. 

Use one of your breaks to go through a short yoga sequence you like, or try a few of these poses.  

If you're looking for a more comprehensive workout plan, checkout this guide from our friends at


Dehydration, even if it’s mild or for a short period of time, can wreak havoc on memory, energy levels, and mood. That’s definitely the last thing you need when you’re trying to tuck all that info into your mind for easy recall come test time. 

On the flipside, drinking a glass of water might significantly improve certain brain functions, according to one study. At the very least, it frees your brain from having to remind you that you’re thirsty, allowing that energy to be used on the task of studying. 

Make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the night by having it handy for frequent sips. 

Now Go Get 'em!!

By eating well, staying hydrated, squeezing in a bit of exercise and a quick power nap or two, you can make the most of your all-nighter and get better results on your exam or term paper. 


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TimelyMay 15, 2017 Reply

Just about to have an all nighter myself. Didn't know coffee could help with a power nap, what are the odds of falling asleep immediately after drinking though??? Guess we will find out!

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