Forty-eight hours without sleep: A personal account


Credit: Wolff
Credit: Wolff

It’s 3 a.m. and I’m doing yoga stretches on the third floor landing of the Science Building. My laptop buzzes angrily at me, overheating because it’s been on for far too long. Downward Dog feels good as my legs burn, tense from sitting cross-legged on a couch for hours and hours. This Monday morning, the Monday of spring ’09 finals week, I’m quote-hunting for my research paper. At 1:30 a.m. I had my last latte and the caffeine finally kicked in. After approximately three seconds in Upward Dog I hop to my feet and reclaim my spot on the couch. Junior Anna Forge, also a night owl, is packing up her books and smiles at me, rolling her eyes. I joyfully exclaim that I’ll get to watch the sunrise this morning.

Why in the world am I paper-prepping at 3 a.m. and planning an all-nighter? The easy answer is that I have a research paper due at noon on Tuesday and I haven’t even started writing. I have a system for writing papers. First, I pick quotes and then I construct a detailed outline with topic sentences. And then I write.   Right now I’m at the quote selection and pre-outline stage.   But the situation is more complicated. As a chronic procrastinator and a fairly busy person, up until a couple nights ago I’ve found a long list of better things to do than write my paper (other papers, meetings, responding to e-mails, sleeping, spending time with my friends, the list goes on) and now that I am sufficiently stressed and feeling anxious, I am ready to write. I like to think that I work best under pressure but I also love the drama of not knowing if I will finish in time.

Twenty-four hours later, 3 a.m. on Tuesday, I still haven’t slept and I’m still chugging away on this paper. I’m halfway through and on a roll. My mind is clear and I’m focused, finally. I felt most exhausted between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., but by 4 a.m. on Tuesday, I am wide awake. An hour later, sitting on that big brown couch on the library’s third floor, facing Ankeny, I watch the sun peak over the top of Lyman. By 8 a.m. I’ve finished writing and proofreading. I pop that paper in the class CLEo dropbox and leave the library to go home, shower and begin my day.

All-nighters are fairly common among college students but it is debatable whether or not pulling all-nighters is an effective way to work.

At 5 a.m., senior Juliet D’Alessandro is finally leaving the library.

“My brain is not really functioning right now. I don’t do this very often. The first version of my thesis is due tomorrow and desperate times call for staying up,” she said, “It happens. It’s fun.”

Looking back, pulling two all-nighters in a row wasn’t a terrible life choice. I had procrastinated and needed to use every hour I had to get my assignment in on time. Although I spent a few days recovering, it was finals week, so I didn’t have to go to classes and my other papers had already been turned in. After finishing this research paper, I crashed and slept for eight hours in the middle of the day. I don’t recommend double all-nighters but I was happy with the outcome. That A was worth it.