Science Says Pulling An All-Nighter Won't Help You Pass That Test

by Dan Scotti

College is a time for exploration.

Over the four years you’re there (for some, maybe a bit longer), you’ll discover what you’re truly passionate about.

You’ll meet new people -- some of whom you’ll remain lifelong friends with. You’ll learn how to survive on your own, in a foreign place. But, most of all, you’ll find out more about yourself than you ever knew.

College forces you to push your own limits. Just when you thought you couldn’t survive without a source of income, you found new ways to utilize Ramen as a dinner ingredient.

At the bar, when you’re almost positive you’ve already drank too much alcohol, you’ll find a way to throw just one more back.

And when it comes to completing all of your academic requirements -- regardless of how unrealistic that deadline might’ve once looked -- you’ll usually find a way to get it done, by any means necessary.

And by any means necessary -- I mean by staying up all night.

It’s far from a new concept. “All-nighters” have been pulled since the days of our parents, and I’m sure their parents, too. I mean, it’s simple math, really.

There are 24 hours in the day. When you slack off for weeks -- or months -- at a time, there are bound to come times when you’ll have to make use of every one of those hours on the clock.

The result? 24 to 48 consecutive hours spent in the library on the day(s) leading up to an important exam or deadline. And, for many, this technique is a very valuable one.

Like with many things in life, relying on all-nighters is a tradeoff. While spending any more than, say, three hours at a library may seem torturous to most college students, all-nighters allow you to take the foot off the gas for weeks at a clip in exchange for one or two excruciating nights.

In college, I was a big all-nighter guy. Personally, I’d get really into it -- you know, showing up to the campus library late at night with an enormous thermos of coffee and a Snuggie on.

I didn’t try to avoid staying there all night -- I took my punishment and understood this was the cost of not doing work during the months prior.

Honestly, it kept me motivated, in a funny way.

But, understandably, I wouldn’t expect this technique to work for all students. It’s more of an avant-garde method, one that’s specialized by the small sect of students who are both lazy and crafty enough to pull off such a stunt.

As always, however, science has a say on the subject and frankly, it’s probably not the one we all-nighter people wanted to accept.

According to Rachel Nuwer of Smithsonian, all-nighters “don’t work.” On the heels of a 2012 study conducted by UCLA researchers, it appears cramming for a test is not truly an efficient means of attacking your academic course load.

The study took 535 high school students (ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth grade, alike) and recorded their sleeping habits -- and academic performance -- over the course of two weeks.

As reported by Nuwer, “For nearly all of the students, the researchers found that, counterintuitively, more study time correlated with worse academic performance.”

That “additional study time,” however, didn’t come without a price. As Nuwer explains, for most of these students, additional study time will usually come at the expense of sleeping time.

In other words, students who study more aren’t necessarily clearing out parts of their days to do so -- but tacking on hours late at night, instead.

According to Andrew J. Fuligni, one of the authors of the UCLA study, "No one is suggesting that students shouldn't study,” but he maintains that, “an adequate amount of sleep is also critical for academic success. These results are consistent with emerging research suggesting that sleep deprivation impedes learning."

In response, students are urged to take a more balanced approach to handling their workload.

In the long run, by setting aside as little as one hour each day to tend to your school work, you’ll probably be able to spare yourself the need for all-nighters -- and then some.

College is all about habits. If you manage to set good habits early on, you'll save yourself the trouble of having to break bad ones later down the road. All-nighters may get the job done, at least during dire times, but they’re not conducive to good work habits.

Although you might be able to get through college by overdosing on caffeine and depriving yourself of sleep, by the time you make it into the working world -- it’s simply not realistic.

College is a time meant to teach you important lessons about not just yourself, but life.

If you take anything away from your all-nighters, let it be that moderation is key. Overdoing anything will probably not result in sustainable success.