Staying Up All Night
Published: Thursday, May 3, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 01:11
“I pulled one all-nighter in the darkroom last semester. My whole class was there until 4:45 a.m. working on the final project that was due the next morning,
and we all came back at 10:00 a.m. for the class and had been there so
[recently that] we all looked terrible.”
— Catherine Raynor ’15
“One time I was very ill, but I had two research papers due the next day. And in my caffeine-induced stupor, I thought it would be a fantastic idea to take two doses of Nyquil ... Also, not thinking, I drank an energy drink ... I couldn’t get to sleep because of the caffeine. It was a terrible, nightmarish, weird, hazy dream.”
— Alex Koch ’15
Gund Commons, 2:25 a.m. on May 1. The dull light hangs over the students still awake and working, surrounded by their Arizona Iced Teas, empty coffee cups and piles of papers. Most sit in silence, headphones in, eyes furiously, if not sleepily, focused on their laptop screens. Tonight, Sydney Watnick ’14 said, they’re all working on the same thing.
“There are three groups of people here tonight. There are people working on a philosophy paper, there are people working on a drama paper and people working on a [Professor of English Theodore] Mason paper. And then there’s me,” Watnick said, pointing at the enclaves of the ballroom where classmates huddled together, bound by a mutual deadline and exhaustion.
With finals week looming, lights of the sleepless are sure to be on long into the night. Lack of sleep, however, isn’t the only sacrifice scrambling students make. Memory lapses, a level of mental impairment equivalent to drunkenness and a higher susceptibility to infections are all side effects of all-nighters, according to AlterNet.org’s article “The Stunning Consequences of Not Getting Enough Sleep.” Long-term consequences include a greater risk of Type 2 diabetes, depression and weight gain.
But all-nighters are often necessary to complete work, students say.
“I’m a huge procrastinator, and once I realize that it’s 9:00 p.m., I [realize that I] should probably start cracking down now,” Raynor said. “I think I get really distracted during the day, and also, because it’s down to the wire, I think I work better at night.”
Simon Hoellerbauer ’14, who totals his longest waking streak at 42 hours, agreed that not getting work done during the day is a problem, but staying up late in his room has improved his relationship with his roommate, Darko Gligorovski ’14.
“The most [my roommate and I] really talk is during these times, when we both stay up until 3:00 a.m. or something, even though he usually goes to bed before I do,” Hoellerbauer said. “I think it improves our relationship very much. I ask him always if it’s okay if I have the light on.”
However, the cost of this enhanced friendship, which Raynor has also experienced during long nights working on art projects with classmates, is high. An MSNBC.com report by Cristen Conger summarizing a study published in Biological Psychiatry claims that chronic insomniacs are losing not only sleep, but also brain matter. Although the correlation between severe insomnia and significant loss of gray matter does not prove causation, there is definitely a relationship between the two, according to Ellemarije Altena, the lead author of the study from the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience.
“We can’t say what comes first: the lower gray matter density or the insomnia, but [the data] suggests that a low orbitofrontal gray matter density may be a risk factor to develop insomnia,” said Altena in the aforementioned article. “We only investigated older people, so follow-up studies at different ages could hopefully in the future determine what comes first.”
Because the age range of the group tested is older than that of Kenyon students, we cannot directly extrapolate the study to our population. For the time being, however, Hoellerbauer is willing to suffer the “headache” he gets after staying up all night in favor of getting work done. It’s by the grace of a lot of energy-boosters that he makes it through the nights.
“Sometimes I get extremely mad at myself for having to do all-nighters or being stuck on whatever I’m doing, so I do sometimes throw things around the room [for] adrenaline. [I also get] coffee from MiddleGround,” Hoellerbauer said. “The [last] all-nighter I pulled, I finished my coffee before midnight and then I worked steadily from midnight to about 7:00 a.m. Then I got kind of tired and that’s when I drank a 5-hour ENERGY.”
Hoellerbauer doesn’t consume any caffeine, however, when he’s pulling a “half-all-nighter,” which he defines as staying up until 5:00 a.m. For Raynor, however, 5:00 a.m. signifies the successful completion of an all-nighter, and although she drinks caffeine to keep her up, she admits that she’s “kind of immune to coffee and tea by this point.” Reaching the 5:00 a.m. mark, however, isn’t awful sans caffeine, because it’s usually her favorite discipline, art, that keeps her up late.
“With my art stuff, I think I work better at night,” Raynor said. “My ideas are weirder because I’m half-delirious. For art, it’s easier for me to pull an all-nighter, because it’s what I love to do. Time will pass really quickly for me. If it’s for art, … I won’t have realized the time passed.”