Up All Night: Do All-Nighters Really Help?

By Shane Longoria and Courtney White

“It’s worse than a hangover,”  Alexandria Fuller said. “Honestly. I feel sick, like I have a cold and a headache. I’m sensitive to light and sound. I’m extremely irritable. I’m sleepy, but I can’t get to sleep.”

The Texas Tech senior history major said she is against all-nighters, but feels they are necessary sometimes if you are behind.

“I have to pass. I have to get As and Bs,” Fuller said.

 Many students face the challenge of balancing school, part-time jobs and extracurricular activities, and this struggle for effective time management often means a lot of late-night cramming sessions before an exam.

In The Hub’s recent poll on all-nighters, of the 71 polled, 59 percent said they have pulled an all-nighter to study or do schoolwork.

But while students feel like they have no time to prepare for an exam, research suggests cramming is not the solution.

Michael Serra, a psychology professor at Texas Tech who specializes in metacognition, or how people learn, said cramming is not helpful in storing and processing the information being studied.

“The bigger problem with cramming the night before, certainly, is you’re on a very fixed amount of time no matter what,” Serra said. “You can pull an all-nighter all you want — that still only gives you eight or so hours.”

In addition to the limited time students have to prepare for an exam the night before, research shows our brains are much wearier at night, meaning lower performance in learning and memory.

According to a 2014 study for the Association for Psychological Science, total sleep deprivation or even limited sleep interferes with memory encoding, which often leads to false memories or mis-remembering facts.

Source: Sleep Deprivation and False Memories

Done in two experiments, participants were asked to study a set of photos, given pieces of misinformation about the story of the photos and were then tested on the information to assess their memory of the photographs. Results were evaluated based on the amount of sleep or restricted sleep reported from the night before.

Despite this, there are students who claim all-nighters are effective, and insist this is the best way for them to study.

Serra said this may work in the short-term, but it is unlikely there will be long-term retrieval of the information.

“By cramming, maybe they will achieve a surface level of representation of information, meaning they can parrot it back,” Serra said. “Do they have deep understanding of it? Probably not.”

Michael Serra (Source: Texas Tech University)

Serra said this behavior often leads to unhealthy self-reinforcement, which may be costly when exams become more comprehensive, as memorizing basic facts and definitions will no longer work.

And students are learning this.

Annika Larson, a senior electronic media and communications major, said it became more difficult to pull all-night study sessions as courses became more challenging.

“It was easier to wait until the last minute to study for those tests because those classes don’t necessarily matter,” Larson said. “It was pretty easy to just skate by with a B in those classes. You didn’t really need an A.”

Larson said she learned this was a mistake when she moved into classes in her major.

“I realized this was a lot more information and this was important,” Larson said.

But some students find all-nighters to be their only option.

Brandon Medina, a senior broadcast journalism major, said he pulls frequent all-nighters, attributing it to his busy school and work schedule.

“I do them a lot more than I probably should,” Medina said. “I’d say a regular day for me is from 8 a.m. till about 9 o’clock at night.”

But it is not due to a lack of effort from Medina. In addition to being a full-time student, Medina finds himself involved in a myriad of organizations and part-time jobs, leaving a small window for studying.

Brandon Medina (Source: KTXT)

“I work at KTXT 88.1 The Raider, the student-run radio station,” Medina said. “I’m the newly appointed marketing director and I do four shows a week.”

Medina also serves as a senator for the Student Government Association, representing the College of Media & Communication, does work for Cengage Learning and is an anchor for MCTV.

Considering the responsibilities many students have outside of school, and the bodily consequences they face from pulling all-nighters, how, then, do they make time for healthy study habits?

Medina said it is all about priorities. If students are struggling to balance studying with involvement in other activities, they should reassess their schedule.

“There is such a thing as too involved,” Medina said. “At the end of the day, you’re here to get an education.”

Medina said it is important to decide if the high level of involvement is really as important as students think it is.

“If you really feel that you can’t get any sleep, or you’re struggling in class due to organizations, I’d say something has to go,” Medina said.

Larson said students on campus should learn how to balance school, work and social life in order to avoid pulling all-nighters.

“Try to plan out your studying and study in advance,” Larson said. “Get a good night’s sleep because I’ve seen that if you don’t get a good night’s sleep, then you may perform badly on tests.”

Medina said above all, rest is the most important thing.

“First things first: you need sleep. It’s hard to come by in college, but you definitely need it.”


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