How to stay up the entire night painlessly and efficiently

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  1. I'm posting this here because I constantly forget to do these things properly when working on assignments and studying all night (as is only too common in university).
  2. Avoid excess serotonin. Don't take SSRIs (if you're on them, you can skip one day with little effects: unless you're on Effexor, then don't), drink lots of milk, or eat very large meals. Milk in coffee or tea won't hurt.
  3. Drink coffee. No brainer, but don't drink too much, or you'll actually inhibit your intellectual capacity and motivation, which you'll really need. Like 2 cups, updating with 1 every 4 hours. This should be tweaked to you personally, but that's my general rule. I'm 6'1 and 180 pounds, so keep that in mind (if you're smaller, less, if you're bigger, more, as a rule of thumb - minor weight differences in this won't make matter much).
  4. Nausea is a problem with sleepless nights, but don't take Dimenhydrinate (aka gravol, dramamine), as these are sedatives. Chew on ginger. I'm serious - 2 placebo controlled trials actually found it to be more effective than some prescription anti-nauseants. It works really well. Mint tea with two bags in the water and no sugar also works well: I usually use a combination of the two. Note that if you take too much dimenhydrinate with something to keep you awake, you'll hallucinate wildly. You'll get a bit of this effect taking Gravol when staying up all night - things will feel weird, anxious, alien, and a little bit scary. Just avoid it. And don't try this recreationally, I've heard it's terrifying and extremely painful, and you actually can't tell the hallucinations from reality, because they're so vivid. There's a reason such a powerful hallucinogen is legal: it's so unpleasant that no one could possibly abuse it.
  5. If you have to stay up all night all the time, you'll become tolerant to caffeine. If this occurs, try getting a prescription for modafinil. It's a very effective stimulant that works on a completely different pathway from caffeine. It doesn't feel like a stimulant - it just feels like you got enough sleep. This is an official use of it, if you have to stay up overnight regularly (it's called shift work sleep disorder). It find it far more effective than caffeine, and it appears to be safer as well.
  6. If you can't get a modafinil prescription, sudafed has some nice stimulant properties, different from caffeine's. However, I recommend staying away from it unless you're really exhausted, because it's ever-so-slightly dysphoric - it will make you anxious. Using it with a bit of caffeine (which is mood-lifting) removes this effect, but when the crash comes, you'll be more depressed than you can possibly imagine - it will take you a long time to actually go to sleep.
  7. See if you can find yourself some ephedrine. Don't take it all the time (long-term, excessive use can cause muscle degeneration), but during all-nighters, it can be a life-saver, and it is quite safe for occasional use. I think ephedrine may be a controlled substance in the US now, but if (like me) you're in Canada or anywhere else where drug laws aren't written by Christian fundamentalists, you can buy it in leaf form in your city's Chinatown - it's called Ma Huang. Actually, even if you can get the pills, I still suggest steeping the ma huang leaves into tea: it's a nice thing to sip on while working, and you can sip it slowly the first time you use it to prevent adverse reactions (which are actually quite unlikely, because honestly, ephedrine is a very weak stimulant, on par with caffeine - although it acts on a different neural pathway, so there's no cross-tolerance, hence why I suggest it). Plus if you drink it as a tea, it's very socially acceptable, whereas it freaks people out if you take ephedrine pills (for a perfect example of this, look at the difference in reactions you get when you tell someone you drank three cups of coffee versus if you tell them you took three wake-up pills, even though there is no difference in your psychoactive drug consumption between the two cases).
  8. Focus will wane at some periods of the night: to counter this, flex every muscle in your body that you can - tense yourself up - while still reading. It sounds absurd, but it's clinically proven to work. A number of peer-reviewed studies have found that this position is your body's natural position in extreme concentration (hence why it's so seen in constipation, as you might have noticed). Other studies find that physically reproducing your body's emotional states (of which concentration is one) actually partially create brain activation in areas associated with the state, as well as similar blood hormone levels. Concentration is no exception. While it's not quite the same as real concentration, it actually makes a big difference. It's best for rote memorization and reading impossibly dull and poorly written segments.
  9. Advice: No one e-mailed you in the 2 minutes since you last checked your e-mail. (The same goes for facebook).
  10. More advice: Surfing Youtube does NOT qualify as "research." Trust me, that video of a turtle beating up a cat will not find its way into your presentation as "comic relief," no matter how much you convince yourself otherwise.
  11. Just because you're reading something that generally relates to the field you're studying, doesn't mean you're actually doing work. For example, taking a test on tickle to see what personality disorder you most resemble is not relevant to a paper on the mathematics of Hebbian neural networks.
  12. Talking to friends is not "research on the psychology of interpersonal relations."
  13. Stay off listology, or you'll end up making stupid little lists instead of working.

The most useful list for real life I've seen recently. I'm sure I'll use many of the tips revising for upcoming exams!

Indeed, I've used this list too many times preparing for exams...
Good luck!

you guys should try 5-hour energy; there's no crash later and it stimulates the mind not the body like other soda energy drinks so you don't get that jittery feeling (same thing with too much caffeine). It's only 60mL and it's sugar free. Saved my ass too many times.

Normally I'm skeptical of energy drinks: most just contain caffiene, sugar, a bunch of vitamins and amino acids with questionable efficacy to bringing alertness, and caffeine analogs and precursors - such as guarine (I like these drinks just fine as coffee-substitutes, but I've never seen them as particularly special. They're basically just another caffienated beverage).

However, I read up the ingredients of 5-hour energy, and noted one that supports what you say about it, which may be more than just advertising: Citicoline. This is likely the main active ingredient of the drink that makes it a little bit more effective. There's no scientific verdict on it yet, but there does seem to be a smidgeon of evidence that it might be actually be a nootropic (aka a "smart drug," or "mind-enhancer").

The "no crash" statement on the site is BS, every stiumlant has a crash. It likely simply has much much less of a crash because there's less caffeine than something like Red Bull. Same goes for the jitteriness: less caffeine, less jitters. I don't mind jitters anyway.

All stimulants stimulate the mind (brain) - that's how they work, and actually the definition of a stimulant. That statement is pure marketing. In fact, nothings exists at all that stimulates the body (well, perhaps food, including sugar, could be argued to be a "body-stimulant," but really it just provides the body something to metabolize so it can physically react when the brain tells it to do something). The body can't really be stimulated, only properly powered to be responsive. This would be like overclocking a computer monitor - it can't be done (but you can overclock a video card - the brain).

That citicoline ingredient, however, seems really interesting. I'm going to try 5-hour energy at some point for that reason.

Yea, you should definitely try it out.

BTW, i thought eating very large meals causes you to get that sleepy feeling afterwards because all the blood if flowing to your stomach.

You're quite right, eating large meals is a bad idea and will put you to sleep. Ah, I may have worded the first question a little oddly: I'm saying don't take SSRIs, drink milk, or eat very large meals. I mean, don't do any of the three.

what's wrong with milk?

It contains tryptophan, which your body synthesizes to 5-HT, which synthesizes to serotonin, which is involved in sleep. Hence why a glass of warm milk is a classic folk sleep remedy. (the warmth adds to it as well, it's not just the milk: the warmth helps trigger our "slowdown" response that we get on hot days)

well every complete protein contains the full 20 amino acids, one of which is tryptophan, so are you saying eliminate eating protein altogether?

Hmmm...that's a good point. That reason doesn't make a lot of sense. The health benefits of milk is a politically charged topic (vegetarian fringe groups, who are often simply selling something else), so it's possible that the internet contains a lot of cherry-picked data. The studies I read were from peer-reviewed journals, but usually I was linked to them from elsewhere. Since 100's of studies have likely been done on milk, it's possible that vegan crusaders simply pulled out the occasional studies that make milk look bad, then invented a semi-convincing theory to explain these data (which in reality are simply outliers, while when the average of all drinkers is taken, milk still increases bone density). I'll look this up. The issue is, I vaguely remember some of the linking sites being pro-organic, which is just silly. While I'm not sure milk helps bones, It doesn't make sense to me that it hurts them either, especially since it's artificially supplemented with protective vitamin D.

Here's a very good source that shows that you are quite correct:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12540414

So milk likely isn't particularly bad or good for you, it's just another drink. Although people do seem to be uncommonly allergic to it, which makes it questionable (especially the high incidence of secondary allergies related to it - meaning allergies one is unaware of that are causing less blatant symptoms such as acne or abnormal weight gain. My sister actually has this. I'll try to find a source stating how prevalent this is.)

I thought you were going to say something like: milk has more tryptophan than the average protein source making the rate of conversion for 5-HT into serotonin much higher than other foods; but i had no idea that peer-reviewed journals concerned themselves with milk studies. I suppose that vegans trying to justify their unhealthy diets may have had something to do with the source for this myth, but that's a whole different topic.

Peer-reviewed journals concern themselves with everything - thankfully.

As for the tryptophan, yes, milk does contain more, and it being a serotonin precursor, causes an increase in the amount of serotonin in the brain, which can cause some lethargy in the same way that SSRIs do. My reason for avoiding milk when going to sleep was exactly that, and had nothing to do with other health reasons (that's a whole different story).

As for protein itself converting into tryptophan - yes, that's true, as it's an amino acid, but milk contains more since it's an actual source of tryptophan, although there is indeed also some generated by breaking down the protein in milk (in other words, there's actually tryptophan IN the milk, it's not just part of the protein in the milk). I wouldn't altogether eliminate protein when staying awake though - it does contain a lot of energy. I've never had an issue with it, anyway.

what about smoking pot? is that a good way to stay up, or will pot make you more relaxed?

No way, it adversely affects long-term memory formation (in the short-term, meaning, while high), so it would be useless for studying. Plus paying attention would be a nightmare. Maybe it would help if you were doing a creative writing project, but that would only be a good idea if you lots of time to spare (it's actually pretty good for getting rid of writer's block for some, since it causes such an increase in prefrontal cortex activation - that being the executive functioning of the brain - although it impairs other areas) - I wouldn't recommend it for last-minute, night-before work. It might work for ultra-repetitive tasks that you already know how to do very well. Both are questionable though, because some people are really relaxed by it and go to sleep a short time after smoking it - not everyone finds it energizing (thanks to its activity on the CB-1 pathway - look that up, it's really interesting). And it being a psychedelic, set and setting play into whether it will have that effect on you or not, which makes it too much of a dice roll as to whether or not it will keep you awake or not (and social situations are far more energizing, I find, than alone). Plus smoking it alone is not wise - that's how people start using it all the time, which is REALLY not wise.

So as a general rule, bad idea.

What about doing a yoga headstand? That will get plenty of blood flowing to the brain and has many positive effects on the body's immune and circulatory systems, as well as, regenerating old and lazy RBCs.

I think that's probably one of those things that works well in the long-term. I get pretty disoriented for a bit whenever I do a headstand, which wouldn't help much for studying/programming/reading/writing/any other essentially intellectual pursuit. Besides, doesn't the brain already get pretty much exactly the amount of blood it needs? You get some fairly noticeable side effects (IE fainting, coma, death) when the amount of blood flowing to the brain is out of whack. I'm not saying that headstands will do this, they obviously won't, I mean that I don't think there's ever much of an imbalance that needs correcting in blood flow to the brain, especially not one that a head stand would fix.