It’s the very thing we are usually advised against doing: “The All-Nighter”. In some cases you are left with no choice but to stay up all night working,
cramming and preparing for a deadline. Then, there are some cases where you find yourself absolutely inspired by a new project that you simply can’t resist working late into the night for. Irregardless of the chain of events that led you to it, you find yourself forfeiting sleep for work, and it should be treated like any other physically challenging endeavor. Take some time to ensure you’re geared up with the following supplies and strategies, and you’ll be able to keep your eyes open and brain active until sunrise.

Prevent Eye Strain

Something difficult to avoid when working at a computer after dark is eye strain. As a major contributor to fatigue — which is ultimately the thing standing in your way to productively working well through the night — taking precaution is important, and actually quite simple. Preventing eye strain can be as easy as changing some of the settings on your computer.

  • Turn down contrast on your monitor.
  • When you’re eyes tire increase the font size Ctrl = (or Command = on OSX) in your browser. This works in many other applications as well.
  • Make your desktop background dark gray along with any other programs you use often. This includes the Terminal and IDEs like Sublime.
  • Firefox and Thunderbird both can use Stylish, which has a plethora of dark themes available from the Add Ons area.

You can also try downloading free software called F.lux, which makes the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day. Computer screens are programmed to imitate sunlight, but too much of this screen time can cause eye strain and irregular sleeping patterns. So before and after sunset, F.lux automatically adjusts your monitor to display a softer, warmer tone giving your eyes a break. That way when working through the night, you spend less energy looking at the computer, and more energy getting work done. For those who have concerns about internet privacy: you will need to provide your location so that it syncs up to the exact time of day the sun rises and sets in your area.

Take a Nap

Perhaps contrary to what you may expect, taking a short 15-20 minute nap before the beginning of your night session can be incredibly helpful. In a study led by Mark Rosekind, he found that commercial airplane pilots who napped for an average of 26 minutes had 34% fewer performance lapses, and were half as likely to show signs of physiologic sleepiness.

If you sleep for more than 40 minutes, you run the risk of waking up groggy. This is called sleep inertia, and happens when you wake up from a deep sleep. Try to stick to no more than 20 minutes.

Upright Body Position

It’s important that when you want your brain to be active, your body follows suit. Even though working from a couch or bed may be more comfortable, it will remind you too much of the thing you “should” be doing at night -- sleeping. Strive to sit upright and work at a desk. This routine working position will trigger your brain to act the same way it would if you were at work during the day.

A recent trend in office culture is to work at a standing desk. Americans who have desk jobs and work that relies heavily on computers end up spending the bulk of their day sitting, which can amount to nearly 8-12 hours of sitting per day (don’t forget the sitting during transportation to-and-from work, and the sitting on a couch after a long day). It’s so much the phrase “sitting is the new smoking” has been coined. Standing desks aim to cut down that sitting time, and give you back more energy.

The same can be said with working at night. Take standing breaks, and stay active!

Keep Moving

“The brain is a muscle that, like every muscle, tires from repeated stress.”

Make a point to take frequently timed breaks consisting of light exercise and walking away from your desk. This gives your body and brain a break. In a recent article from The Atlantic, the author writes:

“DeskTime, a productivity app that tracks employees' computer use, peeked into its data to study the behavior of its most productive workers. The highest-performing 10 percent tended to work for 52 consecutive minutes followed by a 17-minute break. Those 17 minutes were often spent away from the computer, said Julia Gifford at The Muse, by talking a walk, doing exercises, or talking to coworkers.”

You can also try looking off into the distance while collecting your thoughts. As opposed to thinking directly towards the computer, looking away gives your eyes a chance to relax, and provides you with a visual change of scenery. All of which will prevent fatigue.

Healthy Food

Everything you put into your body directly affects what you get out of it, so it should come as no surprise that some foods will better serve you when working all night. For example, if you eat protein-rich snacks and dark chocolate, the health benefits are extremely apparent. On the flip side, eating sugary snacks and foods high in carbohydrates can leave you feeling tired and sluggish. These should be avoided if you want to maintain stamina throughout the night.

While obviously on different tiers of the food pyramid, eating protein and dark chocolate have strikingly similar effects. Both snacks aid in brain function, and improve focus and attention. Making a special effort to reach for snacks like chicken, salmon, tofu, nuts, and dark chocolate can help you stay alert well into the night.

Staying well-hydrated is also important. It assists in transporting energy-providing nutrients throughout your body, and helps your heart pump with ease preventing you from feeling drained. Adding ice cubes to your glass of water is even better giving you an added boost of energy.

Positive Environment

Above all else, have fun with the night! The worst thing you can do for yourself when planning to work all night, is wanting nothing more than to sleep. Rather than dreading the task at hand, listen to upbeat dance music while doing it. You’re bound to get your heart rate up with productivity surely to follow.

If all else fails, do as the ALS ice bucket challenge, and pour cold water over your head.