The hallucination usually begins around the eighth cup of coffee, sometime between the hours of 2 and 3 a.m.
First, the words and figures on the computer screen begin to dance, swirl and pulsate – finally dripping off the monitor, running over your hand and settling into a liquid-like pool on your crinkled sheet of notes.
Slowly, you rise up from the desk, lumber to the nearest store and request the strongest caffeinated conglomeration they sell.
College students will go to great lengths to battle against the physical need for sleep demanded by the human body. Whether you’re fighting the all-night battle to read 60 more pages, finish three more problems or create one extremely long bibliography, the bottom line is that school work needs to get done – right?
“Not a good idea,” said David F. Dinges, a professor at the medical school of the University of Pennsylvania.
“Scientific studies have shown that young adults need at least eight hours of sleep,” Dinges said. “Without that amount of rest that the brain requires, two things are greatly reduced: attention and memory.”
People between the ages of 16 and 65 require somewhere between six and nine hours of sleep in order for the frontal cortex of the human brain to function properly, according to a Web site provided by the Medical Editorial Board.
Without an efficient amount of sleep, the frontal cortex loses its ability to control speech, access memory and most importantly, solve problems.
Needless to say, an all-nighter can be one dangerous endeavor. So why do it?
“I’m a procrastinator,” said Maya Dunn, a junior chemistry and accounting major. “If I have time to get [school work] done, it’s not going to get done. I will lollygag. I will take soda breaks. I will watch TV. I will go to sleep, but I’m not going to do the work.”
Thus, the true essence of the all-nighter unveils itself.
“When I pull an all-nighter, I know I’m on a time crunch,” Dunn said. “It forces me to do the work.”
Even though cramming school work into the night before a deadline forces procrastinators like Dunn to accomplish tasks on a last minute basis, this approach remains risky business, at least for the assignment’s sake.
“Usually, for the 8:40s and the 9:40s, you spend all night working until 6 in the morning, you wake up, class is over in two seconds and you’re still in the house like, ‘Uh, oh!'” Dunn said. “I’ve done it. You slip the paper under the professor’s door just for it to be late anyway.”
The all-nighter isn’t necessarily limited to one big assignment either.
Dunn was interviewed at 3 a.m. in the midst of one of her frequent all-nighters, so she provided a detailed next-day agenda of how many classes she was actually preparing for.
“This [Intellectual Heritage] paper I’m doing has to be seven pages,” Dunn said. “It’s due tomorrow at 8:40. I also have a test at 2:40, which I haven’t studied for. I have a break between my 12:40 and my 2:40 [classes], so I’ll study for my test then. That’s what I’m doing,” Dunn said with a giggle.
In cases such as Dunn’s, the frontal cortex obviously endures some severe punishment.
“It’s ridiculous,” Dunn said.
Also lurking in the early-morning hours of the 24-hour TECH Center on Oct. 13 was Olufemi Olatunji, a senior math major.
“I feel more comfortable working at night,” Olatunji said. “I’m taking three math classes, so I have homework due, literally, every day of the week.”
Olatunji prefers the late-night atmosphere of the TECH Center.
“I think it’s funny because there’s a lot less distraction at night,” Olatunji said.
“You come [to the TECH Center] at night and there’s people, but it’s not packed to the brim. You’re not socializing, so it’s almost like you’re forced to do the work.”
Caffeine and energy drinks, as some may assume, aren’t always the remedy for battling the oncoming wave of shut-eye either.
“Caffeine can improve alertness to a point, but there is no chemical substitute for sleep,” Dinges said.
“No coffee,” Olatunji said.
“I listen to music. It’s math, so I’m not reading anything, I’m just doing problems. I know I’m going to be here for a few hours, so it gives me the opportunity to listen to a new CD three or four times. I’m getting a double influence.”
And sometimes, it really does come down to shacking up and spending the night.
“Blanket and pillow and all,” Dunn said. “My friend and I call [the TECH Center] Club 10. We won’t finish our work until 6 or 7 o’clock in the morning. We have 8:40s, so it’s like, ‘Why even go home?'”
T.C. Mazar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.