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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

I Can't Believe I... stayed awake for 48 hours

The Carolinian -- Don't let my height fool you, I'm a really just a big kid. And not in that "look how I've kept my youthful vigor" way some people mean either. I've skillfully retained a lot of those habits one should shed before adulthood. Maturing, they call it. My room is as messy as it was when I was six, I refuse to admit when I'm wrong, I still won't take medicine, and to this day I hate going to bed.

It's not that I don't love sleeping. I love it in the same way a child refuses to get in the bathtub and later is having so much fun playing they won't get out. For whatever reason, staying up late is something I've always done. But there are limits to this activity, I've found.

This bedtime story starts one Saturday after I woke from an afternoon nap. Waking up that late in the day left me no hope for getting to bed at a decent hour, so it appeared that I would be staying up all night. I had some work to do anyway, and staying up so late that no one else is awake is a great way to force yourself to do it. An all-night writing or cramming session is practically the only way I get schoolwork done, or anything for that matter.


The next day I found myself stuck at work longer than I'd imagined. The lack of sleep was starting to catch up with me, and by the time I could get myself out of the Carolinian office I realized I'd been awake for over a day and a half. After a short break it was right back to the office for another all-nighter because, well, I had stuff to do. I try to stay busy.

The timeline is different for each person, but I find it's around 36 hours awake that I start to hallucinate. This isn't a full-blown acid trip, mind you. I start seeing things out of the corner of my eye, for example, only to turn and find nothing. The first time I remember it happening I had to leave my room because a shadow kept creeping toward me. Little things like that. Full article

Jeff Megall: [Talking to Nick on the phone, late at night, his phone beeps] Gotta go. London. It's 7 AM in the Old Empire.
Nick Naylor: When do you sleep?
Jeff Megall: [pause] Sunday.

I don't get a lot of sleep during the semester, that should be obvious by now. Last semester, I got about 4-5 hours a night. That's a ballpark average, since I would stay up all night at least once a week and hopefully end up crashing during a day at least once as well.

It's not hard. You get used to it.

Not sleeping is a non-issue at this point. Except for that painful first half hour or so when I just woke up from three hours sleep, I don't feel tired. Part of it is being 21 and invincible, and part of it has to do with putting it out of your mind and keeping busy. I do sleep, just not on any real sort of schedule, and at this point no schedule is my schedule. It's not that hard.

Like the villain from Die Another Day said, "You only get one shot at life. Why waste it on sleep?"

I get the same reaction from a lot of people when I mention I've been awake since yesterday: "I just can't do it," as if staying up all night were some mystical feat. Maybe they tried it once and got until about 6 a.m., then it was lights out. The morning of my first all-nighter (freshman year, those were the days) my roommate woke me up by yelling at me for over a minute. And when I say "woke me up" I mean he saw me sitting upright in a chair with my eyes open, but completely out of it. Ah, the rookie year. For those that have said you can't, or are attempting your first all-nighter, here's a few tips.

Caffeine is your friend, to a point. As with any drug, know your body type and your tolerance. Sure 5 cups of coffee will keep you awake, but if you're jittery as all hell then you won't be able to focus on that textbook that seems to be shaking across your desk. Worst case scenario: Your heart starts pounding in your chest and you can't do anything except lie flat on your back and hope not to die. Been there. It sucks.

Pick your mode of caffeine well. I gave up coffee and soda. Too little caffeine, it's a waste of time. Energy drinks are an option, though not a tasty one. No Fear's diet energy drink tastes the best (get the diet because it doesn't leave that syrupy residue in your mouth), and it's a 16-ouncer, which means two servings per can. I can't seem to have more than two in a night without getting an upset stomach though.

When I do use caffeine it's just straight No-Doz, which are nothing more than 200mg caffeine tablets. No fuss, no extra stuff you don't want.

Once you're dedicated, don't quit. On an average body rhythm, the body's temperature drops between 3 and 5 a.m.. These are the hardest hours to get through, and there when you're going to want to take a tiny nap before that exam. Past the point of no return (anything less than four hours until you have to be somewhere, and four hours is pushing it for most) you are NOT going to wake up from that nap. Fight through it. Sleep after the exam, not through it.

Recover. There's a thing called "sleep debt." Rack up those waking hours and it takes a toll on your body and mind. The less sleep you get, the more you're going to have to get eventually. Building up sleep debt over time isn't bad in the same way that staying up for a long period of time is bad (you won't go insane, for instance), but it's still something you should worry about. You can't escape this; not sleeping affects everyone.

Not me though.


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