All-nighters, my toxic habit in undergrad

I started my Master’s program in Liberal Studies this September. Much has happened since I blogged about my grad school analysis paralysis. Shortly after writing about it, I decided to apply for my program. Mark Manson wrote this article titled F*ck Yes or No years ago, and I swear this is one of the few decisions in my life that was a resounding “F*CK YES”. It’s been two months since I started grad school, and I think that I am adapting quite well to my full-time 9-5 job and part-time student life.


At first, I was worried about being a student again, mostly because I did not handle stress well the last time I was one. When I was an undergrad, my most toxic habit was to pull all-nighters, sometimes consecutively. I have vague memories of being awake for more than two days. If I didn’t pull an all-nighter, I would probably only sleep 2-3 hours the night before an exam and then wake up at 5:00 am to study.


I also had the tendency to drink Red Bull at night, so I could successfully stay awake the night before an exam. My parents even encouraged this behaviour and supplied me with Red Bull for my all-nighters. In retrospect, I want to ask them: “why did you let me do that?”, but then I remembered my mom telling me stories about how she had also pulled all-nighters when she was a student. I guess they thought it was completely normal for students to pull all-nighters regularly.


Wrong. So wrong. After every cycle of midterms and finals, without fail, I would get sick. On average, I got sick 5 times a year, and it was almost certainly because of how I had abused my body with caffeine and did not let it get enough rest. I felt like my body was constantly on fight-or-flight mode. My naïve teenage/early twenties self continued to ignore the messages my poor body kept sending me until one day, I ended up with an extremely rare stress-induced neurological disorder that led to a series of MRIs and numerous visits to neurologists in Vancouver and Manila that lasted 1.5 years. This is actually such a long story that deserves its own post someday and one of the most stressful periods of my life because I was told there was a possibility that I had a tumour. Thankfully, that doctor was wrong, and I was just being slightly overdramatic.


Looking back, I guess the main issue was that I really did not know how to study. I had absolutely no idea how to do it the right way. In high school, my version of studying was to passively read the textbook the night before a test, which always worked out because well, it was high school. Since I didn’t have good study habits solidified at a younger age, I struggled a lot with preparing for exams. It wasn’t until my 3rd year when I started to figure out how wrong I was about how I “studied” and slowly, I began to correct my habits. I also took part-time jobs and volunteered a lot as a student. I feel like I committed to so many things, some out of genuine care (i.e., working with children), and others, I did because everyone else was doing it. Those are the commitments I regret because they were not a good use of my time.


HOWEVER – yes, in all caps – that’s not the core message of this post. The important take-away here is to never abuse your body, and most definitely, to never pull an all-nighter for an exam. It’s never worth it. And if you find that this is a habit of yours, please consider that maybe you need help learning how to study or that you are overworking yourself in other aspects of your life. Our physical health and mental health are so intimately connected, and I am continually learning that lesson even to this day.


I absolutely hate that pulling all-nighters is so normalized in university life because it is one of the worst things you can do to your body. I hope that this somehow reaches someone who currently pulls all-nighters. My friend, you need to stop.


To Gen Z undergrad students out there, I know this is an especially tough time, but please do take care of yourselves.

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