That infamous procrastinator’s trick: pulling an all-nighter for study…pulling an all-nighter studying

You’ve got to study a lot, and sometimes that means marathon cram sessions or all-nighters. Sure, none of the stuff we use to keep our energy and focus levels up is very healthy, but sometimes you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do. Here’s a pretty good list of your options for pulling an all-nighter studying, so you can “pick your poison,” so to speak.

Caffeinated soda

The kick you get from the caffeine can be quick, starting the minute it touches your lips. For some, it’s slower—and can take 2-3 cans of soda before the caffeine kicks in. For those with lower body weight, the effects will be stronger and last longer. If you have a panic disorder or high blood sugar levels, the effects can be instantaneous and dramatic. But for the typical student, the buzz from 2-3 cans of caffeinated soda can last from a couple of hours to 6-8 hours, depending on what you’re using. Although it doesn’t pack quite the punch as the other items on this list, soda’s cheap and doesn’t taste as revolting as energy drinks.

Here’s a comparison of a few options:

Pepsi Max- 12 oz. 69 mg

Mountain Dew 12 oz. can 55 mg

Dr. Pepper 12 oz. can 36 mg

Coke Classic/Zero 12 oz. can 35 mg

Energy Drinks

Case o' BawlsEnergy drinks often are spiked with other ingredients like L-Carnitine (fat metabolizer), guarana (caffeinated berry), ginseng (stimulant) and taurine (muscle function). With most caffeinated drinks, once the buzz wears off, you’ll want another “shot” in order to keep up the feeling….so just be warned that the risk of dependence goes up the more you drink. When you get accustomed to using caffeine in order to function, your overall reaction to its effects diminishes. I’ll caution what Mom would here: pulling an all-nighter studying should be an infrequent occurrence, for heaven’s sake! Here are a few of the more popular energy drinks, but there are dozens being added to the market every month. You can also check out this rather comprehensive list of caffeinated stimulants from coffee and tea to soda, energy drinks and “shots.”

Bawls Guarana 16 oz. 100 mg
Red Bull 8.4 oz. 80 mg
Monster 8 oz. 80 mg
Rockstar 16 oz. 160 mg
NOS 16 oz. 260 mg
5-Hour Energy 2 oz. 207 mg


Coffee is comparable, in effect, to soda and energy drinks, but it tends to be far more concentrated with caffeine, easier to find, cheaper to buy, and more convenient to consume (you don’t have to down 44 oz. for it to work). It also has a few health benefits from naturally occurring anti-oxidants and some anti-migraine effects when taken with ibuprofen. The caffeine content varies depending on how you make it:

Brewed: 1 cup (7 oz.) 80–135 mg
Drip: 1 cup (7 oz.) 115–175 mg
Espresso: 1 shot (2 oz.) 100 mg

It’s no longer thought to be a cause of coronary heart disease, but coffee’s dangerous if you overdo it just because of the caffeine. Get to know your tolerance level. If you’re dying to learn more, I found this e-book helpful.

Prescription drugs

Two prescription drugs used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression and narcolepsy can have a significant effect upon students with a study deficit. A lot of kids risk getting arrested and slapped with a misdemeanor to get these without a prescription, mostly because they’re so powerful. Suffice it to say, it’s not a good idea to get them if you don’t need them. These are amphetamines we’re talking about; they can really mess you up if you don’t need them, and/or if you haven’t talked to a doctor about the correct dosages and risks.

Lebron James 300x250 Sheets Energy

That said, the most commonly prescribed are Ritalin and Adderall. They promise their users greater focus, less fatigue and heightened attention. In the case of ADHD sufferers, the result can be heartening: better study for longer, and the ability to keep one’s focus for greater lengths of time. The drugs affect the central nervous system, helping a student to achieve a heightened level of activity for hours at a time.

If they’re prescribed by a doctor, Ritalin and Adderall are a godsend. Symptoms like difficulty paying attention in class, being prone to distraction, a disjointed attention span, procrastination, disorganization, forgetfulness and difficulty finishing tasks may indicate a problem that can be treated with these and other prescription medications. A simple test at a student health center will allow a doctor to easily diagnose a treatable problem. I plodded through 3 1/2 years in college before I read an article about ADHD and its symptoms, decided to get tested, and found out I have it on a “moderate to high” level in the areas of inattention and impulsivity. If any of the above symptoms are plaguing your academic life, you should get tested. Mom is still right that pulling an all-nighter for studying should be a rare event, but these medications are designed to help correct a real problem.

Granted, affording these prescriptions, even if they’re written by your doctor, can be tough. Adderall can cost from $20 to $60 per month, depending on your insurance plan, and on the med’s strength. Ditto Ritalin, Metadate, Methylin, Concerta and Focalin. And since it’s labeled a “controlled substance,” you’ll have to get a new prescription every month to buy it. Keep in mind that with long-term use these drugs can create dependence and significant side effects.


There’s quite a bit of research out there suggesting that many times when we feel fatigued, we’re actually just dehydrated. When I first heard this, I did an experiment, keeping a water bottle with me and drinking a bottle every hour. Yes, of course, this meant frequent trips to the bano, but I was pretty amazed with how energized I was. You might try it if you’re low on cash or time.

Shower Shock Caffeine Soap Travel

On insomnia, etc…

An unintended consequence from too much caffeine intake, and even from doctor-prescribed meds, is insomnia. With interrupted sleeping patterns and less deep sleep, stimulated students can get into a cycle of exhaustion that can be hard to escape. If you’re taking extended-release Adderall, its effects can last through day and night.

Caffeine can also reduce dopamine levels in the brain’s pleasure centers, leading to depression and anxiety.

The stress of pre-med and medical school is very real, and requires that we push every button to ensure our ultimate success. If you’re using “study drugs” to keep you going, make sure to check with your doctor on a regular basis to ensure your good health.

And combine your “drugs” of choice with those Mom would approve: a healthy diet, regular exercise, plenty of sleep, drinking lots of water and learning time management skills. A brisk jog or yoga session every day will do wonders for blood flow, which translates to better concentration and greater attentiveness.

Try B-vitamins and L-carnitine supplements too. And there’s even literature that shows that simply studying at different locations will help your brain process learned material with different cues, giving you more retrieval routes to remember what’s been studied.

Here are a few tried-and-true success tips for MCAT studiers:

—MCAT prep books: a review of Kaplan, Princeton Review, Examkrackers and Berkeley Review

—Will reading the Economist really help me improve my MCAT Critical Analysis and Reasoning score?

—Should I study for the MCAT before I’ve finished my pre-med classes?

—Kaplan or Princeton Review for best MCAT prep course?

The Best Ways to Pull an All-Nighter | Pre MED FAQ