A breakdown of The All-Nighter

By Troy Doetch

I don’t remember much about the first all-nighter I pulled, except that it was a painful.

I see flashes of espresso shots, cigarettes and myself with unkempt hair and bloodshot eyes, handing in a mediocre paper on a minor character of the King Henry trilogy. I knew it wasn’t worth it and vowed to never do it again.

I did it again. In fact, I do it frequently.

The problem with the all-nighter is in its framework: Being sleep deprived hurts, but, as is the nature of sleep deprivation, it’s hard to recall what went down. Your sleepy brain tries to send a note to your future self about the agony of the all-nighter, but after you crash for a good eight to 12 hours, the pain seems far-off. You look back at the work you’ve accomplished and decide it was all worth it. Therefore, when another workload presents itself in lieu of sleep, your decision to stay awake is uninformed.

To break this cycle, for myself and others, I’ve taken it upon myself to record the message of the sleepy brain, to argue against all-nighter from the bowels of its personal hell.

It’s 11 p.m. Tuesday and I just finished designing Wednesday’s issue for the Northern Star, with two writing assignments due tomorrow—three if you count this column. The 45-minute commute to Poplar Grove weighs heavy on my sore neck muscles. Yawns are becoming more frequent. Objects seem slightly out of proportion. Yet, because I’ve already decided to forgo sleep, I feel a sense of possibility. Eight whole hours added to my life. I can spare some time Photoshopping a fake promo for a fake television sitcom starring Gandhi and Bill Cosby for a girl I met over the weekend.

Now it’s 2 a.m. and I’ve finished my first writing assignment. My thinking is becoming more abstract. Words look strange. Words. I keep having to stop to analyze simple sentences to make sure they’re actual sentences. I just Googled the word “fast” because I didn’t think it was spelled right. This assignment, and this column, would be easier to write, and would go much quicker—quicklier—more quickly—if my brain wasn’t turning into a steaming pile of brown sugar-flavored oatmeal. Because my brian (which is how I’m spelling brain now) is slipping, it overcompensates by grabbing on to philosophy. Most sentences seem to beg questions about the basis of reality, while some say, “Manage your time better, ya’ cad.”

At 5 a.m., I’m hurling a two-ton car down a highway thinking about time as a circle. That sounds dangerous.

“No one wishes they slept more during college,” reads an ad on the glass refrigerator door at 7-Eleven. I stare at it for much too long: a winged anthropomorphic bull in cargo shorts, Converse rip-offs and a graduation cap, smiling as all the memorabilia from his hobbies spill out behind him.

My eyes are glassy, my hair feels dry and I think about the mediocre paper I’d typed out, word by word, during my first all-nighter of the semester.

To my sleepy brain, the mascot seemed profound, at once embodying the ideal of college life and mocking it. I put my hand against the glass, commemorating the epiphany…and called bullshit.