Lee Spitzer finished his philosophy paper at sunrise on Nov. 8. After spending a coffee-fueled in front of his computer, the College of Arts and Sciences sophomore collapsed on his bed for a short nap before his class — only to wake up and find his class was over and his paper was not turned in.
And according to Harvard Medical School Researchers, pulling “all-nighters” — a common practice among college crammers — may actually decrease academic proficiency, negating the purpose of sleepless study.
Harvard Assistant Professor Robert Stickgold taught 24 subjects to recognize the orientation of three diagonal bars flashing for a 60th of a second on a screen. On the first night of the study, half of the subjects were able to sleep while the other half were kept awake until the second night. All subjects were allowed to sleep on the second and third night.
The study showed that subjects that slept on the first night recognized the diagonal bars quicker than they had on the first day. Yet, the subjects that were deprived of sleep on the first night showed little to no improvement from the first day.
“[The results supported my expectations] more so than I expected,” Stickgold said. “I expected that not sleeping on the first night would seriously compromise their learning capability, not eliminate it completely.”
He added that even after the sleep-deprived subjects had two full nights of sleep, they did not perform as well as the subjects that adhered to normal sleep patterns.
“[Staying up all night] is very exhausting and usually hits you a couple of days later,” Spitzer said. “It is clearly detrimental. You have to have sleep.”
With finals approaching, there is evidence that many BU students are sleep deprived. The high-energy caffeine drink, Jolt, doubles its sales during finals time at the Campus Convenience in the George Sherman Union, according to store manager Al Linick. He added that coffee and caffeine pills increase sales by about 25 percent during finals.
Fighting dozing eyes and slowing wits, sleepless students said they try drinking coffee, or popping over-the-counter caffeine pills, while others smoke cigarettes to combat exhaustion.
“I drank coffee [to stay awake],” Spitzer said. “No pills, that’s ridiculous.”
As the end-of-the-semester crunch hits, sleep takes a fall on students’ priority lists. For many BU students, pulling an all-nighter is a recurring reality toward the end of each semester.
“I’ve done it a couple of times when I put my work off to the last minute,” said College of General Studies sophomore Kamia Cuevas. “All-nighters happen when I’m not balancing my time, usually I space my time out.
“I ended up working slower as the night went on. I got less work done in a greater amount of time.”
However, both Cuevas and Spitzer claim for the most part their work does not vary in quality when they do it all in one night.
Curtis Hsia, a post-doctoral fellow and clinical psychologist at BU, claimed while it depends on the student, he could usually tell if a student is sleep-deprived by the quality of the work.
“You’re body isn’t made to function that way,” he added. “If you don’t have a choice and you have to cram, you have to cram, but the best way to study is a little bit every day.”
“I drink coffee,” Cuevas said. “Another girl I knew was taking caffeine pills but that’s a little to extreme for me.”
Cuevas agreed that she physically felt the effects of her lack of sleep the next day.
“I got a little bit of a cold,” she said. “My entire body felt worn out.