As with hundreds of University students who burn the midnight oil, this was not his first late-night study session — and it would not be his last either.
“I tell myself that I’m going to start working after class,” Schwartz said. “I stall until 7 or 8, and at that point, I already know that I’m in for a late night.”
It is no secret that many students routinely work late into the night, occupying libraries and common spaces and illuminating the night sky with their dorm-room windows. While simple procrastination puts many students in Schwartz’s position, others said they stay up by choice or out of perceived necessity.
Daniel Yeboah-Kordieh ’14 is one of the rare students who was enthusiastic about his habit. “I just love working at night," he said, because he tends to be less productive during the day anyway. “I’d rather use the afternoons to do extracurricular stuff.”
While Yeboah-Kordieh maintains that he stays awake “naturally,” most students interviewed cited coffee as their main energy source.
Chad Lim ’12, who frequents Lewis Library and routinely goes to bed between 2 and 4 a.m., said he prefers caffeine pills. The pills help with late-night focus, Lim said, admitting that part of the effect is “a psychological thing.”
“I tend to put off my work during the day, kind of hang out and make excuses,” Lim added.
Beyond caffeine, students rely on a variety of methods to maintain consciousness into the wee hours of the morning.
Schwartz finds music helpful. “If a song has an upbeat tempo, it contributes to an upbeat tempo for my studying ... It’s almost like something is driving me forward.”
Selene Kim ’12, a student employee who regularly works at Lewis Library until 2 a.m., said that she takes naps earlier in the day so that she can stay up at night but noted that “usually when you know that you have something to do, it’s hard to fall asleep.”
“Frist cookies are my lifesaver, especially the M&M ones,” said Matt Siow ’13, who claimed to never have had a cup of coffee in his life.
Arjni Benoit, a U-Store employee, said that about 100–150 students typically enter the store over the course of his nightly midnight to 4 a.m. shift. A cashier at the Frist Campus Center C-Store estimated that roughly 150 students come in during her midnight to 2 a.m. shift. Both reported candy, frozen foods and beverages as the most commonly purchased items.
Regardless of the methods they use, how late they stay up is usually correlated with their mental focus in the next day’s classes, students said.
Silvani Alberti ’14 said she finds that working late seriously detracts from her attentiveness. “Sometimes I fall asleep during lectures, and I don’t pay enough attention,” she said.
Very few said that late nights do not affect their level of concentration.
“I usually find it hard to focus in class regardless of what time I go to bed,” Lim said.
Aware of such drawbacks, students try to minimize the number of nights they stay up late.
“I try to plan it so that if I stay up late, it’s on a day when I don’t have an 8:30 a.m. class,” said Siow, who aims for seven to eight hours of sleep a night. But citing his frequent exam schedule, Siow said of late nights, “Here, it’s necessary.”
Along with their workload, students cited busy schedules as another major factor that keeps them up.
“I have a lot of awkward pockets of time during the day, so it’s hard to sit down and do something,” Molly Gibson ’14 explained. Getting a late start on her academic work translates into a late night, meaning that she usually goes to bed after 2 a.m., Gibson said.
For Alberti, like many other freshmen on campus, “Usually if I stay up too late, it’s because of the writing seminar,” she said.
Rather than attributing his late nights to any one factor, Lou Tejada ’12 said that working late was due to “a combination of things. I feel like it’s easier to get work done at night because there are less distractions in the form of other people ... It’s also a function of getting momentum going with my work.”
For students, late study nights and their consequences are nothing new. Most of those interviewed said that staying up late was a habit that they developed in high school, though the particularities of their sleep cycles may have changed.
And though many students routinely work late into the night, almost none enjoy it.
“I absolutely wish I could go to sleep earlier,” Schwartz said, but he recognized that the practice is important to his academic success.
“Ideally, I’d be done with work around 10 or 11, and if later, I’m up by choice,” Siow said. “But I mean, I signed up for this, so I’m not going to whine about it.”