How to Study at Night (And Still Get Your Work Done)

How to Study at Night (and still get your work done)

In a perfect schedule, you should always get 8 to 9 hours of sleep, and wake up at the same time every morning. This keeps you alert and combats fatigue.

But let’s face it: If you’re a student, sometimes this schedule is impossible to keep.

Some nights, you need to stay up late to get things done. Whether that’s due to procrastination, or the sheer amount of homework you have to do, it doesn’t matter. Either way, we’re here to make you focused and productive, and get you to sleep.

It’s late, and it’s not getting any earlier. The clock says it’s time to get moving. Here are three things you need to think about the next time you’re up late getting things done.


Part 1: Caffeine

I’m sure you’re familiar with this solution. To stay awake, drink some coffee, tea, or grab a pop. But if you do, plan carefully.

Caffeine has a half-life in the body of about 6 hours. That means, every 6 hours, your body gets rid of half of the caffeine in its system. So, a “5-hour energy” shot (200ml caffeine) at 2 pm will have a similar effect on your sleep to drinking a caffeinated soda after midnight (up to 55ml caffeine).

Caffeine can become unhealthy when you have too much, and it can be very addictive. Make sure you know how much you’re getting and when. This will help you balance times of productivity and sleep. Learn how it affects your mind, and develop a conscious plan to keep yourself healthy and avoid caffeine dependency.


Part 2: Staying Productive

Staying awake isn’t the only hard part. Once you get past midnight, it’s much easier to find yourself staring at the paper, or your computer screen, completely zoned out. The key to finishing your work at night is maintaining concentration.

You can try to combat this by keeping your environment changing. If you feel your concentration slipping, move to another room and continue. Experiment with music or noise in the background. I find it helps to set a timer for every 15 minutes and force myself to refocus every time it goes off.

Work out your own system that keeps you focused and engaged.


Part 3: Rationalizing

When you work late at night, you will want to go to sleep. As a result, you will begin to rationalize.

“This section isn’t as important.”
“I’ll have time tomorrow morning.”
“I can make up for a low grade on this assignment.”

You’ve probably heard that you shouldn’t grocery shop when you’re hungry. Similarly, the best solution to avoid this kind of thinking is to make decisions about your work when you’re not tired.

Before 10:00 pm you need to make two decisions. First, decide what you will get done in your late night session. Second, decide when you are going to sleep. For both of these, it may help to set both goals and requirements. Let’s say you have a long night of writing and math ahead of you:


Goals: Finish essay and math assignment, go to sleep by 1:30
Requirements: Finish essay and half of math assignment, go to sleep by 2:00

Best-case scenario: you meet your goals. But if you don’t, and you have to start bending goals and requirements to reach others, you still have a solid framework in place that will stop you from spending too much time rationalizing and convincing yourself not to finish.



If you can concentrate and avoid rationalization (perhaps with a little help from caffeine), you can study at night at least as effectively as you do during the day. So follow your plan, get the job done, and then get some well-deserved sleep.

Do you have any tricks for studying or working late at night? Leave a comment below. And be sure to check out this article on defeating bad sleep habits for good.

Images: Moon, Coffee, Table and Chairs, Clock

Jeremy Baxter

Jeremy is a rising freshman at Cornell University. He graduated in the top 10 of his 500-member high school class and scored a 35 on his first sitting of the ACT. He is a recovering procrastinator who wants to share the methods he uses to get work done and succeed.