August 09, 2012

The Almighty All-nighter (Part I)

Come to the first year studios of my school, the space is cluttered with the graffiti of architecture students past. One can’t help the spray painted message on the broken window: SLEEP IS FOR THE WEAK! The All-Nighter is no stranger to architecture students whether you try to avoid it or not.

Before I go further, I would like to mention that I do not condone slacking or making things easier. I hope that this post is not just merely generalized as bitching. However the tradition of the All-Nighter shows the challenge of architecture schools of trying to compress an ever-expanding field of architecture into a typical framework of 4-5 years of undergraduate study (2-3 for graduate). It clearly shows how different the architectural education compares to other undergraduate programs such as the Humanities, Engineering, and Business in terms of it’s structure and focus on the design studio as opposed to a lecture hall, and the subjectivity of the design work we do.

I have mixed feelings about the All-Nighters. I have learned the hard way from avoiding them in my early years. Nearing the final years of my degree, I can pull a straight 2 to the max, and I have heard of many friends in Interior Design and Architecture School that boast of 3 or more in a row. Our design culture tends to glorify the image of the self-suffering artist - the designer that compromises himself in order to be the best.

Is this healthy? Is it worth it? Is it meaningful to living a fulfilling life? Are these acts of self-suffering to be celebrated and exemplified? Is it a true measurement of one’s dedication, hardwork, productivity and work ethic?

On one hand I am kinda partial to the all-nighters and late nights in studio. I must say that those experiences have made me stronger, developed a work ethic, and taught me the importance of being a team player for group projects....There is the downside to the experience...

I was 1 out of 2 students pulling it all-night for a group project to be done by10-14ish students who would get the same mark even if there were a few slackers...that was not fun 
(The negative experience taught me many things - importance of being professional, being a team player by bearing my load and always being proactive...however what the F**K were my professors thinking?)

On the other hand, I have seen the effects of the all-nighters. Personally, mines were headaches, bloodshot eyes, incoherence, feeling emotional, a random cramping in the leg that served as my alarm clock. I'm not much of a drinker, but I can tell you that it's like feeling drunk, just without feeling nauseous.

I had a summer job boss that studied Architecture, and works in the field of Building Science. However he hinted to me and a few summer interns that now he has Arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat) from the numerous late nights spent during university.

I know this is a hypocritical of me to post this image. I am quite ashamed and surprised to see how much
coffee I drank during 2 all nighters till project deadline in school.
And some of this was just habitual and not realizing it until afterwards.
And don’t think chugging down a large can of energy drink or stocking up on a large caffeine drink from the nearby cafe will be your saving grace. Too much of something is never a good thing and I’m sure these are not healthy if you do your research. And even if it keeps you awake, you’ll still feel incoherent and less productive.

For those with mental health issues, the lack of sleep can actually trigger or worsen a lot of the symptoms for students that suffer from depression and anxiety – which can actually cramp on one’s academic performance. It is those students that silently suffer in an architecture school environment and studio culture that does not freely accommodate or support them. sleep, exercise, and nutrition are 3 vital components to cope with the effects of mental health, and at the same time in architecture school sleep, exercise, and nutrition are the first ones to go when sh*t hits the fan.

I`m just curious if the all-nighters are worth it. In real life, you are being paid by the hour and you have to get your work done. I do not think that a company will want to pay you for work overtime on a regular basis. (unless you do freelance work like me where it`s really beyond the defined lines of 9-5...but that is only need be and the ultimate last resource when a deadline has to be met)

It is completely unhealthy to be upholding this kind of lifestyle. Is it really worth pushing yourself to achieve the highest position in your career while compromising your health and well being? Architecture school is tough, and I do value it for making me who I am today. However, this practice of all-nighters is a tradition that needs to be either scrapped or re-assessed - looking towards finding coping strategies and alternatives to dealing with it.

Any thoughts?


  1. Great post on which I completely agree with you. My background is finance but I had the exact same experience during my graduate studies and while being a junior in my first job. The lack of sleep is glorified and people are happy to brag about their suffering. Unfortunately you can see how some of the people who praise all nighters are not the most efficient ones during the day (sometimes understandably since there are so many distractions during daylight while at night we can completely focus on our job at hand without any external inputs but mostly it’s a function of self-discipline)...

    I used to think the same way - being proud of barely sleeping pumping myself full of energy drinks every night throughout my studies and then partying and drinking on weekends to cope with the stress - until it hit me: I came down with the shingles. My immune system completely gave up and I ended up with a disease that people usually start encountering once they are past their sixties. It took me a very long time to recover and since then I started rediscovering sleep as one of the best sources of energy and health. Unfortunately a lot of people don't value the importance of it and just brush 'sleep is good for you' as an old fashioned tale that isn't compatible with the current generation and pace of life.

    Thank you for speaking out about this issue. The motto should be "Sleep is for the strong, since it is sleep that ultimately gives you strength" so try to work efficient and hard enough to enjoy your rest! Everyone should really look into and understand sleep better (we spent 1/3 of our life doing it) google some info on REM, deep and light sleep stages and how critical they are for your physical and mental wellbeing.


  2. I am a junior architecture student and have hosted my fair share of all-nighters. I have mixed feelings about them as well. Although, I feel they have a pivotal role in teaching young undergraduates the importance of work proficiency, they are very straining and unhealthy. I remember last semester (I was a sophomore and we had two different studio classes) I had 3 midterms and 2 projects due in a week period. I slept a total of 10 hours from Sunday to Friday. I pulled two straight all nighters and ate probably 2 meals in total. In the end, I don't know if the grogginess and lack of sleep helped me in the end to produce better projects or attain better midterm scores. I think that all nighters have their place, but when you pull so many in a row, or in a semester, it really takes its toll.

    1. Hi Katie,

      Thanks for commenting! I totally agree, that all-nighters have their time and place - it's just that when it becomes recurring, I'd be really concerned. In my opinion, I realized that sometimes you have to listen to your body and see if you are in that state of "Flow" or adranaline running when you can keep working with alertness of mind even through the graveyard shift - otherwise, there's no point if you're just stressing and getting nowhere. I had times when I was stressed and worried that I was just getting nowhere and the all-nighter was in vein and really affect my performance the days after. I think time management is a solution, but if you're coming from an architecture school that puts a focus on group work for different courses, that's when it hits the fan and it's just difficult since your time is dependant on how responsible your peers are.