The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Saturday November 27th

An ode to the all-nighters

There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when you scratch “sleep” off of your to-do list. It’s intimidating but liberating — another bodily restraint you’ve ostensibly freed yourself from.

You consign “semi-regular sleep cycle” to the scrap pile of nonessential needs with its companions “three square meals a day” and “hygiene,” and suddenly your homework window opens up like an eager psychiatric patient who’s been stocking up on trauma for years and just needs somebody to talk to.

And then, like an Augustinian monk well-versed in self-sacrifice, you cloister yourself in the UL, subordinating your worldly physical considerations to study and the redemptive salvation of your GPA.

There’s something almost mystical about it. All analogies aside, the all-nighter in the library is one of those twisted, mind-bending experiences that we don’t often stop to think about. I write my best papers that way (also my worst), and in the last couple of years, I’ve started to appreciate the way my mind works when deprived of its most basic needs.

Reality starts to become decidedly unreal as soon as you hit upon the auditory hallucinations — never before has waking up to violin been so disorienting. Even supposedly normal things start to feel weird when you can’t be sure you’re not dreaming.

Eventually you get to that fevered labor state where the cognitive levees you’ve thrown up between your dreams and your essay materials start to drift downstream in the flood of stress and free association, and before you know it, you wake up having dreamt about your paper and writing about your dreams.

You briefly forget how to build a sentence as you take a break to fumble with a sleeve of Thin Mints, and then you doze off again before recalling what grammar is. Your screen becomes an aquarium of Tetris and puzzle games and you wake up typing a sentence about land sharks into the middle of your philosophy paper, but at that point you’re just glad to be producing words.

And then of course there’s the day after. You wander around in a dazed, only vaguely lucid state, where everything always means so much more than it does because you get to sleep soon. The sun shining through the trees in the arboretum takes on a vividly technicolor tone like an old hand-colored film reel, and you’re Dorothy, easing on down the astoundingly yellow-for-the-sake-of-being-yellow brick road. You feel unexpectedly nostalgic for sepia tones, and you wonder what color’s doing in a movie.

Why do we do it? Well, that’s obvious: it’s homework. And we might as well be monastic copyists because these are some essays of Biblical proportions.

But why is it so exciting? Maybe it’s the physical strain. Perhaps the all-nighter gives us a little sense of risk and adventure, however artificial, and elevates for a time the otherwise mundane, soul-sucking academic grind that university life can be.

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