Pulling an All-Nighter? Look to the 17th Century for Help


Image of eye © 2016, Jim Godfrey Design, LLC

One of the least favorite parts of being a graphic designer or art director is the (hopefully) occasional need to stay up all night to finish a project. Usually this is due to a deadline, but every once in a while I get into a groove on a design and just can’t stop working.

You are getting sleepy…

How do we cope with an all-nighter? As the night grows longer, energy often wanes and a fog seems to sweep over our minds. Not to mention our eyes which start to feel and look like Sauron’s burning eye from the Lord of the Rings. There are a few things people try to help them push through the night.

Going old school–really, really old school

These are great options, but perhaps the best way to get through an all nighter comes from the 17th century. No, really. Roger Ekirch, a historian at Virginia Tech, has found that, before Paris lit its streets at night in 1667, people used to sleep in two chunks, called first sleep and second sleep. They’d sleep for a couple of hours after it grew dark, then would wake up and socialize, eat, write or read. Ekirch found evidence of this two-pronged approach to sleeping in medical documents in Europe, writings by the Greeks, and in the languages of some cultures in Africa (which includes a word for “first sleep”). In the documents, the first and second sleep are mentioned so casually that we can assume it was commonplace. Second sleep began to disappear as more activities moved to the night, due in no small part to electricity and street lamps. By the 1920s, a second sleep was no longer on anyone’s radar.

How does this apply to all nighters? Early in the night, find the couch, set your alarm, catch an hour or two of Zs and then start working again. Sure, you’ve lost a couple of hours, but when 3 or 4 in the morning comes, your mind and body will thank you.


So to make it through the night, you’ve got beverages, food, music or a couple of hours of sleep. If you choose the last option, remember to thank folks from the 1600s and earlier. If only we could send them Flamin’ Hot Cheetos to, pardon the pun, spice up their night life then maybe we could call it even.


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