Most of us have at some point had to work insanely long days and even had to pull all-nighters. Keeping alert or just awake for those long stretches can be a challenge. But the mistake most of us do is to jack up on coffee and sugar too early.  I’m going to go through the most common stimulants and how they are best used.

Coffee

The king of stimulants. A lot of people drink coffee out of an intense addiction and need it just to wake up. My first advice is to break the addiction. It is a much more useful stimulant if you don’t drink copius amounts of it every day (aside from the health benefits).

It’s most useful effect is that it aside from being a mild stimulant, it reduces the amount of melatonin in the body, which is a sleep hormone. The effects of a single cup of coffee lasts for around 6 hours so don’t drink it late in the evening if you need to be at work the morning after.

Best usage: A cup or two in the late afternoon or early evening if you need to stay up late. More than two cups will have limited, if any effect.

Sugar

Candy, sweet pastries or just sucking on molasses. If you eat a lot of candy every day, the best thing you can do for your energy level is to break that habit.

Candy and other foods with a lot of simple carbohydrates have a high Glycemic Index (GI) which means it raises your blood-sugar very fast after eating. This is the sugar-rush. However, it raises the blood-sugar so fast that insulin levels spike to counteract it and as a result the blood-sugar level soon crashes below the initial level, causing that sugar crash. Of course you can eat more candy at this point but that will send your body through a very uncomfortable blood-sugar rollercoaster

Best usage: No more than an hour or two before you stop working. Sugar is the last-ditch emergency stimulant and it’s effects are very short lived.

Energy drinks

The effects of energy drinks vary a lot. Most of them use Coffein, Taurine and Guarana and minimal sugar so most of them have very similar effects to that of coffee. Some of them do include sugar though but enough slom-acting stimulants that you don’t feel the blood-sugar crash as intently.

Best usage: Depending on the ingredients, use like coffee and/or sugar

Water

Yes water! More than 50% of people in the western world are dehydrated on a daily basis, mostly due to excessive drinking of coffee, tea and soda. Dehydration reduces our energy levels and concentration. If you know you have a long day ahead of you, start the day off forcing as much water  as you can into your body. Yes, you’ll have to pee a lot more but then again 5 minute breaks every hour are good for you as well.

Best usage: As much as you can, whenever you can

Nuts

Nuts are the best energy snack you can possibly get. (preferrably if they aren’t frosted and coated in cheese) They are very rich in fatty oils (healthy fat) and complex carbohydrates, meaning they fill you with slow burning and long-lived energy.

Best usage: As a snack throughout the day and all night if necessary

Breaks

Get up every hour for at least 5 minutes. Break your train of thought and stretch your legs. This will keep your circulation going and work against mental fatigue.

Best usage: Every hour without exception

My patent pending 24 hour max energy program:

06:00 – Any low-sugar breakfast
06:01 – Start your marathon water consumption for that day. No coffee  yet!
10:00 – A jogurt and/or some fruit (even sweet fruit is OK)
12:00 – A protein rich lunch. Chicken or tuna are optimal. Brown rice on the side or other complex carbs to avoid raising the blood-sugar
15:00 – A jogurt and/or some fruit (alternatively you could snack on nuts throughout the afternoon) This should help you avoid that afternoon slump.
Don’t forget the water!
19:00 – A protein rich dinner. If you are taking a 24 hour workday then you should limit carbs and fat similarly to the lunch.
More nuts and water. No candy or energy drinks yet!
24:00 – A jogurt and/or some fruit. You can replace this if you are sick of jogurt and fruit at this point but stay away from anything high in sugar or wheat.
01:00 – Now is the time for coffee or non-sugar energy drinks. It’s OK to have one cup up to 3 hours earlier but any sooner than that and you don’t get the full effect. Don’t drink it much later as it will affect your sleep once you finally get it.
03:00 – A bagel or other pastries. Wheat and simple carbs are ok at this point but keep anything high in sugar off for another hour or two.
04:00 – This is the first time you should even think about eating candy. Eating some now will require more in an hour though to stave off the sugar crash
05:00Candy time! Keep yourself going through the final hour on a sugar rush. It will effect your concentration but at least you are awake. This will also affect your sleep as your blood-sugar will be low afterwards

Of course if you can do this without coffee or candy, all the better. The better sleep you get after the crunch, the quicker you will bounce back.

Note that I did not mention nicotine. I’m an ex-smoker myself and do not consider smoking a viable way to keep your energy level up. Especially as the withdrawal pangs will chip away at your attention later on. The breaks are good but you can do these without actually smoking.

Of course jacking up on stimulants is never good for long-term productivity so I hope you rarely need to use this guide. However, when we do need to pull all-nighters it’s good to know how best to do so.

Hope this helps

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