a sociology of all-nighters?
do some academics never outgrow all-nighters? after grad school many gain the organizational capacity to regulate workflow more sanely. every year or so, however, i find myself with a big pile of stuff that absolutely, positively, has to be finished before i can lay me down to sleep. i'm just coming down from an intensive (but non-allnighter) session with a brilliant and indefatigable collaborator who has a similar workstyle. we were discussing sleep as a stratification dimension (i'll write more on this later) and it got me thinking about the costs and benefits of this approach.
i'm sure that some people would never want or need to stay up all night writing. others do it for a year or two as undergrads or grads but move on to other work patterns. then there are the "chronics" like me. i've found that i can get a lot done and survive pretty well the next day-- a bit foggy, but not usually ill-tempered. in contrast, some friends say that they tried it once and disaster ensued (fell asleep at the wheel, wrote the wrong formula into the page proofs, considered a shooting rampage, public meltdown). it is probably difficult to estimate the effect of all-night work on grades or career indicators because people self-select into the "treatment" on the basis of success-linked habits both good (e.g., stamina, dedication) and bad (e.g., procrastination, inefficient use of time). a randomized trial would be doable, but might lack external validity. an all-nighter needn't be school-related, of course, but i reserve the term for school or worklife. Staying up round-the-clock for family emergencies, natural disasters, or the pursuit of a good time seems like a different process than school/work all-nighters -- though they might provide knowledge and skills that would extend to the work domain. I know that soldiers and software coders stay up all night. do many middle-aged lawyers do all-nighters before trial? artists preparing for openings? sellers of widgets?
i'm sure it is a supreme mark of dorkdom or geekhood, but i actually enjoy clamping my jaw down like a pit bull and locking in on a project completely. in day-to-day worklife, i'm easily distracted and anxious about the many little mental post-it notes in my head. but i greet the sun feeling powerful after an all-nighter, with a sense of accomplishment and relief that at least that problem has been solved or that burden lifted. even dorkier, i seem to have more stamina for working than i do for partying these days. i'm less engaged and more likely to catch myself yawning in the latter case, plus the recovery process is a bit more difficult. i guess this is a sign that i really find my work stimulating, even if sometimes i wish there was just a bit less of it. i'm curious, though, about the trajectories of all-nighters over the life course and across occupations. my friends seem split on the issue -- some are abstainers who would never consider it, others desist at an early age, and a small percentage are life-course persistent chronics. is there a long-term health cost to the latter approach?