A good friend of mine is working on a big project and lately he started doing all-nighters (actually, every day).

This project is big. It's a group project with ~35 people. This friend of mine is in charge of the last part of the project, and it's due in ~21 hours.

The lack of sleep (less than 6 hours each day, during daytime) is not healthy for him, and I can see it physically (bloodshot eyes, eating problems and other things which only started once he started with the all nighters)

How do I approach the subject and tell him that he shouldn't stay up for so long?

(Even though the project will end soon, he has a lot of catching up to do on school things. He's a senior, maybe that belongs in the beginning of the question...)

The project, for those familiar, is a robotics competition's build season. This friend of mine has a lot of school work he's been postponing until after finishing the project.


By "all-nighter", I mean starting to work at around 4 pm, staying up after midnight, until about 7 am the next day.

  • 19
    "less than 6 hours each day" can you give more informations about it please ? Because 6h/day suits me well when my gf needs at least 10h/day, some people work fine without loads of sleep you know ?
    – Rolexel
    Feb 20, 2018 at 9:22
  • 4
    @AbhigyanC You're wrong on that point, less than 6 would be bad for MOST of the persons, 6 to 8 is an average and if my gf needs 10h there must be someone on earth who only needs 4h. It's rare, but it exists.
    – Rolexel
    Feb 20, 2018 at 9:46
  • 1
    @AlexandreAudin Needing less sleep comes with age/less activity. So the person who needs 4 hours of sleep a night is likely to be over 65 or very inactive. I appreciate your point that such a person exists but unless, by 'senior' they mean senior citizen then I don't think the same is true for this person. Feb 20, 2018 at 10:01
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    "This friend of mine is in charge of the last part of the project, and it's due in ~21 hours". Sounds like it's almost over. What makes you think that he won't start sleeping properly then?
    – Mawg
    Feb 20, 2018 at 15:03
  • 4
    He only has 1 day to go, it too late now for any meaningful help! At this point he might as well just jam one final day to "get it done". Any time spent with you will only delay the project. If he doesn't sleep after that, then you say something.
    – cybernard
    Feb 21, 2018 at 2:29

8 Answers 8


As students it can be easy to ignore your health and develop bad practices like your friend is doing - in an attempt to salvage a failed project. I feel the true answer is to explain to them what I've written below, and that they need to stop over-working immediately - even if it feels wrong, or like they are letting the team down.

This project is being mismanaged

Despite what you may feel on a project that is so important to you, with so little time left - it is very important to recognise:

Crunch is not a necessary evil

The truth in all professional development is you have a fixed amount of time to make something, and a fixed amount of resource (man-hours) to make it with. The area that can change, is how much of what you wanted to do - actually gets done (the project scope).

Crunching, as your friend has been doing - is a failed attempt to rectify bad planning and management decisions made earlier in the project. They are trying to add more resource, to avoid changing the scope of the project. This is neither sustainable, nor good for their professional development.

It may feel completely crushing to accept this truth; that the project is not going to be delivered to the standard you wanted. But you need to explain to your friend, and colleagues, that it is not their fault you are in this situation - it is the fault of bad planning throughout the project (due to lack of experience - not malicious intent).

For this project to have worked, decisions earlier should have cut features repeatedly until you knew your goal could be delivered through sustainable development. Importantly, this isn't a one-off cut, this should have been on a regular basis to re-evaluate what goal was actually possible.

How to pivot and fix this one-off situation

So I do understand that it's one thing to tell you what went wrong, and how to explain to your friend that it isn't their fault this situation happened (and that they are not responsible for fixing it). But at the end of the day, you are still in the situation and do need to fix it however possible.

To try to salvage whatever you can, I'd recommend you take the following steps:

  1. Identify how much resource you actually have, without overworking any single person. If it's just the one person for 6 hours, that's fine - it's what you have. Do not allow anybody to try and pull off a heroic last-stand. Everybody is to sleep - that is not their choice to make.

  2. Identify what the most important features are that are on your backlog. List them in a priority order, cutting anything off the list that isn't a "must have". If it does not prevent you delivering - do not include it.

  3. Estimate each of these tasks as a team. Whoever is available to work on that last section must be involved - it is their estimates you will be using as they are the ones actually making it. Double the estimates they give - you have already proven to under-estimate work as a team; do not expect that to change overnight.

  4. Drop any tasks that do not fit into the time remaining. These are not to be considered under any circumstance - even if another task took less time than you thought. You are aiming to only finish these pieces of work and then deliver.

  5. Assign the tasks and begin working. Whenever somebody finishes their tasks - they either help somebody else if needed, or stop working altogether. You do not want people adding scope in the last hours - you are aiming to achieve the new goal you've set and no more.

To re-iterate, you must first accept the project failure is not reliant on this person and explain to them how it is not their fault.

Secondly, you need to make a new plan that can salvage whatever is possible in the remaining time - given a sustainable effort to finish.

Finally, you need to act on this plan and accept that whatever the result is, is the team's combined result - not due to one person failing to pull their weight (proper management of the project would prevent that ever being a possibility).

Doing this, you will develop healthier professional practices. Failing to win the competition is a better outcome than solidifying the unprofessional mindset that anything can be fixed with more time/resource. Which IMO should be the most important factor as a student.

  • 1
    You're right in general. Certainly not a good habit to develop. Though a useful skill to be able to crunch for certain situations and professions (military?). In real life, you don't always have a choice. If he/ the team thinks they can pull it together with crunching, good for them. Hopefully they learn how to plan better in the process. Another good skill to have it to cut out stuff that doesn't matter and deliver something that is good enough.
    – Eelco
    Feb 21, 2018 at 4:23
  • 1
    @WilliamPerron As a software developer I can assure you that "crunching/cramming" definitely has its uses. You can accomplish a heck of a lot if you overwork yourself a little bit (usually with some caffeine and sugar) when you're on a roll. There's something to do with moods or hormones throughout the day that makes us super productive at one thing at one point in the day and super productive at another thing at a different point in the day. Also, when you stop working on something, you forget the context and details and it takes time to recover them, which is highly inefficient.
    – Andrew
    Feb 21, 2018 at 17:08
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    @Andrew being a software developper as well, I strongly disagree. Sure you may have your "peak performance/concentration" at a certain point in the day, but studies have consistently shown that passed a certain point, we start becoming less and less productive, so straining yourself to work extra hours simply isn't worth the perceived productivity improvement. Good project planning tends to lead to much better and consistent results. Feb 21, 2018 at 18:52
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    Speaking as an alumni, the FIRST Robotics Competition is primarily student driven. Most teams will have mentors to guide and advise, but the intent is for the students to set the pace and make the decisions. And this is the most complex project that most high school students will have ever faced. They must design, build, program, and test a human-sized robot in 6 weeks while balancing school. Project management is primarily a learned skill, and this is their first opportunity to learn it. Of course most of the teams will be mismanaged. This project is where they learn how to manage. Feb 22, 2018 at 2:06
  • 2
    well, I tried this and it worked. Thanks!
    – ItamarG3
    Feb 22, 2018 at 8:14

I would suggest the opposite of what AbhigyanC answered, I like to believe your friend is aware of the sacrifices he's making, and that he's actually trying to fulfil his tasks respecting the deadline.

If that's the case then talking about its health wont help a lot, I can tell because I'm actually like your friend. "I'm young, I'll sleep later, the deadlines are what matters."

What could help you here is find examples and testimonies of experienced developpers showing samples of code they produced when they slept enough, and when they didn't and how much time was required to produce theese samples.

Occasional all-nighters aren't a big deal if you control well enough your sleep shedule to get that sleep back later, but chain-all-nighters are useless, you exhaust yourself too much, and do more and more stupid mistakes which makes you lose more and more time, making all-nighting worthless.

This being said, AbhigyanC's answer is the wisest actually, but everyone's not wise enough to do what's best.

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    +1 I liked your answer. Respecting the deadlines is an important part of projects, it builds trust between the project-doer and the customer/teachers receiving it. If we really respect the deadlines, it's a better idea to try and meet them starting from day one, not just on the last leg of the race. If this is done, the need for all-nighters drastically falls.
    – Abhigyan
    Feb 20, 2018 at 10:16
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    Respecting your health over a project is an important part of life, it builds a sustainable habbit and the customer/teachers/employers can do something with the physical limits.
    – Martijn
    Feb 20, 2018 at 11:52
  • @Martijn I don't deny it, my point is actually more about playing at the edge of it, where it's just between exhausting and not yet health threatening
    – Rolexel
    Feb 20, 2018 at 16:06

I'm not sure what age exactly a 'senior' might be, but I would guess mid to late teens. That is an age at which people are still working out who they are and how they live.

As a student I pulled all nighters, my first ones in my final year at school when I was 16/17 and carried on, occasionally, turning them in for study and work until I was in perhaps my early forties.

What I learnt from that experience was that while you might feel a bit buzzy after a few in a row (btw, getting 5-ish hours sleep is nothing like an 'all-nighter' even if the sleep is 'technically' in the daytime. To most people an 'all-nighter' is when you literally stay up/work around the clock), you really aren't likely to feel ill or bad in a significant way as long as you are getting some uninterrupted sleep. I found that one 'sleep cycle' which seems for me to be about 4 hours, was more refreshing than six hours and it was much harder to get going again if I had to wake at the deepest part of sleep. The point here being that your friend might not be very open to your intervention if he feels like he isn't affected. So to get him to listen you will have to come up with things to make him think about the effects lack of sleep does have.

Being sleep deprived as a lifestyle will probably do a person no good, you are right about that, but someone who is temporarily a bit short on sleep for a few days is really not exposing themselves to those risks in that time period. The risks they are exposing themselves to are that:

A) they start to think it is a normal amount, which for some it may be but in that instance they would not qualify as 'sleep deprived'.

B) They may be unaware of the short term risks which include things like impaired judgement and slower than usual reaction times. Those are obviously problematic if they are staying up late to get more work done if more but poorer work is ultimately less beneficial. More directly those effects can put them at risk of injury to themselves and others.

The Great Heck Rail Crash is a case in point. Gary Neil Hart stayed up all night internetting and drinking coffee, then set out to drive in his Landrover, pulling a trailer. he managed to swerve off the road, down an embankment onto a railway where his vehicle caused a partial derailment which deflected a passenger train into the path of a freightliner resulting in the loss of ten lives.

If your friend drives, you might make him aware that operating a vehicle in a sleep deprived state is dangerous for his and others. Even if he doesn't drive he is putting himself at greater risks from all manner of other incidents, it is much easier to misjudge crossing the road, pouring water from a kettle, handling kitchen knives etc when your reactions are slowed.

There are all sorts of easy tests you can find online for testing reaction speed, but something you can do very easily to demonstrate the effect it is having on him is the Ruler Drop Test where you drop and catch a ruler such that you can use use the rulers markings as a proxy for timing reaction. If you readily outperform him on such a test you may more easily convince him that there are real effects from losing sleep.


I suggest that you tell him of the consequences of not sleeping that might make his all-nighters irrelevant with time. For example, tell him that even if the project goes successfully after him not sleeping, he might be too sick later to enjoy the rewards.

I'm sure that in any educational project, besides learning about the project matter, you also learn how a project should actually be done efficiently, keeping everyone's welfare in mind. Achieving success in the project isn't the only thing that's important, especially if someone's making himself unwell in the process, and losing out on vital sleep.

Drill into his head that health first, everything else is secondary. If he argues against it, show him evidence of what happens to people who don't sleep. It's extremely important that he realizes the priority of stuff in life, even if popular culture may show otherwise.

  • 1
    I think bolding "health first, everything else second" isn't really fair or realistic. Sometimes short term sacrifices to health allow us to achieve what we otherwise couldn't. In the real world, projects get delayed, and the occasional late night/crunch time is required. In college, the motto was "due tomorrow? do tomorrow!" among almost everyone I knew, across all majors.
    – corsiKa
    Feb 20, 2018 at 23:41
  • The problem is once one starts accepting that, they start taking deeper and deeper sacrifices to health until they either crash or frankly just aren't living a happy life. Then that thinking spreads across the work culture and soon it's viewed as unacceptable to put one's health first. It helps a lot setting hard limits and either discussing unrealistic expectations with the one assigning tasks or dealing with the consequences of bad planning and learning for the future. Feb 21, 2018 at 1:09
  • @corsiKa I'm not encouraging 'due tomorrow, do tomorrow'. All I'm saying is that you've got to plan it and do it from day one of the project, so that you can sleep at least a little every night. As Bilkokuya said in he answer, the project may not be up to the mark that we want if we start skipping sleep. It's not a heroic deed to stay up and finish it off, it shows lack of planning on the manager/leader's part and on yours if everyone else could do it in time.
    – Abhigyan
    Feb 21, 2018 at 2:37
  • Yeah, I think that's great in theory but in practice you would never plan to do allnighters. It's a natural corollary to Parkinson's Law that some of the people will be late with their phase which will push every non-trivial project over its due date. The best laid plans, etc.
    – corsiKa
    Feb 21, 2018 at 15:31
  • @corsiKa I guess I haven't got the necessary experience yet. I'm just in 11th grade now... Got ways to go in life :) But I had an experience like this recently, and got really sick for doing 2 all-nighters in a row... That's where I'm coming from. I don't want others to make the same mistakes I did.
    – Abhigyan
    Feb 21, 2018 at 15:36

I have to assume from the information you give that your friend does not have his life in balance. He should not need to work all through the night, and this suggests that he is using the time during the day when he ought to be working for something else. Is he using the time during the day for recreation or some other pursuit?

Regardless of the specific cause, you have identified that this change in lifestyle is the root of the problem, and most people would agree with you that it IS a problem. Without being judgemental of his choices you need to help your friend see that he does not have his life in balance. His choices are impacting negatively on his life.

I would start by telling him:

You haven't been yourself recently.

This is pretty non-judgemental. You're not telling him he's doing something wrong, or what he should be doing. But be honest - tell him that he looks tired, and that he looks ill. Ask him:

Are you sleeping ok?

And see what he thinks. Try and see if he knows what the problem is. If it turns out he is wasting time during the day on something futile like gaming; or maybe something more serious is causing him to procrastinate, he needs to break the cycle. Once you stay awake all night and sleep during the day you pretty much get into a cycle of this and become nocturnal. Eating at the correct times and exercise during the day will set him up for a good night's sleep and get back into a healthy pattern.


See if you can convince your friend to read a book called "Why We Sleep" once the project is over. (Also, read it yourself! Its a great read! If you read it first, you can lend it to him if you bought it. Its also easier to say "hey, I read this and it was a great read" than "hey, you should read this".)

I was a chronic under-sleeper and (while I'm still not great at sleeping enough), after reading just the first chapter of the book I've made several changes to try to get more sleep.

The biggest myth people believe is that sleep is "just sleep". Its not. Sleep does SO SO much for our bodies, psyche and emotional well being. Some random facts/stats from the book:

  • 6 hours of sleep per night is often referred to as "sleep deprivation" in the book and many studies cited use it as the sleep deprivation amount in the test groups. 8 hours is the "normal" amount the control groups mostly used.
  • sleep deprivation causes greater emotional volatility: one night of sleep deprivation (cant remember how much deprivation) caused 60% greater emotional volatility the next day.
  • sleep deprivation caused bipolar individuals who had been in a "normal" state (neither manic or depressive) to almost instantly spiral into a manic or depressive state.
  • 4 hours of sleep for 6 nights caused performance to drop to the level of someone who had been sleep deprived for 24 hours. This led to a 400% increase in "micro-naps".
  • 6 hours of sleep for just 10 nights is also the "equivalent" as going 24 hours with no sleep. Signs showed that performance degradation would likely continue.
  • 3 nights of recovery sleep (longer than a normal weekend) was insufficient to bring performance levels back up to before the sleep deprivation occurred.
  • 4 hours of sleep for one night resulted in the same driving ability as someone who would be considered legally too drunk to drive in the USA.
  • A sleepy driver who has a micro-nap and crashes generally results in a FAR deadlier crash than even someone extremely drunk. A drunk person reacts slowly, but generally still reacts and somewhat mitigates the damage. A sleepy person does not react at all (as they are asleep in a micro-nap when these accidents happen).

I have no references for these stats/facts, but it seems that every second page in "Why We Sleep" has a footnote referencing a study the stats are pulled from. It is a very well researched and backed-up book.


Approaching a person on such a topic is highly dependent on the type of person you are dealing with. A person with a superman attitude who thinks that nothing is going to happen, will do the all nighters no matter what anyone says because they have earlier been in good health, and their youth has helped them recover easily from strain on the body. Even the little signs of deteriorating health (which slowly become permanent) will be ignored by them. It is medically known that sleep problems cause stomach problems and stomach problems cause sleep problems. Both of these end up messing up the body completely.

If your friend is less than 26 years old, the chances of recovery from such strain is good. So the person is very unlikely to listen to you if you approach the person directly on the subject. My advice would be either to let go of the matter and let the person find out for himself in due course of time. If you really want to help though, get more senior persons who have been through such problems, indirectly bring up the topic in front of your friend, where they aren't advising him, but simply talking about the health problems they had due to lack of sleep. Hopefully, your friend will link their symptoms with his and the knowledge of how the problem could escalate in a few years, will knock some sense into his head. If your friend naturally has polyphasic sleep though, then there's nothing much to worry about.

How do I know? I was like your friend. I suffered for 3 years, and now 6 years later, I have still not recovered fully from chronic eye strain. I've been advising people ever since.


I thought I should answer this, as I am somebody who has really bad insomnia.

I will regularly be awake at unsociable hours, but also have a day job so need to be awake during the day.

If I'm awake, I may as well do something, so I often do work.

Colleagues will see check-ins from me at these times and ask me bemusedly why I was awake at 3AM. What they don't always understand is that I didn't choose to be awake at 3AM, I just couldn't sleep so decided to do something.

Maybe your friend is similar? Maybe he's not choosing to stay up all night, but actually has problems with his sleep?

If this is the case, acting as though this is a choice he has made really isn't going to help him.

I would recommend mentioning that you have noticed his unusual sleeping habits, and asking if he is having trouble with his sleep. If so, you could maybe help him with this (by recommending exercise before bed, herbal tea, etc) - https://www.helpguide.org/articles/sleep/insomnia-causes-and-cures.htm

  • 1
    Just a mention from my experience and there was also extensive research done on this: Things like exercise before bed, herbal tea etc DO NOT help get sleep. Drinking curd (yoghurt) does, if your sleep problem is related to eating food that's not fully cooked or has burnt particles in it. nrecursions.blogspot.in/2016/12/…
    – Nav
    Feb 21, 2018 at 19:02

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