A vignette in three parts
Part I: The battle begins
The first all-nighter. During the first all-nighter, you move in waves. You're fine until about three, when your body decides it really wants to shut down. That's when you make yourself some coffee and eat a little. Maybe soup, maybe a sandwich. You give your body some fuel, and a little boost of caffeine to get you through to your second wind. That usually hits around five or six. Between the end of your first wind, and the beginning of your second, you're still able to function, as long as you stay busy. Fast music helps. Your body and your mind resist, but you can push through to the second. If you go on just caffeine, without any food, it may be seven or eight in the morning before your second wind kicks in, when it's used to waking up anyway.
That day, you go to class, and although you're not really all there, you can probably manage to stay awake through it if you stand up and walk around occasionally, and splash cold water on your face when you start to fade. Then you come back to the dorm for another night of work.
Part II: Losing ground
The second all-nighter is the worst. It's a constant battle to stay awake. Your body is screaming at you to stop this madness and just lie down, just for a minute. But you can't. You know you won't be back up. So instead you make another pot of coffee. Maybe pop a couple of ritalin, and smoke a cigarette. Or a box. Whatever it takes to stay awake and get what needs to be done, done.
By the second morning, you look like death. Two nights in a row of consciousness, but even consciousness is starting to feel more and more like sleep. You have bags under your eyes. Your face is pale. You're unable to exert the energy to smile. You shuffle around in class. You will probably doze off a couple of times, but you can be sure that no professor will let you sleep for long. You try the same tactics as yesterday, but the effect is far smaller. You achieve periods of near-wakefulness occasionally. You eat some, but your appetite is disappearing. Your body craves only one thing: sleep. Instead you feed it more caffeine.
Part III: Apathy
By the third night, your body has given up the fight, and straggles along with you in this daze of insane work. Sleep is like an abstract idea you can't quite remember the definition of. The thought of solid food makes you queasy, but the now-frequent dose of caffeine, nicotine, and medication is keeping you going. You move in waves again. Sometimes you look at the clock and realize you've lost an hour. What have you been doing? Nothing. Not sleeping, but you certainly weren't conscious. That's bad. The work is calling. The drugs drive you, but you're stuck in first gear. The engine is red-lining, and you know you have precious little time before the engine blows and you burn out.
By the third day, you no longer care or notice how you look. You stumble into walls and people on your way out the door and across campus. The mearest movement is a struggle, and yet you have an infinite treck to class. You turn in your assignment, not knowing or caring if it was completed correctly. You only want to finish this one last class. And you will. You will daze out completely, your eyes glazing over. You will not remember this class. It will be lost for you forever.
As you stumble back to your room, you think of your bed- that foreign land you used to know. It seems like ages since you've been there. It will take you a long time to fall asleep, too. You may even be delusional at this point, imagining sometimes that you are still trying to complete your work, other times imagining yourself in class. Then, like a brick to the head, you will sleep. And you will not wake up. Not for a long, long time.
written on day four. the day after the third. i think.
ivan37 says, I'll attest to it.