How to Stay Awake At a Movie Marathon

I am a veteran of fifteen 24-hour movie marathons, and I have earned the distinction of never having fallen asleep during any of them. I am proud of my track record, and I thought I’d share some words of wisdom on how to stay awake at a movie marathon.

It isn’t easy, but with hard work, dedication, and a lot of caffeine, you too can have a successful career of staying awake all night watching movies. I hope you find these tips useful. Good luck!

Know Your Enemy

“You always win the war you don’t fight” – (Impressive-sounding quote)

If you want to survive a 24-hour movie marathon, you need to know the movies you are facing. The biggest consciousness-killer isn’t a caffeine crash or the ambient room temperature – it is boring, uninteresting movies. The best strategy to stay awake at a movie marathon is to do whatever you can to make the movie schedule awesome before you start.

The worst case scenario comes when a tedious, overly long movie pops up in the 2:00 AM – 6:00 AM time frame.  Your circadian rhythm is pretty sure you should be sleeping by this time, and does its best to make it happen. If you don’t have an interesting movie to watch, and you are in a dark, cozy environment – the best I can say is: “Good night, and good luck!”.

But no matter what the movie schedule is, there is hope. If you can make it past 6:00 AM, the same circadian rhythm dragging you down earlier should give you a boost. Your body is used to being up and about in the mid-to-late morning (right?).

Prepare Yourself

Navy SEAL Desert Operations
Are you ready for this movie marathon?
  1. Pay off your sleep debt. Get a good night’s sleep before you even show up at the marathon. You need to catch up on whatever sleep you missed throughout the week. You wouldn’t run a 5K right the day before running a marathon, right? Even if you can’t sleep a full night through, even a 90 minute nap can help improve your odds for staying awake during the marathon.
  2. Skip the caffeine. Stop drinking caffeinated beverages for as long as your can prior to the movie marathon. This helps you build your caffeine tolerance. This allows your caffeinated beverages to work when you need them the most.

Weapons of Sleep Destruction

Caffeine is great!
Caffeine is great!
  1. Caffeine is your friend – Drink a steady amount of caffeine during the marathon to avoid peaks and valleys in your alertness. This ride shouldn’t be a rollercoaster. If you shotgun a couple Red Bulls in the first fifteen minutes, you’ll be a twitching, sleeping husk in an hour, right after your friends peel you off the ceiling.
  2. Skip the alcohol – If you want to survive a movie marathon, you need stimulants, not depressants. Your bodily functions will be moving slow enough, don’t press the brakes even more!

Hand-to-Hand Sleep Combat

“An ounce of prevention is worth a 67.6 fluid ounces of cola”

  1. Don’t get comfortable. Sit on that metal folding chair. Take off your sweatshirt and cool down. Sit up straight. It is hard to fall asleep when you are not totally comfortable, as the Princess and the Pea documents.
  2. Get up and move. Get up and do something. Talk to people, use the bathroom, refresh your cola, look at the movie from a different angle – it doesn’t matter! Getting those feet on the ground gets your blood pumping and those neurons firing.
  3. Keep busy. Even when you are sitting and watching the movie(s), keep part of you moving. This can be as simple as chewing some gum or as complex as working on a hobby like knitting.
  4. Have fun. Nothing keeps you awake better than not wanting to miss a minute of fun. Great movies, awesome friends, and good food will keep you awake better than any chemical solution can!

This has gotten me through fifteen marathons and counting. I hope you find it helpful!

12/19/2016 Update: Updated with the latest tips from Movie Marathon Like a Navy SEAL article.

Photo by Kelrsten Marle