8 Ways to Stay up Late and Avoid Feeling Sleepy

As a kid, you may have looked forward to staying up all night at a sleepover. As a teen or young adult, maybe you had to pull an all-nighter to study for a test.

In your adult life, you may look forward to going to parties, events, and celebrations that take place in the evening. That said, you might find it harder to stay awake late at night than you used to.

If you know you’ll be out past your bedtime to attend a concert, work event, or get-together with friends, you’ve probably looked for ways to keep yourself alert and awake.

If you’re not a natural night owl, staying up late can be a challenge. This article will go over a few strategies that may help you safely stay up late and make it less likely you’ll get sleepy.

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This video has been medically reviewed by Chris Vincent, MD.

Stock Up on Sleep

It will be much easier to stay up late at night if you don’t have a sleep debt. If you are already tired because you’re short on quality sleep, you will have a harder time staying up late.

Most people are awake for about 16 hours in a 24-hour period. If you sleep in a little longer in the morning—one to two hours—it might help you stay awake later at night.

If you are planning ahead for a special event, try to boost your total sleep hours the week before.

You’ll want to think about the quality of your sleep, not just the quantity. If you are not getting good quality sleep, it’s important to figure out why.

For example, a common cause of poor sleep is a condition called sleep apnea. The condition causes repeated sleep disruptions because a person is having breathing problems.

Frequent awakenings can decrease the quality of a person’s sleep. Sleep apnea can also cause daytime sleepiness.

How Much Sleep Do I Need?

Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep to feel rested. Younger people may need even more sleep, while older adults might need less.

Take a Nap

When you sleep, adenosine and other chemicals that cause sleepiness are cleared from your brain.

Any sleep you get during the day can help you feel less of an urge to sleep at night—what’s called your sleep drive. That’s why napping can be a good strategy.

First, you’ll need to decide how long you want to nap. The length of your nap will depend on how late you’re hoping to stay awake.

A 20- to 30-minute nap might be all your need, or you might need to nap for an hour or two.

Then, think about the timing of your nap. Try scheduling a nap for later in the day, rather than in the morning.

Consume Caffeine

Caffeine has a reputation for fueling late nights—but only if it’s used the right way.

Caffeine is a natural stimulant. Foods and drinks like coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, and chocolate have various amounts of caffeine in them.

The reason caffeine can help you stay alert is that it blocks adenosine receptors in your brain. This, in turn, reduces the signal that makes you feel sleepy.

The effects of caffeine may last six hours or more. If you use a higher dose or are sensitive to caffeine, you might feel the effects for longer.

If caffeine is overused—either because you consume too much or consume it too late in the day—it can make it harder to fall asleep when you want to. You could develop insomnia from caffeine use.

If you use caffeine too often, you could also build up a tolerance to its effects.

Have a Late-Night Snack

There is some evidence that eating late at night could help you stay awake. Some people have a midnight snack as part of their regular nighttime routine.

However, research suggests that the release of insulin that happens after you eat close to your bedtime may actually keep you awake longer.

That said, the type of food you choose can make or break your plan to stay up late.

When some people are sleep-deprived, they crave carbs or sweets. However, don’t go for a heavy meal or sugary snack, which could make you feel more sleepy.

Instead, reach for a satisfying, crunchy snack like carrots, celery sticks, or broccoli.

Avoid Alcohol and Sedatives

Certain substances can make you feel sleepy. Sometimes, this is a positive effect. However, they won’t be helpful if you’re trying to stay up late.

Alcohol

Alcohol might be part of a party or celebration you’re attending at night, but it could interfere with your plan to stay up.

The way that each person’s body handles and breaks down alcohol (metabolism) is a bit different. As a general rule, it takes about an hour to metabolize one alcoholic drink.

Consuming more alcohol may make you feel buzzed, and you may even get drunk. It’s also more likely that you’ll start to feel sleepy.

If you’re consuming alcohol, remember to pace yourself. Alternate alcoholic drinks with rounds of water to stay hydrated.

Medications

There are many prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications that have drowsiness as a side effect.

Medications like antihistamines for allergies and benzodiazepines to treat anxiety, seizures, and other disorders have sedative effects.

Heart medications that improve blood pressure and slow the heart rate (beta-blockers) can also cause fatigue.

Use Light

Natural and artificial light can have powerful effects on our ability to sleep.

The brain has a complex system that times our sleep and wakefulness to the natural patterns of light and darkness. You can use the pattern to your advantage to stay up a little later.

Morning sunlight can help “night owls” fall asleep more easily and wake to feel refreshed. On the other hand, people who fall asleep and wake early—“morning larks”—may benefit from evening light exposure.

Try to get outside before the sun sets to get the last glimpse of natural light. If your work continues into the night, do it in a well-lit space.

To help your body and mind get ready for sleep, try turning the lights down about an hour before you want to go to bed.

Artificial light may also help keep you awake longer—especially lightboxes that put out at least 10,000 lux of light.

On the other hand, research has shown that screen light from devices may make it harder for some people to fall asleep at night.

Stay Active

Some activities promote relaxation and sleep. If you are starting to feel tired and are getting too comfortable, there is a strong chance you’ll be out like a light in no time.

Changing positions, getting up, or walking around the room can jolt you awake if you’re on the verge of falling asleep.

To plan ahead, think about what you’re doing at times when you tend to feel relaxed.

For example, since your position can cue your body to get sleepy, you probably feel more tired when you are sitting or lying down as opposed to you’re standing or moving around.

Your environment can also have a strong influence on your desire to sleep.

If you are trying to stay awake, lying on your bed, reclining in an easy chair, or sprawling on the couch can work against you.

Instead, try sitting in a less comfortable chair, such as a stiff-backed dining chair. Passive activities—like reading rather than writing—can also make you tired.

What About Stimulants?

Medications are not a substitute for getting adequate sleep. While they can keep you awake, these medications come with side effects and risks.

Stimulants like amphetamines are used to treat mental health and medical conditions like attention deficit disorder and narcolepsy.

Some people who do shift work also need to use these medications—but only under the care of a healthcare provider.

Stimulants can lead to substance use disorders, cardiac arrhythmias, weight changes, and effects on your mood.

Summary

If you need or want to stay up later than usual, there are some strategies that may help you do so safely.

Staying active, using caffeine the right way, preparing with enough quality sleep beforehand, and avoiding things that can make you feel sleepy (like alcohol and sedatives) can help you feel more awake and alert throughout the night.

For the safety of yourself and others, keep an eye on how you’re feeling. Never drive when you are feeling drowsy, as you could fall asleep at the wheel.

A Word From Verywell

It is possible to stay up late once in a while with a few tips and tricks, but try to get enough quality sleep on a regular schedule.

Good sleep is an important health goal all the time, not just when you have to study or have late-night outing plans.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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