9 Ways to Stay up Late and Avoid Feeling Sleepy

There may be many reasons to stay up late. Perhaps you have a late night planned to celebrate a special occasion or to attend a party. You might go to a concert, attend the theater, or be out late dancing at a club. Children or adolescents may want to stay up at a sleepover.

Woman reading digital tablet in bed
Tooga / Getty Images

Almost everyone stays up late at least once a year on New Year’s Eve. Students may need to stay up at night to finish homework and may even “pull an all-nighter” to catch up on work before a big test or project is due.

If you are not naturally a night owl, this may be especially difficult. What are some ways to stay up more easily and avoid feeling too sleepy? Discover how to stay up late at night with these nine simple recommendations.

Get a Good Night of Sleep or Sleep In

It will be much easier to stay up late at night if you are not running on sleep debt. If you are already overly sleepy due to the cumulative effects of sleep deprivation, you will have a harder time of it. Ensure that you are getting adequate sleep before trying to stay up late.

If you are planning ahead to a special event when you need to be up later, try to optimize your total sleep obtained in the week preceding it. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep to feel rested. Younger people may need even more sleep.

If you are unsure if you are sleep deprived, consider a method of going to bed at a regular time and allowing yourself to sleep in.

Beyond hours of sleep, you also want to be mindful of your sleep quality. Poor sleep may occur most often due to untreated sleep apnea. Sleep apnea involves repeated fragmentation of sleep due to breathing disturbances. These awakenings may undermine the quality of sleep.

When sleep apnea occurs, daytime sleepiness may result, and this can make it hard to stay up later. Treatment of sleep disorders improves sleep.

Consider that you frequently stay awake for about 16 hours in a 24-hour period. Allowing yourself to sleep in for an hour or two, may make it easier to stay up a little later in the evening.

Take a Nap

Beyond extending the prior night of sleep by sleeping in, it is also possible to recharge your batteries by taking a nap. Any sleep that is obtained—including shorter periods during the daytime that would be described as naps—will diminish the sleep drive and contribute to the ability to stay awake.

Sleep clears chemicals from the brain that contribute to sleepiness, including adenosine. The length of the nap may vary its impacts; 20 to 30 minutes may help some, but naps lasting 1 to 2 hours may have even greater benefits in staying up later. If the nap occurs closer to the end of the day, it may also be more helpful.

Drink Caffeine Cautiously

Caffeine can fuel late nights, but it may need to be used with caution. Caffeine is a natural stimulant found in coffee, tea, soda pop, energy drinks, chocolate, and other products. In the brain, caffeine blocks the receptors for adenosine, which blunts the signal for sleepiness.

The effects of caffeine may last 1.5 to 7.5 hours (or longer for sensitive people and depending on dose).

If caffeine is overused (either consuming too much or too late), it may become hard to fall asleep and insomnia may result. Frequent use may also cause some tolerance in which its impacts are lessened.

Have a Late-Night Snack

There is evidence that eating late at night can be helpful to stay up late. Although some people will have a midnight snack before heading to bed as part of their bedtime routine, research suggests that the subsequent release of insulin may actually prolong wakefulness.

Avoid heavy foods, but eating a light snack may help you to stay up a little later. Eating fresh vegetables (carrots, celery sticks, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) may be a healthier option than salty snacks, sugary sweets, or high-calorie foods.

Our bodies may crave high carbohydrate foods with sleep deprivation, but avoid overeating and the resulting weight gain.

Avoid Sedatives Like Alcohol

Alcohol is another substance that we consume that impacts our ability to stay awake. Unfortunately, it makes it more likely that we will fall asleep. If you go out late to a party or stay out late dancing at a club, evaluate how much alcohol is part of your evening.

As a general rule (with some variation based on your body’s metabolism), it may take about 1 hour to metabolize one alcoholic beverage. By drinking more you may feel buzzed (or even get drunk), but it is also more likely that you may become overly sleepy. This may lead you to pass out — and it thus may put an early end to your evening.

Pace any alcohol consumption, alternating with rounds of water, and you may find it easier to stay up (and out) later.

There are other prescription and over-the-counter medications that can also cause drowsiness as a side effect. These sedatives may include antihistamines (used for allergies) and benzodiazepines (for anxiety, seizures, and other disorders).

Even cardiac medications that improve blood pressure and slow the heart rate, such as beta-blockers like metoprolol, carvedilol, atenolol, and propranolol may cause fatigue. Review your medication’s label and discuss its role with your pharmacist or doctor.

See the Light

Light can have powerful effects on our ability to sleep. Our brain has an intricate system that times our sleep and wakefulness to the natural patterns of light and darkness in our environment. This can be used to our advantage to stay up a little later.

Morning sunlight can help night owls fall asleep more easily and wake to feel refreshed. Morning larks, those people who may fall asleep and wake too early, may benefit from evening light exposure.

Anyone who wants to stay up late at night may also find a light to be helpful. There is also growing evidence that screen light may contribute to difficulty falling asleep at night.

Try to get outside before the sun sets to get the last glimpse of natural light. If your work continues into the night, maintain a well-lit environment. Artificial light may prolong wakefulness, and lightboxes that generate at least 10,000 lux of light may have greater impacts.

As the end of your day approaches (in the last 1 to 2 hours), you may consider turning down the lights, especially in the hour before going to bed.

Be Active and Avoid Sitting

There are certain activities that will promote sleepiness, despite your best efforts. If you are starting to feel sleepy and get yourself too comfortable, there is a strong chance that you are likely to fall asleep. It can be helpful to try to stay more active.

Reflect on times during your routine days that you are likely to feel sleepy. This may occur when you are sitting or lying down, as body position can reinforce the ability to fall asleep.

The environment can also have a strong impact on our desire to sleep. If you are trying to stay up, lying on your bed, reclining in an easy chair, or lying on a couch may work against you.

You may need to sit in a less comfortable chair, such as a stiff-backed dining chair, to stay awake later. Passive activities (reading, listening, or watching rather than writing or doing) may make it harder to stay awake.

If you start to feel sleepy, do something more activating (stand up or walk around) to wake yourself back up.

Consider the Use of Stimulants

As a general rule, medications should never be used as a substitute for adequate sleep. Though prescription medications may improve wakefulness and concentration, there are inherent side effect risks.

Widely prescribed to treat attention deficit disorders, stimulant medications (modafinil, armodafinil, methylphenidate, dextroamphetamine/amphetamine, etc.) are also used in limited ways among shift workers and in people with persistent sleepiness due to sleep disorders like sleep apnea and narcolepsy.

Depending on the substance, there may be risks of addiction, cardiac arrhythmia, weight changes, and mood effects.

If you believe you may require the use of medication to stay up late at night, speak with your physician about these concerns.

Recognize Sleepiness and Take Action

By staying up late past your normal bedtime, you will become familiar with the feeling of sleepiness. The profound desire to sleep strengthens, making it hard to stay awake.

This drowsiness may be associated with blurring vision as the eyes relax, poor concentration and easy distractibility, and even a warm sensation in the body. Recognize these feelings that commonly precede sleep and do something about it.

You might review the list of ideas at these times to avoid the abrupt end of your night. For the safety of yourself and others, never drive when you are feeling drowsy and may be at risk of falling asleep.

A Word From Verywell

It is possible to stay up late with these simple interventions, but try to ensure you obtain adequate sleep night after night to function at your best.

Was this page helpful?
Article 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.
  1. National Institute on Aging. A Good Night's Sleep. Updated May 01, 2016.

  2. Kryger, MH et al. Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine. ExpertConsult, 6th edition, 2017.

  3. Kinsey AW, Ormsbee MJ. The health impact of nighttime eating: old and new perspectives. Nutrients. 2015;7(4):2648-62. doi:10.3390/nu7042648

  4. Tosini G, Ferguson I, Tsubota K. Effects of blue light on the circadian system and eye physiology. Mol Vis. 2016;22:61-72.

  5. Stanford Health Care. Bright light therapy.