8 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.

If so, you've likely tried to think of ways to keep yourself alert and awake for those nighttime events. The truth is that some ideas for how to do that may be better than others.

This article looks at eight of those ideas and why they work. It also offers some insights into the science of sleep—what happens if you try more coffee or take a nap—and how to do so safely.

Woman reading digital tablet in bed
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If you are not naturally a night owl, it may be especially difficult to stay up late. Here are some ways to try.

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

Get Some Extra Sleep First

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 because you normally run short on sleep, or have done so lately, you will have a harder time of it. Be sure that you are getting enough 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 boost your total sleep hours in the week before it. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep to feel rested. Younger people may need even more sleep.

If you are not sure if you are sleep deprived, try going to bed at a regular time and then allow yourself to sleep in.

Beyond hours of sleep, you also want to think about your sleep quality. Poor sleep may occur most often due to untreated sleep apnea. Sleep apnea involves repeated sleep disruptions due to breathing problems. These frequent awakenings may decrease the quality of sleep.

Sleep apnea may cause daytime sleepiness. This can make it hard to stay up later, but treating a sleep disorder may improve sleep.

Most people stay awake for about 16 hours in a 24-hour period all the time. 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

Another idea worth trying is as simple as it sounds: take a nap. Any sleep you can pick up in short periods during the day will diminish the sleep drive. This contributes to the ability to stay awake.

Sleep clears adenosine and other chemicals from the brain that contribute to sleepiness. The length of the nap may make some difference. Twenty to 30 minutes may help some, but naps lasting an hour or two may have even greater benefits when staying up later. If the nap also is timed at the end of the day, it may 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. This blunts the signal for sleepiness.

The effects of caffeine may last 1.5 to 7.5 hours. It may be longer for sensitive people, or depending on dose.

If caffeine is overused, whether because it's too much or too late, it may become hard to fall asleep and insomnia may result. Frequent use also may cause some tolerance to caffeine.

Have a Late-Night Snack

There is some evidence that eating late at night can help people to stay up late. Some people will have a midnight snack before heading to bed as part of their routine. Yet research suggests that the subsequent release of insulin at bedtime may actually keep you awake longer.

Heavy foods should be avoided late. Instead, try eating fresh vegetables like carrots, celery sticks, or broccoli. This is a healthier option than salty or sugary snacks. People's bodies may crave high carbohydrate foods when they're sleep deprived, but try to avoid overeating and the related weight gain.

Avoid Alcohol and Sedatives

Alcohol is another substance that impacts the 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, think about how much alcohol will be a part of your plans.

Each person's metabolism is unique. But as a general rule, it may take about an hour to metabolize one alcoholic drink. More alcohol may make you feel buzzed, and you may even get drunk, but it is also more likely that you become overly sleepy. This may lead you to pass out — and that puts an early end to your late-night plans.

If you're drinking, be sure to pace yourself. Alternate your alcoholic drinks with rounds of water, and you may find it easier to stay up (and out) later.

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

Even heart medications that improve blood pressure and slow the heart rate, such as beta-blockers like propranolol, may cause fatigue. Check your drug labels and discuss their role with your healthcare provider.

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. 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 growing evidence that screen light from devices 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, do it in a well-lit space. Artificial light may keep you awake longer, and lightboxes that generate at least 10,000 lux of light may have greater impacts.

You may want to turn down the lights as the end of your day approaches, especially in the hour before going to bed.

Recap

Few people have not had a night in their lives when they needed to stay awake late. Each person will have a different sense of what will work for them, but some ideas are easy and common. Taking a nap is a simple solution. Drinking coffee is too, although it must be with care. For other people, including those with sleep disorders, light therapy and other techniques may work. The idea is to stay awake, and to stay awake safely.

Be Active and Avoid Sitting

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

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

The environment can also have a strong influence on your desire to sleep. If you are trying to stay up, then 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 (like reading rather than writing, and watching rather than doing) may make it harder to stay awake.

If you start to feel sleepy, do something more active. Stand up or walk around to wake yourself back up.

Consider Stimulants

As a general rule, medications should never be used as a substitute for adequate sleep. There are side effect risks, despite their ability to keep you alert and help you concentrate.

Stimulants like amphetamines, and drugs widely used to treat attention deficit disorders, also are used in limited ways among shift workers. People with sleep disorders, like sleep apnea and narcolepsy, often use them too.

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 healthcare provider about these concerns.

Summary

You likely know what it feels like when you're getting drowsy. Your eyes may start to close, your concentration fades away, and your body may begin to feel slow and warm. So if you're hoping to be awake, keep these ideas for staying up late in mind. And one more thing: 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 ideas, but try to ensure you get enough quality sleep night after night to function at your best. That's an important health goal all the time, not just when you have to study or have late-night outing plans.

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5 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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