10 Tips for Staying Awake When You Are Feeling Too Sleepy

When you feel sleepy but you need to stay awake, there are certain things you can do to avoid falling asleep. There are also ways to prevent that sleepy feeling in the first place. You may have excessive daytime sleepiness, an underlying sleep disorder, or you may simply want to stay up late.

This article will discuss tips on how you can stay awake when you're feeling extremely sleepy. It will also discuss prescription medications healthcare providers may prescribe to help with excessive sleepiness.


Get a Good Night's Sleep

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The best defense against feeling sleepy during the daytime is getting a good night’s sleep. Simply not getting enough sleep is the most common cause of sleepiness. This sleep restriction will increase your desire to sleep and could cause you to fall asleep at the wrong times.

If you have an underlying sleep disorder that keeps you from getting enough sleep, see your healthcare provider. Otherwise, you may not be able to remain awake and alert.


Take Frequent Breaks

When you have to pay attention and concentrate for long amounts of time, it can make you feel extremely tired. In fact, the quality of your work is likely to suffer and you will make mistakes more easily.

To keep this from happening, take frequent short breaks when working. Making time for short breaks will allow you to focus better when you get back to work. A break may be especially important when you feel sleepy after lunch.


Consume Caffeine

Caffeine is a very effective, inexpensive way to boost alertness. It is a natural stimulant. In other words, it boosts your energy and focus.

Besides water, caffeinated beverages are some of the most commonly consumed fluids in the world. Coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and soda are popular options. Caffeine can also be found in certain foods, such as chocolate.

Eating or drinking too much caffeine may sometimes cause side effects such as a rapid heart rate, nervousness, or a withdrawal headache.


Alternate Your Activities

Walk to Work or Take a Walking Break

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If you are having trouble staying awake, you may find it helpful to change up your activities. Breaking larger projects into smaller tasks and working at them in short, scheduled bursts may allow you to get more work done.

Trying to stay focused for a long time can be exhausting. By shifting your focus, you can be more attentive when tackling new tasks.


Get Some Light and Fresh Air

The right environment can greatly benefit our ability to stay awake. For those with circadian rhythm disorders or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), properly timed exposure to natural light, or even the use of a light box, can help deal with these issues.

For everyone else, our body’s circadian rhythm relies on exposure to natural conditions, most importantly light. So stepping out to get some fresh air when you're feeling really sleepy may be helpful.


Take a Nap

If you are fighting excessive sleepiness, the simple relief provided by a nap may recharge your batteries. Studies have shown that naps are helpful in improving learning and memory. Many societies add a midday rest into their daily routines.

Experts believe that shorter naps lasting 15 to 20 minutes are the best way to get effective rest. Needing longer naps (lasting multiple hours) may mean that you may not be getting enough nighttime sleep. It may also be a sign that you have a sleep disorder.


Have a Snack

Most people eat and drink fairly frequently throughout the day. Snacks eaten at the appropriate time may help you stay awake. It may be a good idea to choose light snacks and limit the portions.

Foods containing sugars and caffeine may give you a needed boost. But be careful of the additional calories. Those extra calories may creep up on you over time and lead to weight gain.


Exercise and Be Active

In most cases, you are likely to only feel sleepy when you are doing activities that require a lot of time in your seat. Sedentary activities such as sitting in a conference room, driving long distances, or working in your cubicle may make you drowsy.

Rarely should you find yourself dozing off while going for a walk, cleaning the house, or running errands, unless you have narcolepsy.

Taking a break from sedentary activities by exercising or doing other physical activities will help relieve sleepiness. When you go back to work, your thinking will be clearer. And you’ll hopefully feel less drowsy.


Keep the Environment Cool

If you have ever found yourself dozing off in a room that is a bit too warm, you definitely know the benefits of keeping things a little on the cool side. Our environment can greatly affect our sleep and our ability to stay awake.

Turning down the temperature (perhaps 68 degrees or even a few degrees cooler), will help you to stay alert.


Use Medications as a Last Resort

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The last option should be the use of prescription medications called stimulants. These medications may include Ritalin (methylphenidate), Provigil (modafinil), and Nuvigil (armodafinil).

They act through various mechanisms on the brain to help you pay attention and remain alert. But they can be addictive, so they are rarely used to treat excessive daytime sleepiness.

These prescription medicines may also be used to treat narcolepsy or severe sleep apnea. Healthcare providers might even prescribe them for other conditions, such as the fatigue associated with multiple sclerosis. If you wish to use these medications, you should talk with your healthcare provider.


When you're feeling extremely sleepy but you need to stay awake, there are ways to fix the problem. Taking frequent breaks, consuming caffeine, or eating a light snack are just a few things you can do to fight against sleepiness.

You can also try taking a short nap, getting some fresh air, enjoying natural light, lowering the temperature in the room, or engaging in a bit of physical activity.

If you have a severe sleep disorder, your healthcare provider may prescribe stimulants to help you stay awake. But this is used only as a last resort since these kinds of medicines can be addictive.

A Word From Verywell

When you're having trouble staying awake during the day, it can make you feel miserable. But if you make a few simple changes to your lifestyle or the way you work, you may find that it helps to relieve your excessive sleepiness.

If these tips don't work for you, contact your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider can figure out what's causing your sleepiness and determine what will help you get your energy and focus back.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I keep myself from dozing off in class?

    If you find yourself dozing off during class, take a short trip to the restroom. Getting up and walking around will make you more alert; when you reach the bathroom, try splashing some cold water on your face.

  • What should I do if I can't fall asleep?

    Lying awake in bed can make falling asleep more difficult, so it may be a good idea to get up and do something else. Avoid any activities that will stimulate your brain. Instead, try doing something relaxing, like reading a book or taking a warm bath. Once you feel sleepy, try returning to bed.

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8 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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