10 Tips for Staying Awake When You Are Feeling Too Sleepy

When you feel sleepy but you need to stay awake, there are tactics you can use to do so, as well as 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.

1

Get a Good Night's Sleep

Woman sleeping in bed with dog

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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 doctor. Otherwise, you may not be able to be as awake and alert as you should be.

2

Take Frequent Breaks

Prolonged, sustained attention and concentration can make you feel quite fatigued. In fact, the quality of your work is likely to suffer and you will be prone to making mistakes.

To counter these tendencies, it is advisable to take frequent short breaks when working. These interruptions will allow a return to sustained focus. A break may be especially important when you feel sleepy after lunch.

3

Consume Caffeine

Caffeine is a very effective, inexpensive way to boost alertness. It is a natural stimulant. Second only to water, caffeinated beverages are one 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.

Excessive use of caffeine may rarely have adverse consequences, such as a rapid heart rate, nervousness, or a withdrawal headache.

4

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 alternate your activities. Breaking larger projects into smaller tasks and working at them in short, scheduled bursts may allow you to be more productive.

Sustained concentration can be taxing. By shifting your focus you can be more attentive to the new tasks you undertake.

5

Get Some Light and Fresh Air

Natural conditions can have a significant beneficial effect on 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 substantially.

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 during periods of sleepiness may be of benefit.

6

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 incorporate a midday rest into their daily routines.

Shorter naps lasting 15 to 20 minutes are generally preferred. Longer naps (lasting multiple hours) suggests that you may not be getting enough nighttime sleep or that you may possibly have a sleep disorder.

7

Have a Snack

Most people eat and drink fairly frequently throughout the day, and appropriately timed snacks may be helpful in staying awake. You may do well to choose lighter fare and limit the portions.

Foods containing sugars and caffeine may give you a needed boost. Be mindful of the additional calories, however, as these may creep up on you over time and lead to weight gain.

8

Exercise and Be Active

In most cases, you are likely to only feel sleepy when you are engaging in sedentary activities. 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 engaging activities will help relieve sleepiness. When you return to your prior task, your thinking will be clearer and you’ll hopefully feel less drowsy.

9

Keep the Environment Cool

If you have ever found yourself dozing off in a room that is a bit too warm, you certainly recognize the benefits of keeping things a little on the cool side. Our environment can have a significant impact on our sleep and our ability to maintain wakefulness.

By turning down the temperature (to a level that is within reason, perhaps 68 F or even a few degrees cooler), it will help you to stay alert.

10

Medications as a Last Resort

University student dozes after class
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The last option should be the use of prescription medications called stimulants. These medications may include Ritalin, Provigil, and Nuvigil. They act via various mechanisms on the brain to promote attention and alertness. They can be addictive, however, and are rarely used to treat excessive daytime sleepiness.

In some sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy or severe sleep apnea, they may be indicated, as well as in other conditions such as the fatigue associated with multiple sclerosis. If you wish to use these medications, you should consult your doctor.

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