How to Stay Awake

10 Tips for When You Are Feeling Too Sleepy

When you feel sleepy but you need to stay awake, there are some things you can do to keep yourself from falling asleep. You may have excessive daytime sleepiness, a sleep disorder, or you just want to stay up late. There are also ways to prevent that sleepy feeling in the first place.

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


Get Enough 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. Not getting enough sleep is the most common cause of sleepiness.

Sleep restriction will increase your desire to sleep and could cause you to fall asleep when you want to be awake.

If you have an underlying sleep disorder that keeps you from getting enough sleep, talk to your healthcare provider.


Take Frequent Breaks

When you have to pay attention and concentrate for a long 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 is especially helpful if you feel sleepy after your midday meal.


Consume Caffeine

Caffeine is a very effective, inexpensive way to stay awake and alert. Caffeine is a natural stimulant that can boost your energy and focus.

Coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and soda are popular caffeinated drinks. You can also get some caffeine from foods like chocolate.

Eating or drinking too much caffeine can 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.

For example, you might find that breaking larger projects into smaller tasks and working at them in short, scheduled bursts can help you 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 your ability to stay awake. Your body’s circadian rhythm relies on exposure to natural conditions—most importantly, light.

Stepping out to get some fresh air when you're feeling really sleepy can help you feel more awake.

If you have a circadian rhythm disorder or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), properly timed exposure to natural light, or even using a light box, can help.


Take a Nap

If you are fighting excessive sleepiness, a nap might be enough to recharge your batteries. Studies have shown that naps can help with learning and memory.

In many societies, having a middle-of-the-day rest is part of everyone's daily activities.

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 aren't getting enough nighttime sleep. It can also be a sign that you have a sleep disorder.


Have a Snack

Most people eat and drink frequently throughout the day, but well-time snacks can also help you stay awake.

Sugary foods and those with caffeine can make you feel more alert, but they can also make you "crash."

Instead, choose light, nutritious snacks and keep an eye on portions. The extra calories from snacking can contribute to weight gain over time.


Exercise and Be Active

You may notice you feel more tired when you are doing activities that require a lot of time in your chair.

Sedentary activities like sitting in a conference room, driving long distances, or being at your desk for hours on end can easily make you drowsy.

You'd be less likely to find yourself dozing off while going for a walk, cleaning the house, or running errands.

Taking a break from sedentary activities by exercising or doing other physical activities can relieve sleepiness.

When you got back to work, your thinking will be clearer and you’ll hopefully feel less drowsy.

If you feel tired or even fall asleep doing most of your daily activities, you could have narcolepsy.


Keep the Environment Cool

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

Turning down the temperature to 68 degrees F or even a few degrees cooler will help you to stay alert.


Use Medications as a Last Resort

University student dozes after class

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Prescription medications called stimulants can help people stay awake in specific situations, but they are not for everyone.

Examples of these medications are Ritalin (methylphenidate), Provigil (modafinil), and Nuvigil (armodafinil).

Stimulant medications act on the brain to help you pay attention and remain alert. However, they can be addictive and are rarely used to treat excessive daytime sleepiness.

Prescription medicines can also be used to treat narcolepsy, severe sleep apnea, or chronic conditions that cause extreme fatigue (like multiple sclerosis).


When you're feeling extremely sleepy but need to stay awake, taking frequent breaks, consuming caffeine, or eating a light snack can help you fight sleepiness.

Having a short nap, getting some fresh air, enjoying natural light, lowering the temperature in the room, or engaging in a bit of physical activity can also help you stay awake during the day.

If you have a severe sleep disorder, your provider may prescribe medications to help you feel less sleepy. However, these medications come with risks that you'll need to talk with them about.

A Word From Verywell

Making a few simple changes to your lifestyle or the way you work is often enough to combat daytime sleepiness.

If they're not helping and you're still having a hard time staying awake, talk to your provider. They can figure out what's causing you to have trouble staying awake and alert during the day and make sure you get the right treatment.

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—just 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 cannot fall asleep?

    Lying awake in bed can make it harder to fall asleep. Sometimes, it's actually a good idea to get up and do something when you can't sleep.

    That said, avoid activities that will stimulate your brain. Instead, do something relaxing, like reading a book or taking a warm bath. Once you feel sleepy, head back to bed.

  • How can I stay awake when driving?

    If you're feeling drowsy when you're driving, you should pull over and rest until you feel alert enough to safely keep on.

    You might be tempted to eat, change up the AC, or change radio stations to stay awake, but these actions can actually distract you even more than being drowsy. If you can't stay focused on the road, it's time to stop and rest.

10 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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  5. National Sleep Foundation. Napping around the world.

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  7. Sahni AS, Carlucci M, Malik M, Prasad B. Management of excessive sleepiness in patients with narcolepsy and OSA: current challenges and future prospectsNat Sci Sleep. 2019;11:241-252. doi:10.2147/NSS.S218402

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By Brandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.