When you’re young and need 8 or more hours of sleep but stay up all night and get closer to 4 hours, you wonder how to stay awake in class. When you’re an older working adult with just a touch of malaise, and you’d rather be taking a nap, you wonder how to stay awake at work.
We all get tired for different reasons as we go through life, but we’re all connected in that we cannot simply sleep whenever we want.
When you need to be up, use these tips so that you’ll know how to stay awake at night, how to stop snoozing in the morning, and how to make it through a drowsy afternoon.
Step 1: What’s Your Sleepy Situation?
Not all sleepiness is created equal.
You wonder, how can I stay awake? But you should also be considering, why am I so tired? What do I need to accomplish despite this fatigue? Let’s break down a few sleepy situations you might be facing.
Why Am I Sleepy?
- You’re awake at a time you’d usually be asleep.
- It doesn’t have to just apply to shift work — it could be night class, pulling an all-nighter, or staying up with a sick child. The problem is that your body isn’t naturally on that schedule.
- Aside from how to stay awake, you’ll benefit from adjusting your sleep habits.
Not Enough Sleep
- When you go to bed at 4 AM and have to wake up at 6 AM.
- This is a matter of willpower. Once you figure out how to keep yourself awake, keep that momentum going. A crash is coming eventually, but you can delay it.
Not Enough Rest
- You sleep a full 7 or 8 hours but wake up groggy and unrested.
- This feeling can also accompany not enough sleep, though it’s most frustrating when it seems inexplicable.
- This is rough on the brain and the body. You’ll need to work on sleeping habits, but also determine how to feel more awake so that you can get through the day.
- You’re sort of lounging, and not sitting upright. The lighting is pleasant, not bright, and maybe it is chilly, and you’ve wrapped yourself in a blanket.
- This is a unique problem — perhaps you’re working from home or trying to study in a very comfortable environment. (Luckily, we’ve got some very simple fixes for this one.)
What Am I Trying to Do?
Work or Class
- This generally involves some self-management, social interaction, comprehension, response, and paying attention to something or someone. This can go a lot of different ways.
- But it’s all challenging when your brain is trying to go to bed. You aren’t always in control of the situation, but excuse yourself if you can.
- Figure out your favorite methods for how to stay awake when tired ahead of time. Try to do some while you’re excused or on break, and keep some tricks up your sleeve in a pinch.
- This could be manual labor or even being forced into a bizarre round of musical chairs in that team-building meeting.
- You don’t need a totally awake brain for monotonous tasks, but you’ll start slowing down if your brain’s checking out. Your body might be physically fatigued, too.
- In this case, it’s best to keep your brain happy and engaged, and your body a bit more relaxed. We’ll discuss this below.
- There’s something that needs your attention and needs to get done, but boy is it boring.
- Think dry class reading, analyzing some data, or completing spreadsheets. You might do a lot of staring at a screen or book. It makes your eyes heavy, and it’s difficult for your sleepy brain to stay trained on.
- Your best move is to try to stay alert in small chunks and take mini stay-awake breaks at regular intervals.
Step 2: Ways to Stay Awake
“OK, OK, I know why I’m tired and what I’m trying to do — now how can I force myself to stay awake?”
Here are our 10 promised tips you can use whenever you feel the Sandman sneaking up on you.
Some people love a cup of coffee, others nurse a can of soda, and others still enjoy some tea. You can also find caffeine in chocolate — the darker the cacao, the more caffeine content. Even if you don’t feel a tangible boost in energy, the process of making or getting a cup of coffee or tea and happily sipping something warm can snap you out of a drowsy spell.
With this fan-favorite out of the way, the rest of these tips will be how to stay awake without more caffeine.
Hydration keeps the body in tip-top shape and helps blood circulate well. If you drink ice-cold water, it’ll also help ground you into the present. Plus, it’s hard to sleep if you have to keep getting up to go to the bathroom.
Eating gives you fresh energy and something else to focus on (who falls asleep while munching down?). Choose or bring something light and healthy to avoid a sugar crash and speed up digestion. Being totally full can make you feel more sluggish and tired.
Foods that keep you awake include fruits, whole grains and nuts, and protein.
Change It Up
It’s easy to get even more tired and unfocused if you’re trying to overcompensate. Make sure you’re taking breaks that let your mind and body decompress. Go into a different room, step outside, play a game on your phone, or browse the internet for 5 minutes. If you’re working on a screen, do something away from it. If you’re working with a group, allow yourself a couple of minutes alone.
When you dive back in, you should feel a bit more refreshed.
This is a term from biology that has made its way over to psychology. Basically, when your mood is down and your responsiveness is suffering, do what you can to bring yourself back up. Get multiple senses involved.
Cardio like jumping jacks, running down a hill, or climbing up and down the stairs — gets the heart pumping and blood flowing.
This is an excellent wake-up call. An easy solution is splashing cold water on your face and neck or sucking on an ice cube, but if you’re in a cold space, try stepping outside if it’s sunny or warmly humid.
Turn on Music
Listening to something upbeat and fast-paced keeps the mind engaged and gets your body going along to the tempo.
Certain sharp scents help you stay focused and alert. We’re talking mint, ginger, cinnamon, citrus. It can also work a bit through taste if you want to chew gum, suck on hard candy, or try a flavored drink. Just beware of over-sugaring if you go the hard candy route.
The body has to kick into work mode to generate body heat. If you turn down the temperature and forgo an outer layer, you can force yourself awake for longer through sheer discomfort. Another potential method? Wear an ice pack like a neck pillow for a few minutes.
Though it might feel like a struggle to converse with someone when you’re in the pits of tiredness, it forces your brain to get with the program. It might take a false start and a few wonky replies, but by the end, you’ll probably either feel happier, embarrassed, or angry about something– none of which are compatible with being sleepy.
Stretching improves circulation without having to get active and will help alleviate some stress from a fatigued body. It’s perfect for doing during one of those mini-breaks, and there are effective moves you can do without even getting up.
This has similar benefits to stretching. A little turn about the room, or out in the hall, or even outside, combines circulation with taking a break and changing up your scenery. Try to stay grounded in the present and not stress about returning to your task. It’ll just be for a moment.
Another benefit? Depending on where you walk, you can combine it with almost anything else: socializing, a temperature change, getting a snack or drink, listening to one favorite song. Multitasking!
Meditation isn’t for everyone — it might put you straight into an accidental 5-minute nap (would that be such a terrible thing though?). But if you find yourself open to it, a large part of meditation is just intentionally focusing. It lets you clear your head, control your thoughts and relax into your body. It can be restful in itself without falling asleep and will help you mentally regroup and concentrate your limited energies.
Step 3: How Can I Stop Feeling Sleepy?
Rather than combat residual tiredness, you can also go straight to the heart of the problem.
- Not resting well?
- Finding it difficult to go to sleep earlier (not tired)?
- Finding it difficult to actually fall asleep?
- Difficulty staying asleep?
If you can’t seem to solve the problem while making changes over time (give it a month or two), it’d be wise to consult your physician. There may be an underlying problem you need to address that a professional can help you sort out.
Review Your Diet and Exercise
No one likes to hear this because it’s so daunting and broad. But if you get your body more active during your awake hours, it’ll be ready to wind down and rest during sleeping hours. It doesn’t necessarily have to be traditional exercise.
Additionally, just as certain snacks can perk you up during the day, some foods — even healthy ones — aren’t conducive to sleep. If you’re prone to heartburn in the nighttime, try to cut out acidic foods/drinks and dairy in the evening.
You can pop melatonin before bed to try and kickstart sleepiness and improve rest during the night. It can also be used to acclimate your body to a different sleep cycle. If you take it several hours before bed rather than right before, your body starts to adjust to a new bedtime.
Meditation has many potential benefits, even opposing ones! Like counting sheep, a nightly meditation calms the mind and body, helping you find peaceful sleep. You can do it before bed to wind down, or try it while you’re lying in bed to see if you can quietly drift off.
You get better at meditation the more you do it. If it doesn’t deliver on your first try, don’t give up. Try again tomorrow night.
No Electronics Before Bed
We often hear all about blue light and how it encourages awakeness. The screens of our devices emit blue light, which our bodies associate with daytime, but that overlooks two other problems.
- Devices are very bright. Even if you block blue light. If the screen is bright as a sun in your darkroom, your body still isn’t getting go-to-sleep vibes.
- Devices stimulate us. Whether it’s TV, a video game, your phone, or an e-reader, your mind will stay in active mode until you’re literally too tired to continue.
This advice is obvious but important. If you get overheated and wake up in an angry, disoriented sweat, ditch a blanket. Change your sheet material or the pajamas you wear. Find a pillow with perfect neck support or get one to put between your knees if you don’t like your legs to touch.
Give your body what it wants to sleep best.
While these tips are helpful, they’re no guarantee of success. Your body can still overpower your will, and each body has a different life going on.
Some people learn how to stay awake all night without much problem, but it takes rehauling their sleep schedule and sticking to those changes. Some people are hardwired to do their best with an early start and a power nap every single day.
Listen to what your sleepiness is saying, and decide how you’re going to reply. The conversation is ongoing, so check in often.