12 How To Stay Awake Tactics For Maximum Productivity
You wake up in the morning, get some breakfast and start thinking about all the productive things you’ll do today: you’ve got homework to finish, meetings to attend, projects to plan…
You get to class or work. Then after sitting down for just a few minutes you suddenly get “the feeling”. A persistent weakness begins to penetrate your eyelids. Breathing slows down. Concentration becomes compromised as a haze starts passing through your mind.
You then begin to realize- it’s happening again.
This “feeling” is a huge problem for most of us. Almost half of all Americans report feeling more tired than ever before. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,
The struggle to stay awake is very real for many people, and so are the consequences.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 100,000 crashes in the US each year are a direct result of driver sleepiness.
I’m here to tell you, I got you. During these past 10 years, I’ve struggled with excessive sleepiness throughout the day. I have tried just about everything to figure out how to stay awake in class, meetings, and work. Over time I’ve discovered some tactics that have consistently helped me stay awake.
Keep in mind that often times, the struggle to remain awake and focus is nothing but a by-product of poor sleep. If you suspect you have issues falling and staying asleep, check out this infographic on 10 ways to sleep better and faster.
So if you’re on the front lines, losing the battle to stay awake, it’s time to bring out the big guns. These 12 tactics for how to stay awake are sure to help you out.
Stand up while working
Also known as the slam dunk of staying awake, standing up when sleepy is easily one of the most effective ways to stay awake while working. Falling asleep while standing up is nearly impossible for most people (some sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy, may cause you to fall asleep while standing up). With the right desk available, you can avoid the afternoon slump and be as productive as you planned to be this morning. Many companies are starting to provide stand up desks to put a halt to sleepiness and increase collaboration.
Snacking on a healthy food is a clever way to stay awake. About three quarters of Americans do not eat enough fruit on a daily basis. If you’re like me and fall into this category, you can synergize by snacking on fruits. The fact is that most people simply cannot fall asleep while eating. I’ve snacked on apples, plums, strawberries, grapes, almonds etc. in the past in order to stay awake. On top of all this, fruits contain carbohydrates which provide a quick burst of energy to your body that’ll help your feel more alert.
Easily the best tactic for staying awake, given that you have an extra 10-15 minutes to spare. Coffee naps are essentially super-power naps. They’re backed by scientific research and proven to be better than coffee or a power nap alone! Here’s how they work:
- Take your coffee relatively quickly (within 5 minutes of the first sip)
- Take a quick 10 to 15 minute nap
- Wake up
- Enjoy not dozing off every 5 seconds
After a coffee nap you’ll be feeling as refreshed and energized as ever. If you’re curious about the science behind it, here’s a quick 15 second explanation:
- Adenosine binds to brain receptors and causes us to feel sleepy. It builds up throughout the day. The more that accumulates, the sleepier you’ll feel.
- Sleeping removes these molecules from the brain receptors
- Caffeine increases general attention and decreases sleepiness by binding into the same brain receptors that adenosine binds to, thus blocking out our sleepy culprit Adenosine.
Cinnamon and Peppermint are top choice scents for staying awake. Both extracts have been shown to decrease driving frustration and increase levels of driver alertness. Other herbs like Rosemary and Eucalyptus are also used regularly for staying awake.
This was one of the first tactics I discovered for staying awake (circa my middle school years). I would carry a small vial of a crimson cinnamon scented oil in my book bag. When I would start feeling hazy I’d open the vial and take a whiff. The powerful cinnamon aroma would usually jolt me into staying awake.
Essential oils are one of the best options for staying awake. I’ve found that putting a few drops of eucalyptus or peppermint essential oil in a diffuser does wonder for energizing a room and keeping you up and going.
Listen to a podcast
Think back a few years ago and try to remember the last time you fell asleep during the frightening moments of a very scary movie. Does anything come to mind?
Maybe think back to the last time you fell asleep while watching the tear-jerking scenes of a sad movie. Still no luck?
As you probably just realized, it’s pretty difficult to fall asleep when feeling intense emotions.
Just like movies, podcasts can elicit strong emotional responses (provided you’re listening to the right podcast). Luckily for us, there is a podcast for every topic, occasion, and consequently, emotion. I got hooked on podcasts recently when I started listening to Criminal during car rides. Best part is that most podcasts are educational on some level, meaning that you’ll be killing two birds with one stone if you listen to the right one to stay awake.
On top of that, podcasts have made lengthy car trips much more bearable. I’ve started counting the length of my car rides in Criminal episodes. (An average criminal episode is 30 minutes, meaning that my 4-hour drive just turned into an 8 episode ride… not bad at all)
If you’re curious about which podcasts are out there for your specific interests, you can start your search by checking out this list of the 50 best podcasts of 2016.
Physical activity has consistently been linked to improved sleeping and restfulness, which ultimately helps you stay awake in the long run. One reason is that exercising increases our body temperature which helps normalize our circadian clock and consequently improves sleep quality.
However, engaging in light physical activity while working or studying will also help you stay awake. Physical activity releases adrenaline which increases energy levels and makes it easier to stay awake. Many college campuses and libraries have started providing desk bikes for people wanting to do some work while exercising. If you have space but lack a desk bike, hit the floor and do a few push ups; you’ll be feeling energized in no time!
Water is essential for ATP production in humans. It produces energy indirectly by serving as a reactant for energy-producing reactions. More energy=Less dozing off.
Aside from helping you stay awake, staying hydrated is always important as water is such an essential nutrient for the human metabolism. If anything, the frequent bathroom breaks will help you stay awake by keeping you on your feet.
Listen to Music
Listening to music has been shown to relieve stress and anxiety. When performing simple cognitive tasks your brain benefits from listening to music because it makes the task more enjoyable and less stressful (i.e. less boring). For such tasks requiring small mental effort (such as performing repetitive calculations or signing paperwork) listening to music can help you stay awake.
Music with nature sounds are preferred as these can boost your mood and focus without distracting you. Also, when performing cognitively demanding tasks, stay away from music that you strongly enjoy as they can shift your attention from work to the song itself.
Talk to someone
Taking a quick break to chat with a co-worker or a study buddy can be an effective way to energize yourself and wake up. Conversation requires relatively large intellectual effort. Every time we engage in conversation the areas responsible for paying attention in the brain experience an increase in blood flow. You begin feeling more responsive, aware, and awake. Different topics of conversation will activate different emotional triggers, which can also help keep us awake. Humans are, by nature, social creatures.
I personally try to avoid energy drinks as they contain a fiesta of sugars and their main chemical components have yet to be well studied. However, an occasional energy drink can give you the necessary kick to tackle situations where your full focus is absolutely essential. Energy drinks generally have a crash period determined by the amount of sugar, caffeine, and guarana used.
Despite all of this, energy drinks can be very useful in situations where staying awake is absolutely essential. Examples include during long drives, meetings with your boss, and final exams. If you choose to take this route for staying awake, I highly recommend consuming a sugar-free energy drink to cut down on health side effects and crashing. Drinking water throughout the day helps you avoid the crash period as it dilutes the ingredients from the energy drink.
Although not my first option when I start dozing off, it is painfully effective. Pain is one of the few feelings stronger than sleepiness. When confronted with it, our mind focuses on the pain and temporarily disregards our sleepiness. Try pinching behind your thigh close to the knee. Pinching behind your hand or on the wrist will also work.
I’ve had to pinch myself to stay awake during meetings with the boss during my time working at a chemical site and it sucked. But at the end of the day, what’s a few pinches on the wrist compared to potentially losing your job? Not much at all, if you ask me.
Hold your breath
Holding your breath is definitely the last line of defense. It guarantees that you’ll stay awake for a short period of time. Though it is impossible to suffocate yourself by holding your breath, you do risk the danger of not providing enough oxygen to your organs and passing out. On the flip side, you can hold your breath during lectures, meetings, and other public areas without anyone having to know. Use at your own discretion.
Although most people feel sleepy at one point or another, constant sleepiness can be a symptom of an underlying sleep disorder. If you’re having trouble staying awake despite getting 7-8 hours of sleep, contact your doctor or see a sleep specialist.
If you have any tips that you would like to share please leave a comment below!