10 Tips for Staying Awake When You Are Feeling Too Sleepy

Get a good night's sleep.

Woman sleeping in bed with dog
To stay awake, get a good night's sleep. Hero Images/Getty Images

The best defense against excessive daytime sleepiness is getting a good night’s sleep. There are many potential causes of sleepiness, but the most common is simply not getting enough sleep. This sleep restriction will increase your desire to sleep and could cause you to fall asleep at the wrong times. Moreover, any underlying sleep disorder can also cause problems staying alert.

Take frequent breaks.

To stay awake, take frequent breaks during the day
To stay awake, take frequent breaks during the day. Getty Images

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.

Consume caffeine.

To stay awake, consume caffeine like coffee
To stay awake, consume caffeine like coffee. Getty Images

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.

Alternate your activities.

To stay awake, alternative your activities to add variety
To stay awake, alternative your activities to add variety. Getty Images

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 these in short, scheduled bursts may allow you to be more productive. Sustained concentration can be taxing, but by shifting our focus we can be more attentive to the new tasks that we undertake.

Step out to get some light and fresh air.

To stay awake, step outside to get some light and fresh air
To stay awake, step outside to get some light and fresh air. Getty Images

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.

Take a nap.

To stay awake, recharge yourself by taking a nap
To stay awake, recharge yourself by taking a nap. Getty Images

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.

Have a snack.

To stay awake, have a healthy snack
To stay awake, have a healthy snack. Getty Images

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.

Exercise and be active.

To stay awake, exercise and be active
To stay awake, exercise and be active. Getty Images

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.

Keep the environment cool.

To stay awake, keep the environment cool
To stay awake, keep the environment cool. Getty Images

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 degrees or even a few degrees cooler), it will help you to stay alert.

As a last resort, ask your doctor about prescription stimulants.

To stay awake, consider the use of prescription stimulant medications
To stay awake, consider the use of prescription stimulant medications. Getty Images

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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