How To Stay Awake

How to Stay Awake Naturally in 12 Tips

With more and more of us getting less and less sleep, it’s tempting to reach for a Red Bull or an espresso when we feel sleepy at work. But consuming caffeine to combat sleepiness can lead to a vicious cycle.

The java jolt that helps you stay awake can take up to eight hours to wear off. Caffeine can also reduce your sleep time, alter the normal stages of sleep, and decrease the quality of your sleep.

How can you stay awake naturally? Try some of these 12 jitter-free tips to take the edge off sleepiness.

1. Get Up and Move Around to Feel Awake

In one well-known study, Robert Thayer, PhD, a professor at California State University, Long Beach, studied whether people were more energized by eating a candy bar or taking a brisk 10-minute walk. Though the candy bar provided a quick energy boost, participants were actually more tired and had less energy an hour later. The 10-minute walk increased energy for two hours. That’s because walking pumps oxygen through your veins, brain, and muscles.

If you work at a desk, get up frequently for short walks. At meal breaks, walk to a restaurant or, if you bring your lunch, head for a nice spot to eat it. Whether you take a walk outside or just in the building where you work, it will make you feel more alert and refreshed.

2. Take a Nap to Take the Edge Off Sleepiness

There are two things to remember about naps: Don’t take more than one and don’t take it too close to your bedtime. “Nap between five and 25 minutes,” says Barry Krakow, MD, author of Sound Sleep, Sound Mind: Seven Keys to Sleeping Through the Night. It’s best to nap about six or seven hours before you would normally go to bed. If you must take a late nap close to bedtime, make it a short one.

Napping on the job can be touchy. If you need to nap at work, do it during your break and use a vibrating alarm clock, if necessary, to make sure it doesn’t spill over into your work time. Sleeping at your desk is usually not a good idea, but many companies now provide nap rooms for employees.

“If you can’t nap, even resting quietly with your eyes closed for 10 minutes or so will help,” says Allison T. Siebern, PhD, a fellow at the Stanford University Sleep Medicine Center in Redwood City, Calif.

3. Give Your Eyes a Break to Avoid Fatigue

Continuous fixation on a computer screen can cause eyestrain and worsen sleepiness and fatigue. Look away from the screen for a few minutes periodically to relax your eyes.

4. Eat a Healthy Snack to Boost Energy

Sugary snacks give you a quick energy boost followed by the sugar “lows,” when low blood sugar produces mental fogginess and lethargy. Snacks such as these will provide better overall energy in the long run:
  • Peanut butter on a whole wheat cracker or celery sticks
  • Yogurt and a handful or nuts or fresh fruit
  • Baby carrots with a low-fat cream cheese dip
5. Start a Conversation to Wake Up Your Mind

If you’re fading fast, engaging in conversation can get your mind moving again. “Talk to a colleague about a business idea, politics, or religion,” says Krakow, medical director of Maimonides Sleep Arts and Sciences, Ltd. in Albuquerque, N.M. “It’s a very strong behavioral stimulator -- especially when it’s a conversation about politics.”

6. Turn Up the Lights to Ease Fatigue

Environments with dim lighting aggravate fatigue. Studies have shown that exposure to bright light can reduce sleepiness and increase alertness. Try increasing the intensity of your light source at work.

7. Take a Breather to Feel Alert

Deep breathing raises blood oxygen levels in the body. This slows your heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and improves circulation, ultimately aiding mental performance and energy.

The idea of deep-breathing exercises is to inhale to the abdomen, not the chest. You can do them at your desk. Sitting up straight, try this exercise up to 10 times:
  • With one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other on your chest, inhale deeply through your nose and let your belly push your hand out. Your chest should not move.
  • Breathe out through lips pursed as if you were whistling. You can use the hand on your belly to help push air out.

Another technique, called stimulating breath, is used in yoga for a quick energy boost and increased alertness: Inhale and exhale rapidly through your nose, keeping your mouth closed but relaxed. Make your in-and-out breaths short -- do about three of each cycle in a second. Then breathe normally. You can do this for up to 15 seconds the first time and then add on five seconds each time after until you reach a minute.

8. If You’re Driving, Pull Over When Sleepy

“Driving while sleepy is as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol,” says Siebern. Common tricks such as opening the windows and turning on loud music won’t keep you awake for very long behind the wheel. “Have someone else drive or pull off the road and take a nap until you’re no longer sleepy,” Siebern says.

If you’re on an extended trip, change drivers often. Stop at least every two hours to take a walk and get some fresh air.

9. Switch Tasks to Stimulate Your Mind

In 2004 Finnish researchers who studied people working 12-hour night shifts found that monotonous work is as harmful as sleep loss for alertness. At work or home, try to reserve more stimulating tasks for your sleepy times. Or switch to more engaging work responsibilities when you feel yourself nodding off.

10. Drink Water to Prevent Tiredness

Dehydration can cause fatigue. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids and eat foods high in water such as fruits and vegetables.

11. Get Some Daylight to Regulate Your Sleep Cycles

Our circadian rhythms, which regulate our sleep-wake cycle, are influenced by daylight. Try to spend at least 30 minutes a day outside in natural sunlight. (Sleep experts recommend an hour of morning sunlight a day if you have insomnia.) Even a step outside for a breath of fresh air will revive your senses.

12. Exercise to Increase Energy and Reduce Fatigue

In an analysis of 70 studies involving more than 6,800 people, University of Georgia researchers found that exercise was more effective in increasing energy and reducing daytime fatigue than some medications used to treat sleep problems. Regular exercise also improves quality of sleep.

Try to exercise 30 minutes a day. If you decide to exercise hard some days, your energy level may drop for a bit and then surge for a few hours. Eating a meal that contains both protein and carbohydrates within two hours after a heavy workout will lessen the initial energy loss. Be sure to finish your workout a few hours before bedtime so you are not energized when you try to sleep.

When to See a Doctor About Your Sleepiness

If you find that you can’t stop nodding off when you need to be alert, consult a doctor or sleep specialist. You may have an underlying sleep disorder such as excessive sleepiness or narcolepsy, which can be treated. Your doctor may prescribe medications to help you with a sleep disorder. If you have trouble falling asleep because of stress or other reasons, cognitive behavioral therapy can help you develop good sleep habits and relieve sleep anxieties.

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16 Tips for Staying Awake When You're Tired

While there's an art to surviving the all-nighter, there's also an art to staying awake throughout the day when you're operating on little to no sleep. In 1964, the record for sleep deprivation was set by 17-year-old Randy Gardner, who stayed awake for an incredible 264 hours and 12 minutes. Now while we're not out to challenge Randy for his title, we can certainly look to him for inspiration in beating back our own fatigue.

The right foods, (lots of) water, activity, and light — both natural and electric — can all aid in helping us stay awake when we're feeling a bit listless. When your eyelids start to grow heavy, try one of these tips. From staying well hydrated to feeling the beat, you can totally regain your pep.

Food Can Be a Roller Coaster
We've all heard of the "sugar crash," where fatigue sets in after we've had a good dose of simple carbs in the form of soda, candy, chips, a plate of pasta, etc. Foods with high sugar content provide a fleeting "high," only to be followed by a low in which our bodies feel tired and/or sleepy.

The body breaks down carbs into sugars, and simple carbs are quicker to break down than complex ones, resulting in a quick burst of energy. The rise in blood sugar levels, however, also triggers the pancreas to produce insulin, which consequently "prompts cells to absorb blood sugar for energy or storage." As a result, your blood sugar levels get zapped and you start to quickly come down from that high.

Complex carbs on the other hand, such as whole wheat bread and whole grain pasta, take longer to break down, thereby providing a more balanced energy boost. While you don't get the immediate high, you also don't experience the subsequent crash. So choose the right foods for that working lunch or afternoon snack. Note: Fruits and vegetables are simple carbs, but act like complex ones (one exception is potatoes). So that apple is a good choice (the baked potato not so much).

Move About & Catch Some Rays
Sitting in one place for too long can lead to fatigue, though varying your tasks can help. Sitting still though can convince your body it's time for sleep and affect your circadian rhythm, that 24-hour endogenous cycle that helps set our sleep-wake patterns. To reverse tiredness here, simply get up and move about. Walk around the bullpen or to the break room for a cup of water or do a set of jumping jacks or pushups in the hallway. For the exercises, you won't look silly. It will be clear to everyone what you're doing, and you may just start a trend.

CSULB professor of psychology Robert Thayer, author of Calm Energy: How People Regulate Mood with Food and Exercise, found in a study of 37 individuals that "there was a clear and strong relationship between the number of steps they took and their overall mood and energy level." Those in the study kept track of their steps with a pedometer, an investment you may want to make as well to keep a running total of what your ideal step count is (and perhaps set a personal goal to best it each time).

You can also combine your walk with a breath of fresh air outside. Walking to your lunch destination and eating in the courtyard, at the nearby fountain, or corner cafe will also help you raise your energy level. The sunlight will not only revive you in the here and now but also aid in keeping your internal clock in check.

Drink Water to Stay Hydrated
Your body also needs water. Fatigue is a common symptom of dehydration and you should never let yourself get to the point to where you're "thirsty." Regulate this by taking sips throughout the day, which may lead to more breaks for the bathroom, but that will also tie into moving about.

A Tufts University study found that dehydration in athletes "was associated with a negative mood, including fatigue and confusion." Those who are stationed at a desk also run the risk of becoming dehydrated, as it's easy enough to become too busy to remember to drink proper amounts of water or other liquids, such as fruit juice, coffee, iced tea, etc. Remember, sufficient fluids in your body help the blood get to your organs. Note: You can also get your water through foods, such as fruits and vegetables. During the summertime, a slice of watermelon is a perfectly refreshing snack that's a complex carb and a great source of water.

Natural Ways to Stay Wide Awake
So food, exercise, sunlight, and water. If you've already tried these tips before, however, and you're still feeling a bit low, try some more singular tactics, such as yogic breathing techniques, sniffing peppermint essential oil, or some basic accupressure at your desk to help clear the sleep fog in your brain.

It all circles back to our bodies and how we can be more mindful of what they need. If you're in otherwise fine health, you can easily take steps to counter tiredness. Also, understanding why you're feeling tired will help in staving off low energy: Be proactive and head off fatigue before it can take over.

Surviving the Day After an All-Nighter

Pushing through the night to study, work, or respond to an emergency can feel downright heroic. You did what you had to do, against the odds.

But once the adrenaline wears off and daylight comes, you may suddenly be a little unsteady on your feet. Surviving the day after an all-nighter can be more difficult than it was to stay awake in the first place.

A night of sleep deprivation affects your brain -- how quickly you can react, how well you can pay attention, how you sort information or remember it. In fact, studies have shown that after an all-nighter, you may be functioning at a similar level as someone who is legally drunk.

Brace for a Morning Slump

You may feel the worst effects just as the next day is beginning.

“You would think you would be the most impaired the longer you’re awake, but that is not the case,” says sleep expert David Dinges, PhD, chief of the division of sleep and chronobiology at the University of Pennsylvania and editor of the journal SLEEP.

Because of the natural flow of your body clock, or circadian rhythm, “you’re actually at the worst 24 hours after your habitual wake-up time," Dinges says. "You’ll have an unbelievably difficult time staying awake and alert.”

That is also the worst time for you to get in a car to drive home. “If you stayed up all night, you should not be driving, period. You are impaired,” says Mark Rosekind, PhD, a fatigue management expert who is now a member of the National Transportation Safety Board. The monotony of the road, combined with your sleep deprivation, can cause you to fall asleep uncontrollably, he says. In a 2005 poll by the National Sleep Foundation, more than a third of adult drivers admitted having nodded off at the wheel.

Brain Will Help You Through

If you need to continue to work, your brain will try to compensate for the sleep deprivation.

In a study using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), 16 young adults who had not slept for 35 hours completed tasks of increasing difficulty. Activity increased in several regions of the brain, as they essentially summoned more “brain power” than they needed when they were well-rested.

“[Sleep-deprived people] can call on cognitive resources they have that they normally don’t need to use to do a certain task. That allows them to perform reasonably well, but they still don’t perform at normal levels,” says researcher Sean P.A. Drummond, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Diego and the VA San Diego Healthcare System.

Your body clock also will give you a periodic boost, as it triggers a wake signal in your brain. You may feel a second wind in the mid-morning (around 10 a.m.) and again in the early evening (at 6 p.m. or 7 p.m.). “You may feel better, but you’re still likely to be forgetful, slower to react, and less attentive," Dinges says.

Fortunately, there are some things you can do to improve your alertness and make it through the day after.

Take a Nap

The antidote to sleeplessness is sleep, says Rosekind, who led a fatigue management program for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). In a study led by Rosekind, pilots on transpacific flights who napped for an average of 26 minutes had 34% fewer performance lapses and were half as likely to show signs of physiologic sleepiness.

Even a nap as short as 10 minutes can benefit you, as your brain quickly moves into slow-wave sleep, Dinges says. If you sleep longer than about 40 or 45 minutes, you may feel groggy when you wake up. This is called sleep inertia, and happens when you wake from a deep sleep. Once you shake off that feeling, you’ll benefit from the nap and feel sharper than you would have without it, Dinges says.

Drink Coffee or Another Caffeinated Beverage

Be strategic with your coffee or energy drink and you’ll get an extended boost in alertness. Most people need about 100 milligrams (mg) to 200 mg of caffeine, depending on their body weight, Rosekind says. (Coffee has about 100 mg of caffeine in a 5-ounce cup, though the content varies based on the strength of the brew.) Over-the-counter caffeine pills also are available in 100 mg or 200 mg doses.

It takes about 15 to 30 minutes for you to feel the effect of the caffeine, and the benefit will last for three to four hours, Rosekind says. “If you plan strategically to use the caffeine every few hours, you can keep yourself at a pretty good level of performance,” he says.

The best strategy: Have your caffeine and lie down for a 30-minute nap. You’ll wake up feeling refreshed, he says.

One caveat: When you finally stop drinking your caffeinated beverage, expect a crash. “The caffeine masks the sleepiness, [but] the sleepiness just keeps building up,” Rosekind says.

Turn Up the Light

Your body clock is attuned to the cycle of darkness and light, so bright light has an alerting effect.

“As people get more and more tired, they often find bright light unpleasant and they’ll deliberately turn the light off,” says Dinges. Instead, you should turn lights on and even step out into the sunshine, Drummond says.

Move Your Body

Taking a brisk walk or working out gets your blood moving. Exercise also boosts your brain power. “If you move your body, there’s automatic feedback from your muscles that goes to the central mechanism of the brain to improve alertness,” says Sharon Keenan, PhD, founder and director of the School of Sleep Medicine of the Stanford University Center for Excellence for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Sleep Disorders.

Even changing your activity or being engaged in a conversation can improve alertness, Rosekind says. But as soon as you stop the activity or conversation, you’re likely to feel sleepy again, he says.

Avoid Multitasking

After a night without sleep, your working memory is impaired. That means you can’t keep as many things in your mind at one time, Drummond says.

A study of 40 young adults who had 42 hours of sleep deprivation -- equivalent to staying up all night and the next day until a late bedtime -- showed a 38% decrease in working memory capacity. Imaging studies confirmed that the part of the brain involved in integrating information isn’t as active in people who are sleep deprived.

Know Your Limitations

You may try to snap yourself awake by splashing cold water on your face or opening a window or making the room a bit cooler. You may feel better after taking a shower and dressing up for a new day. But there’s no way to trick your body and mind. That refreshed feeling is destined to be followed by a slump.

“The biological drive for sleep is so great that you just can’t cheat it,” Drummond says. “It is as important for life as water and oxygen and food.”

There’s good news at the end of an all-nighter. Once you finally get to sleep again, you will sleep more deeply than usual, with more slow-wave sleep. “It's better to sleep until you just naturally wake up,” says Dinges, which means you may sleep 9 or 10 hours. That will be the true recovery from your sleepless night, he says.

Tips for Staying Awake at Work

Tiredness at work
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could take a quick break from work to nap every time you felt you needed it? Unfortunately, this is not the reality for most people.

Tiredness at work is common whether you work part time or full time, day shift or night shift. It can harm your work performance and make work less enjoyable. And in some careers, it can be downright dangerous.

Tips to stay awake at work
If you’re struggling to stay awake at work and the coffee’s just not cutting it, try some of these tips:

1. Go for a walk before work
Getting some fresh air and moving your body before work can help keep you awake. A walk is especially effective at increasing your alertness if you take one when the sun’s up.

2. Take a nap before work
While it’s often impossible to take a nap on the job, taking a nap before work can help increase your alertness. This is an especially important tip for shift workers, who may be required to work odd or alternating hours. Napping for as little as 15 to 20 minutes before work can help improve your alertness throughout your shift.

3. Take activity breaks
Sitting or standing still for too long, such as at a desk or cash register, can make you feel tired. Staying active can help you feel more alert and think more clearly. Get up and take activity breaks every few hours if possible. For example, try walking around your office or workplace while you take that phone call. You can also try these exercises you can do at your desk.

4. Keep your workspace bright
If you work during the day, keep your workplace window shades open to let in sunlight. If you’re working when it’s dark or dim, turn the lights on to help keep you awake and alert.

5. Drink water
Sipping caffeine can give you a temporary energy boost, but drinking water throughout your shift is much healthier and is also effective in keeping you alert. That’s because dehydration can make it more difficult for you to concentrate on your work.

6. Drink caffeine early in your shift
Consuming some caffeine early in your shift can boost your alertness early in your day. Be sure to consume it only at the start of your shift, though. Caffeinating too late can interfere with your ability to sleep after work.

7. Keep snacks handy
Eating healthy snacks during the day can help keep your blood sugar — and attention — steady all day long. Look for foods with a mix of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Good snack options include:
  • peanut butter and whole wheat crackers
  • granola and yogurt
  • nuts and fruit
  • baby carrots and cheese

Avoid consuming foods and beverages with added sugar, such as candies, energy bars, and soda.

8. Get the easy stuff out of the way
It can be hard to focus on complex tasks when you’re tired. If possible, complete the easiest tasks when you’re tired, such as replying to emails, filing documents, or reorganizing your computer’s desktop. Usually your energy will return as you complete these simpler tasks.

9. Use energizing scents to wake you up
Keep scented candles or an essential oil diffuser at your desk. Look for scents that are strong and energizing, such as jasmine, citrus, or peppermint. You can also rub essential oil on your hands and temples to help keep you energized.

10. Turn on some tunes
Listening to loud, energizing music such as rock or pop can sometimes help increase your energy level. If you work in a shared space, make sure to wear headphones so you don’t disturb your coworkers.

Lifestyle changes to make it easier to stay awake
The above tips are great short-term fixes to staying awake at work. But to help stay alert at work in the long term, you need to make some adjustments to your daily life.

Here are seven lifestyle changes that can help increase the quality of your sleep, making it easier for you to stay awake at work.

1. Avoid light before bed
Your body’s production of melatonin, which helps you sleep, is influenced by light and dark. It can be challenging, especially for shift workers, to avoid light before bed. Sunlight can make your body feel more energized when you’re trying to wind down.

Reduce your exposure to light before bed by limiting your screen time from your TV or cell phone. In addition, try wearing an eye mask or hanging darkening shades on your windows if sunlight keeps you up when you’re trying to sleep.

2. Avoid consuming stimulants before bed
Don’t consume caffeine or other stimulants during the second half of your shift. Doing so can make it much more difficult for you to fall and stay asleep at bedtime.

3. Make your bedroom quiet
Turn off all electronic devices, such as your TV, and use earplugs to keep your bedroom quiet. Use a white noise machine to drown out loud or distracting noises if necessary.

4. Make napping part of your routine
Setting up a nap schedule can help regulate your sleep.

5. Limit your shift changes
Changing shifts often makes it harder for your body to adjust. Limit these changes when possible.

6. Pay attention to your body when it comes to exercise
Exercise is helpful in promoting sleep. However, for some people, exercising right before bed can make it harder to fall asleep. For others, exercise may not affect their sleep patterns at all. Get to know your body and what feels best.

7. Avoid smoking and drinking before bed
These habits can make it more difficult for you to fall and stay asleep.

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