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How to Stay Awake

As many as one in four people feel so sleepy during the day that they have difficulty doing their work, schooling, or other important activities. People who have sleep disorders, work night shifts, or pull all-nighters often find themselves struggling to stay awake. While there is no replacement for getting the right amount of sleep, it is common to seek out ways to stay awake during class, at work, or while driving.

We cover several tips on how to stay awake, including ways to improve your morning routine and the best times for exercise or taking a power nap. We also address the benefits of a well-timed snack and offer suggestions for staying awake during class, work, and while driving.

Change Your Wake Up Routine

Just as a bedtime routine can help you fall asleep, having a consistent wake up routine helps you wake up on time feeling alert. To improve your morning routine, be sure to wake up at the same time every day, even on your days off. Keeping a consistent schedule will make it easier to wake up naturally and on time.

Get some sunlight as soon as possible after waking up. Exposure to bright light soon after rising can help you wake up and feel alert. However, if you work nights or live in the very northern or southern part of the world, you may not have access to natural light when you wake up. As an alternative to natural sunlight, using a light therapy box or visor can help you to feel less sleepy and more awake.

Go on a Walk

A quick break for some physical activity can help you feel more alert. Exercise releases endorphins in the brain that can raise your energy levels, improve your mood, and lessen pain.

Taking a short walk is linked to higher energy levels that may last for two hours or more after you finish exercising. Research has shown that regular exercise can even improve alertness in people with chronic health conditions like narcolepsy and chronic fatigue. As an added benefit, regular exercise helps you fall asleep faster at bedtime and improves the length and quality of your sleep.

Eat a Healthy Snack

Healthy food choices can help fight sleepiness. When you are trying to stay awake, try not to avoid meals just because you are tired. Low blood sugar can make you feel more worn out. If you do fall asleep after skipping a meal, hunger might wake you up earlier than you want.

While you may feel a temporary boost of energy after eating sugary snacks, high-sugar foods and beverages actually make you feel more tired over time. Instead, try having balanced meals containing protein and vegetables to help you stay alert. Fruits, vegetables, yogurt, eggs, nuts, fish, beans, and lean meats are all healthy food choices.

Finally, if you are trying to stay awake despite sleep loss, be sure to drink plenty of water. Dehydration can make you feel more tired.

Turn Up the Lights

Bright light strongly influences circadian rhythms. Sunlight helps keep the body’s internal clock on track, which can keep you feeling awake during the day. Taking a break outside can help you shake off your drowsiness and may improve your mood as well. If you cannot go outside, sit by a window or try a lamp that is designed to imitate natural light.

During night shifts, adjust lighting in your workplace to be as bright as possible. If the overhead lighting is too dim, consider using a portable light box. However, when you are not at work, follow sleep hygiene recommendations and sleep in a quiet, dark, and cool room

Grab Some Caffeine

Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that is commonly found in coffee, tea, soda, and energy drinks. It can make you feel more alert, less tired, and improve your concentration and energy. Coffee and tea are the most commonly used alertness-promoting substances in the world.

Caffeine’s effects on alertness and energy work by blocking adenosine within the brain. Adenosine is a naturally-occurring chemical that makes you feel sleepy. By blocking the effects of adenosine, caffeine excites your nervous system, leading to faster reactions, improved attention, and a better mood among other effects.

Caffeine starts working in about a half hour but its effects can last for many hours. The amount of caffeine in one cup of coffee or two cups of tea may keep you alert through a shift at work or a few hours at school. Be careful though, because caffeine can make it harder to fall asleep, so avoid caffeine within eight hours before you plan to go to bed.

While caffeine can help you stay awake in the short term, it should not take the place of regularly getting enough sleep. If you use large amounts of caffeine, you may find that caffeine no longer makes you feel as alert as it once did or that you need to take higher amounts to get the same effects.

Take a Power Nap

While napping in order to stay awake may sound counterintuitive, a short nap can help you feel more awake for several hours afterwards. Studies have found that people feel more alert and less sleepy after napping. However, naps should not take the place of regularly getting enough sleep. Napping too much can make it more difficult for you to fall asleep at night .

Health experts recommend limiting daytime naps to about 20 minutes at a time. Longer naps can actually make you feel groggier than short naps due to sleep inertia. Sleep inertia can leave you waking up from deep sleep feeling groggy, confused or in a bad mood. Sleep inertia usually lasts less than an hour, but may last longer if you are sleep deprived. Bright lights, washing your face, and caffeine may shorten sleep inertia.

The best times for a nap are in the early morning or mid-afternoon before 3 p.m. Napping closer to your desired bedtime may interfere with falling asleep on time.


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