Need to Stay Awake? Try These 9 Tips

Woman pouring coffee to stay awake

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Sleep-wrecking stress from work and life, plus the occasional sleepless night, happens. If you’re struggling to keep your eyes open, there are natural ways to help you stay awake like movement, caffeine, and taking snack breaks. 

So whether you need to stay awake for 24 hours or stay awake after a night of no sleep, here’s a list of 9 safe ways to boost energy and focus.

1. Move Your Body 

Fresh air and a 10- to 15-minute walk can help recharge. Walking helps move oxygen to your brain and muscles, making you feel more alert. As a bonus, walking outside can help lift your mood.

Walking indoors can also help wake you up if can’t get outside. Research shows taking a 15-minute walk indoors or outdoors can help improve your physical well-being.  Another small study on sleep-deprived women who spent 10 to 20 minutes walking up and down the stairs had more energy than those who took caffeine pills. 

2. Take a Nap

Sleeping when you need to stay awake might seem unproductive, but don’t underestimate the power nap. While not a replacement for a full night’s sleep, taking a quick nap can help increase alertness. A review of 13 studies found that night-shift workers who napped during their shift improved their performance and decreased sleepiness. 

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) notes the sweet spot for a quick nap is 15-30 minutes, which is enough time for you to feel more alert but not super groggy. If you’re going to take a nap, be sure to set an alarm to help you make sure you limit your resting to less than 30 minutes.

3. Unplug for a Bit 

On top of lack of sleep, staring at a computer screen, squinting, or intensely focusing on a task can tire your eyes and make your vision blurry—also known as eye strain. While most of us need to use our computers or smartphones for work, taking a break from screen time can help your eyes feel refreshed. The American Academy of Ophthalmology suggests the 20-20-20 rule, which means for every 20 minutes you stare at the screen, look at something else 20 feet away for 20 seconds. 

4. Drink Caffeine

If your day is dragging or you wake up extremely tired, a cup or two of coffee can help you re-energize. Caffeine is a stimulant that increases alertness and helps you feel more awake. Just make sure you don’t overdo it. Drinking more than 400 milligrams of caffeine daily (about 4 to 5 cups of brewed coffee) can lead to nausea, anxiety, and jitters. It’s also best to get caffeine from beverages like coffee and tea and avoid sugary, crash-inducing energy drinks. 

5. Jump in the Shower

You’ve probably experienced the shock of an accidental cold shower. Though it might not feel pleasant, a cold shower can actually help decrease sleepiness. Cold water hitting your skin increases circulation and moves blood to your midsection. Similar to taking a walk, this improvement in blood flow helps move oxygen throughout your body and can help you feel more alert.  

6. Drink Water

Not getting enough sleep can lead to dehydration, which can make you feel more tired.  Symptoms of dehydration can include tiredness, irritability, lightheadedness, headaches, and low blood pressure. Try drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning, when you’re more likely to be dehydrated and sip on water all day. While just water is the optimal choice, other beverages like sparkling water and flavored seltzer can also help you stay hydrated. 

7. Eat a Snack

Eating nourishing foods can help you avoid a blood sugar crash that’ll make you feel more sleepy. Aim for snacks that combine protein, healthy fats, and carbs that help you feel full and prepared for tasks that need all of your attention. When a carbohydrate source enters the bloodstream, it can provide the muscles with the energy needed for endurance especially when exercising. Some balanced snacks to help your body run on all cylinders when you’re trying to stay awake include: 

  • Trail mix
  • Cheese, dried fruit, meat, and nuts
  • Nut butter and apples
  • Veggies and hummus
  • Greek yogurt and berries 

8. Deep Breathing Exercises

Deep breathing can help raise your body’s blood oxygen levels, which slows your heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and improves circulation. This type of breathing pattern can make you feel more alert. If you’re trying to stay awake at work, try this basic deep breathing technique:

  • Sit up straight or stand tall with your shoulders back.
  • Inhale through your nose (pulling air from your abdomen, not your chest) for five seconds. 
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth (like you are pushing out the air) for five seconds. 
  • Repeat as needed. 

9. Let the Sun Shine

Getting enough sunlight is vital for regulating your body’s sleep-wake cycle. Darkness tells your body to release melatonin, a sleep hormone, so you sleep at night. Sunlight cues your body to create more cortisol to help you wake up for the day. 

Studies also show artificial light can help you feel more awake and alert by triggering the same cycle. A 2021 review found that night-shift workers who used bright lights at night and stayed in darkness during the day could reverse their sleep-wake cycles to stay awake at work. Those who used medium-intensity light at night also reduced sleepiness. If you feel sleepy due to a lack of sunlight, sitting in front of a light therapy lamp for 30 to 45 minutes may help you feel more awake.  

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you find you’re always tired and can’t seem to stay awake during the day for weeks on end, talk to your healthcare provider. You should also speak up if your tiredness affects your work and personal life. 

Excessive tiredness or fatigue can be a sign of an underlying health condition that needs medical attention, including:

A Quick Review

It can be hard to stay awake when your body craves sleep. It’s important to prioritize good sleep habits so you can get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep for adults ages 18 to 64, and seven to eight hours of sleep for adults age 65 and older. Try going to bed at the same time every day, avoiding caffeine in the late afternoon, and keeping your environment cool and dark in the evenings.

Sometimes you just can’t get a good night’s sleep. In those cases, you can try some methods to increase alertness and fight fatigue by combining methods like drinking moderate amounts of caffeine, taking walking breaks, drinking water, and getting sunlight. However, these are short-term solutions. You do have to actually sleep at some point.

If tiredness affects your work and personal life long-term, talk with a healthcare provider. They can help you rule out any health conditions that may make you feel extremely tired. 

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