Everbody gets tired at work, particularly in the early afternoon.  Here are 11 ways to defeat sleepiness at the office or in class.

1. Eat less sugar and carbohydrate – Sugar and carbs cause your blood sugar to spike…then crash. Cut back on the carb-heavy breakfasts (bagels, muffins, toast, juice, fruit) and go with eggs, bacon, vegetables.  For lunch, skip the pasta bowl and go for a cobb salad. For a snack, have a few nuts or some jerky. 

2. Get 10 minutes of sun – Pretend you're a smoker and take a smoke break…then go get some rays.  Sun exposure wakes you up. That's why people get black-out shades when they sleep — it's harder to sleep with the sun shining on your body.

3. Use a light box – Folks use light boxes for seasonal affective disorder and for re-establishing their circadian rhythms. The light is telling your body that it's daytime!  Or just keep the lights on bright.

4. Take a power nap – 10 minutes goes a long way. Find a place in your office building (or outside) where you can take a little snooze. The bathroom stall works in a pinch.

5. Fast – When I am really tired, this is my go to secret.  Fasting keeps me super alert, even when I'm exhausted.  That's why I was fasting during my interview on Colbert (a post on that later).  The body is saying, "Okay, I'm hungry — be active and go hunt or gather some food.  Why are you just sitting here?  Don't you want to survive and reproduce?  Get your ass in gear."  Warning: Fasting will be distracting if you typically eat a lot of sugar and carbohydrate or have never done it before.

6. Stand up – I've come to love standing up to work.  It puts you in an active frame of mind.  Imagine trying to work while lying down in a soft bed.  Difficult, right?  So do the opposite.

7. Keep it cold – When it's a little chilly, it's harder to fall asleep.  Turn down the thermostat, open a window, or lose the sweater.

8. Exercise – On your lunch break, go workout at a nearby gym or go for a run.  You'll have an exercise buzz for hours.

9. If you drink caffeine, try to keep it slow and steady – If you're a caffeine drinker, avoid that enormous spike of caffeine in the morning, because you'll crash a few hours later.  A better strategy is to drink coffee or tea a bit slower over a longer stretch.

10. Listen to upbeat music – An old trick.

11. Get more sleep at night – Duh.

For all of these, it's useful to think about what makes you tired, AND THEN DO THE OPPOSITE.  Darkness vs. Light.  Soft music/silence vs. Upbeat music.  Lying down vs. Standing up.  Eating a big meal vs. Fasting.  Inactivity vs. Exercise.  Warm vs. Cold.  Also think about combining methods — a 10 minute nap in the sun and you will feel like a new person.  Fasting and standing up?  You can stay awake for a year.

Okay, have at it.  Use these tips and you'll have a lot more time to waste on facebook.


27 Responses to “11 ways to stay awake at work or in class”

  1. Jim says:

     Hi John,

    Great post .

    If you discuss the Colbert interview in a future post, I’d be curious to know how he prepared for the session.  Did you rehearse the interview ahead of time?  Did you supply him with proposed questions?  Did they edit out much of the interview?  I ask because the interview is very crisp, and his questions seem right on topic.

     

    –Jim

  2. Benjamin says:

    Good stuff!  Thanks! These are great tips!

  3. Breuk says:

    Excellent post!  I will use these tips at work.  Have been thinking about getting a standing desk… 

  4. Anonymous says:

    What about finding, then doing, what you love?

  5. Sylvie O. says:

    I find chewing gum also does the trick, especially when having to attend a meeting or conference, or any other situation when your tricks are simply not an option.

    • melbournian says:

      Something I find helps is to keep moving, even if it’s just fidgeting with a pen or tapping a foot – falling asleep just doesn’t seem to happen if you’re moving. I think chewing gum would work the same way because you keep moving.

      I also find drinking lots of water helps me stay awake.

  6. Pablo says:

    Don’t know about #9 – can we  get a link?

    I would assume if you drink your coffee black and sugarless there ought not be a crash (no insulin crash).

     

    • M Miller says:

      I’ve begun drinking dark-roast coffee black. The dark -roast has less caffeine, and black coffee drinks much slower (for me) than coffee with cream and sugar (or substitute). My coffee intake is now much less than half of what it was.

  7. alhaddadin says:

     For #3, you can achieve a similar effect if you’re a computer user (given that I’m reading this at work, then I assume you are like me in this regard) with a free program called F.lux. Basically it adjusts the color display on your monitor, based on your latitudinal location on the globe, to mimic the quality of light you would be experiencing if you were outside. (Well, okay, not totally – when the sun sets, it doesn’t go dark… just more mellow, with almost no blue light.)

     

    At first I thought it was sort of gimmicky, but I’ve noticed a significant improvement in how my brain "powers down" after work, and I’m rarely fried/wired after a day of computer work. Definitely recommend for all of you who are, like me, stuck in an office most days.

    • alhaddadin says:

       Whoa, bizarre… I just saw that MDA mentioned this yesterday in a very similar post. John, are you and Mark doing some kind of Paleo-sleep mind-meld?

    • Travis says:

       I love Flu.x and learned about it at MDA.   I concur, it does make a difference, especially at night.  I recommend it to anyone who’s using a computer in the evening hours.

  8. alhaddadin says:

     I also had a question about the standing desk thing. Last week I made myself an awesome ghetto-rigged standing desk out of computer boxes and paper reams, and it has been serving me nicely. One thing that’s bothering me, however, is that while I’m standing I’m still wearing conventional dress shoes, and it’s super uncomfortable to stand in these all day. I’d obviously much rather just be standing in my socks or bare feet, but I don’t think my boss would dig that. Any suggestions on how to get around office dress code requirements?

    • John says:

      Tough situation. You could certainly buy a pair of Terra Plana dress shoes, but those can be expensive. If you’re female, you could say that the heels are hurting your feet, and no one is going to challenge you. If you’re male, you’ll either have to wear your socks…or find some flat shoes.

  9. Jen says:

    Wouldn’t fasting while tired just make you…more tired?  The body needs fuel.

  10. Eric M says:

    Taking a cold shower at work is out of the question for most, but splashing ice cold water on your face always wakes me up.

  11. Jules says:

    I love the sun-break idea!  Now to figure out a standing-desk arrangement…

    • Perez says:

      Thanks for the 10 minute sun break idea,genius !!!!!

      Im just about to do so, I’ll keep you posted to see if it helps:)

  12. salim says:

    everytime i get sleepy i take a break go for a short walk for 10 min. Or sometimes i just start lifting the heavy boxes around the office. when you pickup something dont bend squat. i even drop stuff intentionally so that i can squat without being weird..i also carry a hack the sack ball and go to the nearest park, take my shoes off and play for 30 sec. i swear it will be best work out. you jump you kick you run. One rule never bend to pickip the ball, either squeeze with your feet and jump your feet or squat. at the end of 30 min you will end up doing o many squats and jump and all in a play mode. take a nice easy walk after that, you will be so refresh or you can even take a nap if you have time.

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  14. Miss Mae says:

     I’m not really able to stand at work with my desk situation but I try to take a walk around the office every 30min or so. If I’m reading a long report or unable to get away, I focus on tightening different muscle groups. For instance, squeezing your stomach and holding it for x amount of seconds. This stimulates the body , keeps you occupied, and can count as light exercise. I’m currently trying to get my boss to let me have an exercise ball in place of a desk chair. If anyone can make this switch, I would highly recommened it. What better way to stay active throughout the day, especially if you can’t stand. It will work your core while you get to stay in motion and have some fun doing it. Another tip is keeping your workspace inspirational. I have a little collage of my favorite quotes and inspiring pictures. I allow myself small daydreaming breaks in which I look at my collage and get inspired. Simple color arrangments can stimulate the mind more effectively than others. Having plants, even small ones, can aid productivity and be appeasing to the eye. Finally, certain smells will engage the senses and awaken your mind. Avoid fragrances designed for relaxation such as lavender or eucalyptus. Aim for scents in candles or essentials oils designed for keeping you awake. Examples would be cinnamon, orange, pepperment, and jasmin. Don’t have a candle or anything else to smell? Simply smelling coffee will do the trick. 

    Good luck staying awake =)

  15. Miss Mae says:

     I’m not really able to stand at work with my desk situation but I try to take a walk around the office every 30min or so. If I’m reading a long report or unable to get away, I focus on tightening different muscle groups. For instance, squeezing your stomach and holding it for x amount of seconds. This stimulates the body , keeps you occupied, and can count as light exercise. I’m currently trying to get my boss to let me have an exercise ball in place of a desk chair. If anyone can make this switch, I would highly recommened it. What better way to stay active throughout the day, especially if you can’t stand. It will work your core while you get to stay in motion and have some fun doing it. Another tip is keeping your workspace inspirational. I have a little collage of my favorite quotes and inspiring pictures. I allow myself small daydreaming breaks in which I look at my collage and get inspired. Simple color arrangments can stimulate the mind more effectively than others. Having plants, even small ones, can aid productivity and be appeasing to the eye. Finally, certain smells will engage the senses and awaken your mind. Avoid fragrances designed for relaxation such as lavender or eucalyptus. Aim for scents in candles or essentials oils designed for keeping you awake. Examples would be cinnamon, orange, pepperment, and jasmin. Don’t have a candle or anything else to smell? Simply smelling coffee will do the trick. 

    Good luck staying awake =)

  16. yo mama says:

    thax for the tips

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