8 Ways to Stay Awake If You’re Falling Asleep at Work

woman yawning at work

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Kayla Heisler
Kayla Heisler1.16k

Life happens! Whether happy hour runs later than expected or an important project keeps you burning the midnight oil, finding yourself dozing off during the work day happens to the best of us. If you’re having trouble keeping your eyes open while you’re on the clock, here are eight ways to stay awake while at work:

1. Get moving.

Sitting down for long periods of time can make us tired. Getting the blood circulating can make a major impact on your wakefulness. If you’re feeling drowsiness set in, stand and do a few stretches at your desk. Go for a quick walk around your floor, or outside if possible. If you have a physical task to complete like making copies, work on this when you feel like you’re going to sleep. Breathing in some fresh air can do wonders, so if you’re used to sitting at your desk to eat lunch, getting up and going out can give you the boost you need to keep your eyes open for the rest of the work day.

2. Grab a power snack.

Reach for something refreshing that will give you a jolt of energy. Mint can be invigorating and help give you that little kick you need to push through, so chewing spearmint gum or sucking on a peppermint candy can work like magic to keep you alert. Fresh fruit can deliver a rush of sugar. Avoid anything too heavy or high in carbs which can weigh you down and contribute to sluggishness.

3. Play energizing music.

If you’re able to play music out loud or listen to your headphones, put on some upbeat tunes to wake yourself up. Music that makes you wake up and move around can help keep your mind energized. Better yet, create a playlist to have at the ready when you need an extra kick to keep your day moving.

4. Cool things down.

When temperatures are too warm, it can create a soothing atmosphere that makes it all too easy to fall asleep in. Try using a fan or personal air conditioner to make things cooler. If your office temperature is warm in the winter, see if you can lower it a few degrees or open a window for fresh air.

5. Find a change of scenery.

Looking at the same setting day in and day out can be monotonous and contribute to a sense of being bored. Completing your work in a different location can help you see your project through fresh eyes. Try working on a laptop in a new location such as a lounge or outdoor seating area if possible. If you have to remain stationary, rearrange your desk to create the effect of being somewhere new. 

6. Take a caffeine break.

Caffeine can provide a push to keep your eyes open. Grabbing a coffee, cappuccino or black tea can keep you from dozing off in the middle of the work day. If your office has a coffee machine, take advantage. Otherwise, taking a walk to go grab a cup can double as an opportunity to drink in some fresh air on the way to find the caffeine. 

7. Switch up tasks.

If you’ve been working on a mindless task for hours on end and start to feel your eyes glaze over, the trick to staying alert may be more simple than you think. Completing a monotonous task can cause you to be lulled into sleep before you realize it. When you feel like taking a nap during one of these sessions, break up the activity into chunks then work on something else in between. Set a goal of checking a certain number of items or certain amount of time before switching to another task. Even a less urgent task like checking email can help you complete your project faster once you’re more aware.

8. Bring in the light.

Being in the dark can prompt your body to release melatonin — the hormone that helps your body prepare for sleep. If your surrounding area doesn’t have a lot of light, your work environment may be at least partially to blame for your drowsiness. Use a desk lamp or open blinds or curtains to help keep your brain alert and your eyes open. If you work in an area that isn’t well lit, take breaks to stand in a hallway or near a window to wake yourself up as needed.

Don't wait until it's too late! Here are a few proactive practices to implement to stay energized in general:

  • Set a regular bedtime: Putting yourself on a sleep schedule can help train your body to fall asleep and wake up with greater ease. Once you develop a routine of going to bed and waking up at a certain time (even on weekends!), falling asleep becomes more natural and you’re more likely to have more energy throughout the day.
  • Schedule time for exercise: The benefits associated with regularly exercising are many. While setting aside time on an already packed agenda may feel like a major undertaking, doing so can actually save you time in the long run by giving you energy that makes getting through the rest of your day easier. Additionally, exercising helps reduce stress which can make getting a good night’s sleep easier as well.
  • Eat a balanced breakfast: Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Skipping out or neglecting to properly nourish your body can lead to tiredness. Giving yourself the proper fuel first thing in the morning can help set your day up for success.
  • Create a bedtime routine: Teach your body when it’s time to settle in for the night. Figure out what works best for you! Prepare a soothing warm beverage, play relaxing music or put on extra comfy pajamas to signal to yourself when it’s time to settle in for the night. This can help make falling asleep easier and keep you more alert at work.
  • Talk to your doctor: If you implement lifestyle changes such as those recommended above but still find going to sleep at night or staying awake during the day difficult, let your doctor know. 

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Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is an MFA candidate at Columbia University, and her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets 2017 anthology.