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11 Ways to Keep Yourself Awake and Alert at Work
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Leslie W. Price,
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Theatre director, writer, and arts educator.
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It’s 3:00 pm, hours after your last cup of morning coffee and hours away from clocking out. Your eyes are getting droopy. The nap jerks are starting. The day feels endless, and you’re asking yourself, “How do I stay awake at work?” While it may seem like an impossible problem, we’ve got you covered with 11 tried and true methods for not only staying away at work but also staying productive

11 tips for staying awake at work.

1. Take a walk.

If you can get up and get moving — even if it’s only for a few minutes — that can be enough to give you the boost you need to make it through the day. Exercise can relieve stress in addition to getting the blood flowing to your brain and body to help keep you awake. Take a walk around the office, get up to ask a colleague something in person instead of sending an email or take 15 minutes to walk around the block. It’ll definitely help!

2. Doodle.

Doodling and taking notes are great ways to stay engaged and stay awake. Jotting down thoughts or drawing little pictures keeps your brain active and keeps your mind and body alert without distracting others during a meeting. In addition to helping you stay awake, taking good notes can be truly beneficial to your performance. 

3. Make your meeting a standing meeting.

Or better yet, make that meeting a walking meeting! Keeping things physical helps keep your brain sharp. Plus, standing meetings tend to be much shorter than conventional ones, so you’ll not only help keep folks alert, but you’ll also help your coworkers be more efficient.

4. Get a standing desk.

If you work at a larger company, you might have the option to request a standing desk. Sitting all day isn’t great for your body, and it’s not great for your alertness, either. Most standing desks are adjustable so you can alternate between sitting and standing depending on what feels best for your body and your brain throughout the day. 

5. Have a snack.

Fuel your mind and your body by having a healthy snack when you’re feeling tired. The act of chewing will help wake you up, and fueling your body promotes more productive work habits. Avoid the temptation to indulge in a sugary snack regularly — the boost is only temporary. Berries, a boiled egg or a small serving of nuts will stay with you longer and help you feel sharp!

6. Have that cup of coffee.

Sometimes, you just gotta go for the caffeine, and there’s no need to feel bad about that occasional afternoon boost. Even a cup of decaf can give you a lift! Just be aware of how caffeine affects your sleep, and keep the caffeinated drinks to a minimum if they tend to keep you awake at night. 

7. Take a nap. 

Look. If you’re really that tired, it’s not all that out of line to just take a nap. You won’t be able to squeeze in a long sleep, but there are ways to make it happen. Sneak out to your car at lunch for a quick snooze. Have a lie down on the floor of your office. Larger offices might even have accommodations for folks who are going through health struggles or even for new parents. Don’t abuse this privilege, but take advantage of a quick snooze if you really need it. 

8. Work on easy, short-term tasks.

Some days are just harder than others, and it’s okay to go easy on yourself. If you’re too droopy to focus on important tasks, tackle some of the easier things on your to-do list. Get the filing done, clean off your desk or return the calls you know are going to be pretty easy. You’ll be productive — which will help keep you awake — but you won’t be trying to get things done that require you to be more alert. 

9. Work collaboratively.

Talking and exchanging ideas are great ways to help maintain your focus and keep you awake. If you find you are consistently sleepy at a particular time of day, go ahead and schedule meetings with the people you most enjoy at that time. You’ll look forward to those meetings and struggle less with nodding off. 

10. Change your environment.

If you’ve been staring at your computer screen for a while, get up and move. Take your laptop into a common area or adjust the way you’re sitting. If you work from home, plan your schedule so that you head out to a cafe or the library at times when you’re prone to getting mired down. A new environment can give you a new perspective and reinvigorate your mind and body.

11. Listen to lively music.

Music can get you pumping at the gym, and it can do the same for you at work. Make sure you’re aware of your company’s headphone policy, but good tunes are a good option for keeping you focused. Experiment with different musical genres to see what works best for you. 

What if you have a serious sleep problem?

If you’re regularly falling asleep at work no matter what you do, it’s time to talk with your doctor. It could mean that you simply need to adjust your sleep routine, or there could be another underlying problem that you should address. Both you and your boss will be grateful if you can figure out what’s causing chronic sleepiness since you’ll feel better and be more productive. 

FAQs.

How can I stay awake without coffee at work?

The first step is to make sure you’re getting a good night’s sleep in the first place. If you’re well-rested, you’ll be more likely to stay alert throughout the day. Use some of our other tips to give yourself a non-caffeinated boost when you need one, and don’t be afraid to get creative. Some folks respond to mild scents to keep them awake, and others swear by chewing gum.

How can I stay awake for longer?

There are times when you just have to power through a long day. If you know in advance that you have a long day of work ahead, try to do a bit of planning. Go to bed early the night before, get things organized to make it easy to get out the door and pack plenty of snacks and water. As you work through your marathon day, fuel yourself with healthy food, stay hydrated and do what you need to do to keep your mind engaged. Don’t forget that you can sneak in a little bit of stretching and strength exercises to stay awake without anyone even noticing!

Is it bad to stay up all night?

In a word, yes. It’s really not great for you to go for long stretches without sleep. If you have the sort of job that requires working through the night, make an effort to keep yourself on some kind of sleep cycle. Wake up at the same time each day, and go to bed at approximately the same time each night. If you don’t normally work through the night, it’s not the end of the world to pull the occasional all-nighter. Plan to be gentle with yourself the next day and make sure you make up for that missed sleep as soon as you can. 

Remember, it’s normal to feel sleepy sometimes. Even the healthiest people have the occasional slump. Do your best to take care of your mind and body, and you’ll feel your best at work and at home. 

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Leslie W. Price is a theatre artist, educator, and writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Find her on LinkedIn or visit her portfolio.

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