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How to Stay Awake at Work

Updated on January 7, 2015

Twenty Tips to Wake Yourself Up

It's not always easy to stay awake at work, especially when you've been glued to a computer screen for five hours or didn't get enough sleep last night. How many of you are familiar with that sharp injection of panic that comes from jolting awake at your desk after you've momentarily nodded off? Did my colleagues notice? Did my boss see? How long was I asleep?

Thankfully there are numerous little tricks and techniques that you can employ to avoid falling asleep in work. Whether you're a chronic insomniac or you simply had a late night, these twenty tips are sure to keep you alert when your eyelids start growing heavy.


1. Do Some Exercise/Stretching

Exercise is a great way to invigorate the body and mind. Try going for a quick walk or climbing several flights of stairs in your office building. Gentle stretching is also effective. Even a few simple neck and shoulder rolls can help in alleviating mental fatigue. If you're self-conscious about working out in front of your fellow workers, find an empty meeting room or use the bathroom.

2. Play Some Music

Bring your portable music player to the office so you can listen to some tunes when you feel drowsy. Experiment with different artists and volume settings. Many people find that keeping the volume low helps to revive a sleepy brain because greater concentration is required to follow the lyrics. And don't forget your headphones; you don't want to upset your colleagues.

This guy is wide awake!
This guy is wide awake! | Source

3. Expose Yourself to Light

Go outside and catch some sunlight. Natural light keeps your brain in tune with its circadian cycle which regulates sleep. The brain responds to sunlight by releasing cortisol, the same hormone that is released every morning when you wake up. With the added benefit of fresh air, stepping outside for a few minutes can provide a great boost when you're feeling tired.

If it's impossible to escape the office, even for a short period, try looking out of the window for a couple of minutes. And if you're working in a dark or gloomy environment, get some more artificial light shining over your workstation to perk you up.

4. Turn Up the Air-conditioning or Open a Window

Have you ever visited the cinema and fallen asleep during the movie because it was too hot in the auditorium? Warm, stuffy rooms make poor environments when you're trying to stay awake. Open a window to let a cool, refreshing breeze into the office. If the windows won't open, turn up the air-conditioning or get a portable fan for your desk.

5. Give Your Eyes a Rest

Even if it's impossible to get away from your desk, you can still take a short break from your computer terminal or that important file that you've been reading. Give your eyes a well-deserved rest. Try closing them for a minute or two. If they're feeling sore and tired, freshen them up with some eye drops.

Does Your Job Involve Driving?

Driving when tired can have catastrophic and fatal consequences. When you're on the road and feeling sleepy, the number one best tip is this: Pull over for a catnap. You'll be more alert when you wake up and it could save your life.

6. Take a Power Nap

Recharge your batteries with a short power nap. Research shows that a quick twenty minute snooze can significantly stimulate your mind, increasing alertness, memory, concentration and creativity. It's often a challenge to find somewhere in the workplace to take forty winks but try to be cunning. Park your car in a quiet spot where you won't be disturbed or search for an unused room in your building that isn't booked out. You could even use a stall in the bathroom. Power naps are one of the best ways to arouse a flagging brain.

7. Talk to a Colleague

Snap out of your slump and regain wakefulness by engaging a fellow worker in conversation. Find something galvanizing to chat about and you'll soon feel sprightlier. If your colleagues are too engrossed in their work to communicate, call a friend or family member on your phone instead. And if this isn't possible, perhaps you could try waking yourself up by working on a mental puzzle such as suduko, a crossword or a chess problem.

8. Eat the Right Foods

Avoid high carb and sugary foods. They might provide a short-term energy boost but pretty quickly your blood sugar levels will drop and you'll feel even more sleepy and lethargic than before. If you're wondering how to stay awake at work, shun foods such as potatoes and fries, pizza, bread, pasta, candy and fizzy drinks. Instead, satisfy your hunger with low carb foods like:

  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Nuts/Seeds


9. Moderate How Much You Eat

Have you ever experienced an afternoon slump after a heavy lunch? Your body slows down when digesting a big meal and releases insulin which increases sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain. Instead of gorging on a mammoth high carb breakfast and/or lunch, try eating several smaller low carb snacks throughout the working day. This will keep your energy levels topped up and prevent you from crashing.

10. Splash Your Face with Cold Water

This tip is one of the oldest in the book but also one of the best. Go into the bathroom, run the cold tap and splash some water over your face. You could even keep a bottle of chilled water in the refrigerator in the staff kitchen for this very purpose. The colder the water, the better!


11. Do Something Different

If you're in a position to manage your own workload, try switching to something more interesting. When you're feeling dog-tired and jaded, the last thing you need is a dull, monotonous assignment to grind away at.

12. Suck Ice Cubes or Chew Gum

Suck on an ice cube and drink chilled water. Not only will the icy blast jolt you awake, it will also help keep you hydrated which is essential if you want to stay focused. Similarly, chewing gum is proven to be effective at increasing alertness, reducing sleepiness and improving concentration. It also has many other health benefits too. Just remember to throw it in the trash when you're done with it.

13. Engage Your Nose

Utilize your sense of smell to stay awake. The aroma of essential oils can help to instill mental sharpness and wakefulness. Try inhaling the following aromas when you're feeling drained:

  • Peppermint
  • Eucalyptus
  • Rosemary
  • Basil

If you need a quick wake-up fix but don't have any oils to hand, coffee beans are a great alternative (you don't need to drink coffee to benefit from its energizing qualities).

14. Create an Alert Posture

Slouching in your chair is a surefire way to slip into an accidental siesta in the workplace. Sit up straight with your shoulders back. Alternatively, try to work standing up for a few minutes. These alert postures will inform your brain that you aren't ready to go to sleep.

15. Focus on Your Breathing

Learn some basic meditation and breathing techniques to help bring focus and clarity to your mind. Meditation isn't just the preserve of Buddhist monks in Tibetan monasteries; it is a skill that anyone can learn. You can even do it at your desk with your eyes open - nobody in the office will know what you're doing! Simple meditation and breathing exercises can help invigorate you when you're feeling sluggish.

16. Try Acupressure

Use acupressure techniques to identify stimulation points in your body. By massaging and tapping these points with your fingers, it is possible to reawaken your sleepy mind and chase away those feelings of drowsiness.

17. Brainstorm Career Ideas

When you're falling into a coma every afternoon at work, it's possible that the job just isn't stimulating or challenging enough for you. Combat fatigue and reboot your senses by brainstorming career ideas onto a piece of paper. Think about the following questions and write down the answers:

  • Is there still a future for me in this job?
  • Is there still a future for me in this company?
  • Are there other work or training opportunities for me within this company?
  • What is my ideal job?
  • What would I have to do to land my dream job?

18. Check Your Medication

Many medications and prescription drugs can make you drowsy as a side effect. If you're regularly drifting into the land of nod when you're supposed to be sending out invoices or writing up contracts, check the information leaflet that came with your medication. Speak to your doctor about trying alternative medicine if you suspect it's sending you to sleep.


19. Take a Coffee Break

Coffee contains the stimulant, caffeine. In small quantities, it can act as a pick-me-up when you're feeling drained. But be careful not to overdo it because there's a downside to coffee consumption. As with sugary drinks, the initial rush is often followed by a crash which means you'll be back to square one. And over-consumption of caffeine can disrupt your natural sleep cycle which can lead to long-term sleep problems. Use it sparingly.

20. Get a Good Night's Sleep

And finally, try to get a good night's sleep if you want to be fresh for the office tomorrow. This might not be the quick-fix you were looking for but in the long run, it's probably the best tip of the lot. If you can manage between seven and nine hours each night, and you can regulate your sleep pattern so you go to bed and get up at the same time each day, staying awake at work shouldn't be a problem any longer. If tiredness in the workplace persists, see your doctor because there might be an underlying issue that needs addressing.

How Often Do You Accidentally Fall Asleep At Work?

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Did You Find this Article Helpful?

Was this article enlightening or helpful? Did any of the suggestions work for you? Perhaps you have your own tips on how to stay awake at work? Please share your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice.


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    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 

      2 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      Good topic, and the best suggestion might be to put the bare bones of this list up in front of you at work. Once you start contemplating staying alert and awake, it might be easier. Where stairs exist, going up and down sevral flights of stairs will get the blood pumping and the brain more alert.

    • Doc Wordinger profile imageAUTHOR

      Doc Wordinger 

      3 years ago from Manchester, UK

      Hi Julie, thank you for your comment. Chewing gum is great for concentration too! And I think that getting up and moving around every so often is absolutely vital for anyone who spends long hours at a desk.

    • Julie K Henderson profile image

      Julie K Henderson 

      3 years ago

      Bravo. Voted up. I have found that chewing gum not only gives me energy, it also relaxes me. In addition, I notice that I write more productively if I get up and walk around at least once every thirty minutes.

    • Doc Wordinger profile imageAUTHOR

      Doc Wordinger 

      3 years ago from Manchester, UK

      Thanks for your comments/tips Marivickao and VJGSA.

    • VJGSA profile image


      3 years ago from Texas

      Excellent tips. I also splash water on my face, take the stairs to the break room or step outside, especially when it is chilly, which usually wakes me up. When I get sleeping driving, I open a window, or set the radio to a station with music that I don't like.

    • robert feld profile image

      Robert Feld 

      3 years ago from Brighton, United Kingdom

      I did. Cheers.

    • Doc Wordinger profile imageAUTHOR

      Doc Wordinger 

      3 years ago from Manchester, UK

      You're welcome Robert, I'm glad you found it helpful.

    • robert feld profile image

      Robert Feld 

      3 years ago from Brighton, United Kingdom

      I have trouble staying awake when I'm not at home. Thanks for the advice.

    • marivickao profile image

      Marivic Kao 

      4 years ago from Malaysia

      thanks for sharing your tips. It's useful and can helps our everyday work at office or at home.keep it up..

    • Doc Wordinger profile imageAUTHOR

      Doc Wordinger 

      4 years ago from Manchester, UK

      Hey Faith Reaper, thank you so much for sharing your story and also for your kind words. I can certainly empathize with you in your story. It happens to me quite often if I don't get enough sleep. I'm interested to read that you were wide awake after your head nodded onto the desk - this happens to me too. I think it is the adrenaline surge that comes from the embarrassment, or the fear that your boss might have noticed. Whenever I'm falling asleep in work meetings and I hear my name mentioned, I'm suddenly alert and awake!

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      4 years ago from southern USA

      Great hub here with excellent tips! I do not fall asleep at work nowadays, even though I do have a long commute to and from during the week. We cannot open any windows, as we are in one of those new buildings where the windows do not open. My office is an inside office and actually has wall to floor windows with blinds, but funny thing is they look out into a hallway at the other office with windows looking out into the hallway too, so I could open my blinds more and wave to that person. However, that office is vacant at the moment lol.

      All of your tips are very helpful and I will begin to implement them in my daily work hours of sitting at the computer. I work in the legal field, so ... Your hub caught my eye because when I saw that photo as I was reminded of a (now) funny story of when I was 25 and oh so nervous about applying for a job at an insurance company (before they even had cubicles) ... everyone out in the open, all lined up like cattle. Anyway, I was so nervous the night before my first day on the job that I did not get one wink of sleep. And guess what they have new employees read ... a giant book, literally, of insurance information ...yawn! Oh, no! About halfway through that book, I could feel myself nodding off! I could not believe it. I knew I was surrounded by hundreds of desks, with many behind me, and many who could see me nodding off, so I got up and splashed cold water in my face. Still, my head nodded so hard it bumped on the top of the desk LOL I kid you not. I was mortified and thought I would be fired my first day. I said a little "Amen" under my breath, just in case. Funny, I was wide awake the rest of the day. I am sorry, I did not mean to bore you with my silly true story.

      Great hub! Up and more, pinning, tweeting


      Faith Reaper


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