Feeling Tired? Here’s How to Stay Awake at Work or During Class

A guide for students and young professionals who find themselves feeling sleepy and tired during their jobs or in class. Learn how to stay awake here.

Do you often find yourself yawning or nodding off in the middle of work or class? Daytime sleepiness is a common problem that frequently affects students and office workers who are seated and not moving for long periods of time. If you’ve noticed that you’re constantly tired, there may be some underlying reasons you don’t know about.

Today, we’ll talk about excessive daytime sleepiness and what may be causing it, as well as help you learn how to feel less drowsy. Our tips for how to stay awake at work or in school will help you get through the day with more energy and less yawning!

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Understanding Your Daytime Sleepiness

Not all daytime sleepiness is created equal! Your daytime sleepiness may be the result of poor sleep hygiene or an underlying health problem. We’ll talk about some of the more serious causes first; your daytime sleepiness may be the result of an undiagnosed medical condition. Once you’ve spoken to a doctor and either gotten a diagnosis or ruled these conditions out, you can feel more confident that your daytime sleepiness is a sleep schedule issue.

Undiagnosed Health Issues: Sleep Apnea

There are several health issues that can cause excessive daytime sleepiness, the most well-known of which is obstructive sleep apnea.

This is a condition where your sleep is disrupted by pauses in breathing. These pauses, called apneas, can last for a few seconds to minutes and may occur several times throughout the night. These repeated disruptions lead to fragmented sleep, which is a direct cause of daytime drowsiness.

There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and combined.

  • Obstructive sleep apnea happens when the muscles in the throat relax and block the airway, leading to disrupted breathing.
  • Central sleep apnea is much less common and occurs when your brain doesn’t send the correct signals to the muscles that control breathing.
  • Combined sleep apnea is the least common type of sleep apnea. It is actually related to the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea using a CPAP machine. This type of sleep apnea may originally present as obstructive sleep apnea, but CPAP therapy can trigger central sleep apnea events.

All forms of sleep apnea are serious, but the good news is that they can be treated. A doctor can order a sleep study, which is how sleep apnea is diagnosed. From there, you can try different types of treatment to find one that works for you.

Related Read: How to Stay Healthy in College: 15 Top Tips for Staying in Shape

Other Health Issues

While sleep apnea is an extremely common sleep disorder, affecting between 10% to 30% of adults in the United States, there are other conditions that can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness. Many of these conditions have more serious potential consequences than just drowsiness; excessive daytime sleepiness can be a sign of a more serious problem, so you should discuss it with your doctor.

  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS): This disorder is characterized by extreme fatigue that does not go away with rest. Individuals with CFS often experience unrefreshing sleep and may struggle with daytime sleepiness. It is a complex disorder, and the exact cause is unknown.
  • Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD): People with this disorder have a persistent pattern of delayed sleep-wake timing. Their internal body clock is naturally delayed, so it’s challenging for them to fall asleep and wake up at socially “normal” times.
  • Depression: Depression and other mental health disorders can lead to nighttime insomnia and daytime sleepiness. Depression can also have oversleeping as a symptom or reaction to exhaustion and fatigue.
  • Diabetes: Low blood sugar can lead to involuntary microsleeps during the day.
  • Insomnia: Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep at night. People with insomnia may find themselves exhausted during the day, and are prone to involuntary microsleeps. Chronic insomnia can result in a sleep debt that manifests as excessive sleepiness during the day.
  • Iron Deficiency/Anemia: Iron is necessary for your cells to carry oxygen to your tissues and organs. Without sufficient iron, your body has a hard time staying awake.
  • Medication Side Effects: Certain medications, such as sedatives, antihistamines, muscle relaxants, or some antidepressants, may have drowsiness as a side effect. This can lead to difficulties staying awake during the day.  
  • Narcolepsy: People with narcolepsy cannot control when they fall asleep, which may lead to unwanted sleeping at work or school.
  • Neurological Disorders: Conditions like Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis can affect your brain’s ability to control sleep-wake regulation. This can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness or sudden episodes of nodding off. If you have a family history of either of these conditions, you should definitely discuss your daytime sleepiness with your physician.
  • Sleep-Wake Cycle Disorders: Disturbances to the body’s internal clock, such as shift work sleep disorder or jet lag, can disrupt the sleep-wake cycle and contribute to daytime sleepiness or microsleeps. Fortunately, these are often temporary; the excessive daytime sleepiness will go away once your body adjusts to a new time zone or work shift.

Sleep Hygiene

If there’s no medical reason for your excessive daytime sleepiness, it may be related to the amount of sleep you get each night and the quality of that sleep. Sleep hygiene refers to the practices and habits that set you up for a good night’s sleep. If you don’t have a consistent sleeping schedule or your bedroom is too bright, too warm, or too uncomfortable, you may find yourself feeling tired during the day.  

The Negative Effects of Daytime Sleepiness

You might find yourself wondering what the big deal about daytime sleepiness is. Everybody gets tired, right? The reality is that daytime sleepiness can have serious negative effects on your life. Daytime drowsiness is often more than just feeling tired; it is frequently a symptom of a larger problem. But it can also contribute to or create other problems in different areas of your life. Here are just a few of the major negative impacts of daytime drowsiness.

Decreased Alertness and Concentration

If you’re too tired to focus or function during the day, you will have issues paying attention and retaining information. This will negatively impact your productivity and performance, and your overall learning abilities will suffer.

Increased Risk of Accidents

Daytime sleepiness can impair reaction times and decision-making skills, increasing the risk of accidents and injuries while driving, operating machinery, or engaging in other activities that require alertness. This is especially important if you drive; drowsy driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving. Getting less than five hours of sleep quadruples your chances of getting into an accident.

Related Read: How to be More Creative: 25 Tips for Increasing Your Creativity

Mood Issues

Daytime sleepiness can contribute to mood disturbances, mood swings, and irritability. It can also make you more susceptible to stress, and make mental health conditions like depression and anxiety worse.

Decreased Productivity and Performance

Daytime sleepiness can lead to decreased productivity and performance in various aspects of life, including work, academics, and personal responsibilities. It may take you longer to complete tasks, make decisions, or solve problems due to reduced mental sharpness and alertness from daytime exhaustion. Nodding off can make you seem like you aren’t taking work or class seriously, and can be insulting to supervisors and instructors– even if you can’t help it.

The lack of sufficient sleep can also make it harder to consolidate memories, which negatively impacts your learning abilities. If you’re suffering from excessive daytime sleepiness, you will have a harder time recalling information, retaining knowledge, and performing memory-related tasks. Think about what that might mean for your tasks at work or your testing ability at school– you’ll quickly realize that this is a performance issue you do not want to deal with.

Impaired Physical Health.

Chronic daytime sleepiness is associated with an increased risk of various physical health problems, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and weakened immune function. It can also contribute to a sedentary lifestyle and reduced motivation for physical activity. This creates a vicious cycle of exhaustion and reduced physical activity, which can lead to some serious consequences as you age.

Overall, daytime sleepiness can significantly impact your quality of life. It affects every aspect of your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It can lead to a decreased enjoyment of your daily life and limit your participation in social events. You’ll be left with an overall sense of fatigue and lethargy– and that’s not something you should have to worry about. You don’t deserve to constantly be sleepy; instead, you can take control of your daytime drowsiness with the following science-backed tips for staying awake during the day.

How To Stay Awake During The Day

So now that you know why you might be feeling excessive daytime sleepiness and the risks of letting your daytime sleepiness go unaddressed, let’s talk about how to stay awake during class and how to stay awake at the office. These tips will help you overcome daytime drowsiness, making you feel more alert and ready to learn or work. A good night’s sleep can help improve your performance at work or your GPA, and your managers and professors won’t be against it, either!

Improve Your Sleep Hygiene

One of the easy answers to the question of how to feel less tired in class is to improve your sleep hygiene. This means making your bedroom a more comfortable place to sleep and going to bed at a consistent time every night.

Here are some key elements to creating better sleep hygiene:

  • Establish a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends, to keep your circadian rhythm in good standing.
  • Create a sleep-friendly environment by keeping your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool.
  • Avoid stimulants (e.g., energy drinks, coffee, nicotine) and depressants (e.g., alcohol) close to bedtime.
  • Establish a relaxing pre-sleep routine to signal to your body that it’s time to go to sleep.
  • Engage in regular physical activity. Even a short walk each day can help!
  • Avoid heavy meals, spicy or fatty foods, or excessive fluid intake right before bed.
  • Invest in a supportive mattress, comfortable pillows, and breathable bedding.
  • Reserve your bed for sleep and intimacy; try to avoid working, studying, using electronic devices, or eating in bed.

Related Read: How to Improve Writing Skills: 18 Tips to Become a Better Writer

Limit Screen Time

Blue light can disrupt your natural sleep cycle, so avoid looking at bright screens at least 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. If you work late, wear a pair of blue light-blocking glasses or install a color-shifting app that filters the blue/green wavelength at night.

Chew Gum

Chewing gum is one of the easiest ways to deal with daytime drowsiness. This may be related to the activity of chewing, which draws blood to the head and increases cerebral activity. It also may be related to the flavor of the gum; mint is known to be a stimulating flavor that can improve focus and concentration.

Drink Coffee or Tea in Moderation

Caffeine can provide a good boost of energy, but it can also interfere with your ability to get to sleep at night. You can drink caffeinated beverages in moderation, but you should stop drinking them after lunch, or at least not much later than 2:00 to 3:00 PM. This ensures that all the caffeine metabolizes and you aren’t kept awake when it’s time for bed. If you decide to go with energy drinks, such as Red Bull or Monster, be aware that they might have too much caffeine, as well as way too much sugar. Try to choose the low-sugar or no-sugar energy drinks option, if you must; better yet, stick with coffee or caffeinated tea for a natural pick-me-up.

Get The Right Amount of Sleep

If you’re asking how to feel less tired at work, the answer may be related to how much – or how little – sleep you’re getting. The American Sleep Foundation recommends that all adults over the age of 18 get at least 7 hours of sleep per night. Getting quality sleep is one of the best ways to reduce sleepiness, of course, as well as to stay awake in class day after day.

Seek Medical Intervention

If you have a sleep disorder like sleep apnea, there are medical interventions available. CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, is one of the most common sleep apnea treatments. This is a machine that delivers a constant and steady flow of pressurized air, keeping your airway open and letting you get uninterrupted sleep.

There are other medical interventions that can help with interrupted sleep, too. Oral appliances and positional therapy can also help with sleep apnea.

Related Read: How to Improve Handwriting: 10 Great Tips to Up Your Handwriting Skills

Watch Your Posture

A hunched-over posture can actually lead to muscle fatigue, which can make you feel tired. When you’re at your desk, make sure that you’re sitting up straight. Your ankles should be in front of your knees, and your knees and forearms should be parallel to the floor. Try to relax your shoulders- don’t keep them too rounded or too flexed– and make sure that you’re looking forward as much as possible to prevent neck strain.

Use Stimulating Scents

Some essential oils have clinical research supporting claims that they can help you stay awake and improve focus. Please keep in mind that this is for aromatherapy only; do not ingest these oils. If you want to try aromatherapy, the following essential oils smell great and have research supporting their use:

  • Lemon oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Rosemary oil
  • Spearmint oil
  • Sweet orange oil

If you’re in a tight office setting or in a big class, be careful with introducing scent– some people have scent sensitivities and will have negative reactions to you bringing aromatherapy into a space. It’s best to get approval first so that you aren’t hurting anybody.

Get Natural Light Exposure

Exposure to bright, natural light helps you stay awake. It helps you wake up in the morning and sustains your energy throughout the day– but almost half of Americans aren’t exposed to bright natural light during the day.

If you’re struggling to figure out how to feel more energy during class, step outside between classes and let yourself soak up some sun. Even a little bit of bright natural light can put some pep in your step that wasn’t there before. At the office, take your breaks outside, or open a window in the break room to let the sunshine in.

If you really can’t get exposure to natural light, or you’re struggling with light exposure during dark winter months, sun lamps can help with this problem, too. Light therapy can help with insomnia and improve your circadian rhythm, making it easier to fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning. This reduces your daytime sleepiness!

Turn The Thermostat Down

You might not have control over the temperature at the office or in the classroom, but it never hurts to ask. Heat makes you drowsy, and if you’re in a space with low airflow, like a small classroom or office, the combination of warmth and still air can significantly impact your ability to stay awake.

Play Brain Games

Mental stimulation is a great way to stave off sleepiness. This is especially true if you’re working in an environment that requires lots of repetitive tasks. Taking short breaks for a little bit of mental stimulation, like word puzzles, crosswords, sudoku, or other games can help keep you awake and shake off the midday doldrums.

Stay Hydrated

Your brain and body need lots of water to function properly. Even minor dehydration can make you feel sluggish, drowsy, and mentally exhausted. Drinking water has been shown to increase alertness, no matter how thirsty you are. So if you feel yourself nodding off, take a drink! If you’re in class, carry a water bottle with you so that you don’t have to get up and miss any information.

Related Read: 15 Great Benefits of Learning a Second Language (or 3rd, or 4th, or 5th…)

Get Physical Activity

Moderate physical activity during the day is a great way to get your heart pumping, your blood oxygen flowing, your metabolic rate up, and your mind more alert. This doesn’t mean you need to do a full workout during your lunch break– you don’t want to overdo it and feel fatigued. What you want to do is get out and take a brisk walk, do some easy yoga poses, or perform other short, easy activities that let you stretch and move. Not only will you feel more comfortable and energetic, but exercise can also even boost your memory and cognitive skills!

Eat a Snack

Sometimes your daytime sleepiness isn’t caused by an issue with your sleep or an underlying medical condition. Sometimes you just need more energy! If you don’t have enough calories and nutrients to keep your body fueled during the day, you’ll start to feel sleepy.

The type of snack you eat matters, too. Snacks with high amounts of carbohydrates will give you a quick burst of energy, while snacks with higher amounts of protein and fat take longer to digest– meaning they’ll keep you going for longer. Snacks with high amounts of fiber are great for sustained energy since fiber makes you feel full and takes longer to digest than other types of carbohydrates.

Some good snacks for work or class include:

  • Peanut butter and veggies or crackers
  • Yogurt with granola and nuts
  • String cheese
  • Fresh fruit
  • Trail mix

Avoid Alcohol Before Bed

Alcohol is a depressant, which can make you sleepy, so many people use it to help them get to sleep. Unfortunately, alcohol-induced sleep is often poor quality and disrupted during the night. The morning after isn’t much fun, either, so avoid drinking alcohol too close to bedtime.

Practice Breathing Exercises

There are different breathing techniques that you can use to improve your alertness and focus during the day.

One such technique is deep breathing. Deep breathing raises your blood oxygen levels, which in turn improves circulation, lowers blood pressure, and aids your mental performance and energy. For this type of breathing, you want to breathe with your diaphragm, not your chest. If you don’t know how to breathe with your diaphragm, lie on your back on a hard surface like the floor. Your body will automatically breathe with your diaphragm, letting you learn what this muscle movement feels like.

Once you know how to control your diaphragm, you can do this exercise at your desk.

  • Sit up straight with your feet flat on the floor.
  • With one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other on your chest, inhale deeply through your nose. Your chest should not move.
  • Breathe out through your mouth.
  • Repeat 9 times for 10 breath cycles.

Related Read: How to Be More Assertive at Work Without Being Aggressive

Staying alert and awake during the day is vital for your performance at school or work. If you’d like to know more about how to improve your performance in these areas, check out our self-improvement articles. From tips for improving productivity to creativity, we have the advice you need for your professional and academic journey.

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Goodwall Team
Written By Goodwall Team
This article was written by the Goodwall team or by a contributor for publication on Goodwall. Goodwall is dedicated to helping students, entrepreneurs, and young professionals reach their full potential. We'll share thought-provoking and supportive articles on career advice, self-improvement, navigating the college landscape, climate action, social impact, and more. On the business side, we'll talk about SMB subjects related to community, diversity, talent acquisition, case studies, and enterprise.

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