Life can sometimes be exhausting, so you might want to brush up on how to feel more awake naturally, rather than reach for another double espresso. You might be having a tricky time adjusting to a new job and the sleepless nights that come with it, or maybe you've been burning the candle at both ends for some other reason. No matter what age you are and no matter what you do, there will be times when you need a burst of energy to help you get through the day.
Bustle spoke with Dr. Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, a New York City-based neuropsychologist, over email, about ways to feel more awake naturally, but she also emphasizes the importance of first establishing a sleep routine. "Many people ignore the recommended sleep hours. Though their sleep deprivation is not severe, losing one or two hours of sleep consistently can affect the functions of the brain, memory retention, and mood variations. Sleeping seven to eight hours consistently can help your brain revamp itself for the next day," she tells Bustle. "Our body likes patterns. We feel best when we eat consistently at the same time we sleep better when we go to bed around the same time, and we feel more reinvigorated when we wake up at, relatively, the same time each day. This lets our body know when to jumpstart our metabolism in the morning, when to stimulate the brain with dopamine, and when to fully wake the senses."
The consequences of sleep deprivation are no secret, and no joke — and there is only ever more research backing this up. A recent 2019 study in the journal Neuropsychologia showed how sleep deprivation affects our attention abilities, for instance — making the stakes higher when you're trying to figure out how to stay awake at work.
That said, sometimes in our busy day-to-day, we can't help but miss out on a few precious hours of sleep every now and then — or maybe some other external factor is wearing us down. In moments like that it's easy to reach for caffeine, there are other ways to wake yourself up without relying on it, especially if you constantly find yourself wondering how to stay awake at work. Here are the methods Dr. Hafeez recommends.
If You Wake Up Tired ...
1. Feel More Awake By Making Your Bed
It may sound strange but true, but taking the time to make your bed can actually help you feel more awake. "Many people are tempted to sleep an extra five minutes, rush to get ready, head out in a hurry, and leave their bed unattended," Dr. Hafeez tells Bustle. "Making your bed is an easy task that requires enough coordination to make your brain aware that it does, in fact, need to wake up. It also gives you a quick check mark off your things-to-do list in the morning, which is motivating and energizing. It also helps to come home later on in the afternoon to a bed that is made."
Another reason to go ahead and make your bed first thing? It will help curb that temptation to hit snooze in the morning — something that, ultimately, won't actually make you feel rested, Dr. Reena Mehra, M.D., M.S., Director of Sleep Disorders Research at Cleveland Clinic, explained that this is because sleeping in short bursts interrupts REM sleep, and ultimately may cause a rise in heartbeat or blood pressure, prompting a stress response.
2. Feel More Awake By Opening Your Blackout Curtains
"Blackout shades are great if you are jet-lagged or have had a particularly difficult and sleepless week and need to get some rest. However, our body uses sunlight as a natural signal to wake up," Dr. Hafeez tells Bustle. "Our eyes, though closed, will recognize the light seeping in from the window and onto our body. Both sunshine and the blue of the sun help the brain innately realize that the day has begun. If you adore sleeping with blackout shades, make sure to open them as soon as you get up so your body can start adapting to the light."
A lot of this has to do with your body's circadian rhythms, which take cues from light and dark to produce melatonin, the chemical responsible for regulating your sleeping and waking cycles. It's why that blue light from your computer so infamously messes with your sleep — and why your body sees sunlight and uses it as a cue to get on with your day.
3. Feel More Awake By Exercising
Need an energy burst in the morning that will help you stay awake at work throughout the day? "People who exercise in the morning often report improved productivity, concentration, and mood. Light cardio in the morning can help wake the brain up within a few short minutes."
Dr. Hafeez also notes that this will help kickstart a rush of endorphins early in the morning, chemicals in the body related to boosting mood and dealing with stress and pain management. It doesn't have to be a whole production, either — studies have shown that even going for a quick walk will earn you an endorphin boost, which may very well make you feel a lot of more alert going on with your day.
4. Feel More Awake by Shaking Up Your Routine
Two other suggestions from Dr. Hafeez if you are wondering how to feel more awake? Try drinking cold water — or, if you're feeling particularly brave, try taking a cold shower.
"Between the hydration and the cooling of the body, drinking ice cold water can help alert your sensations," Dr. Hafeez tells Bustle. "In addition, many people don’t drink water during the night, and if you don’t make it a point to drink water before bed, you might be a bit dehydrated by the time the sun comes up. Drinking cold water helps alert your brain, wake up your metabolism by making your body heat up the water your drink, and it helps hydrate you which helps with any loss of energy you may feel from thirst."
And even though the idea of a cold shower may be difficult to wrap your head around, it may be worth the challenge.
"A cold shower is the most effective way to break away from any drowsiness. It provides a healthy shock to the body that wakes up all your senses and nerve tracts in the body," Dr. Hafeez explains to Bustle. "It is not as pleasant or as easy for people to do as other items on this list, but it is the quickest way to wake up naturally without having to take any caffeine."
But what if you wake up rested enough, and then get tired later in the day? Or maybe you wake up already tired, and none of these suggestions do the trick? Bustle also consulted with Dr. Hafeez on methods to wake yourself up later in the day without relying on caffeine.
If You're Tired In The Afternoon ...
5. Feel More Awake By Taking A Quick Walk
Wondering how to stay awake at work when you're feeling extra sluggish a few hours into the day? "Many people who have desk jobs suffer from midday fatigue. Focusing on a computer monitor or a spreadsheet all day can be strenuous on the eyes and mind," Dr. Hafeez tells Bustle. "Taking a break from your desk and going for a walk around the block can help replenish some of that energy you’ve lost during the day. It is also a good opportunity to get to know a coworker by inviting them to walk with you."
Taking a quick walk around the neighborhood will do more than wake you up, too — it may also improve your overall mood. A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports in 2015 found that 30-minute lunchtime walks "improved enthusiasm, relaxation, and nervousness at work."
6. Feel More Awake At Work By Chatting With A Coworker
"When you are focusing from task to task, locked in your office worried about one project or the other, your brain will wear out," Dr. Hafeez tells Bustle. "Small social breaks are helpful to restore our vigor and productivity. This is why modern companies have adopted social traditions like office lunches, foosball tables, and company happy hours. These are all tactics to get groups of colleagues to bond and build each other up, which is helpful to the employee as well as the company."
Aside from waking yourself up, getting to know your coworkers better can also have other long-reaching positive benefits. According to a 2017 study published in the INFORMS journal Organization Science, friendly relationships between female coworkers reduced conflict in the office, which will help avoid the kind of stress that might trigger fatigue or sleep issues, too.
7. Feel More Awake By Shaking Up Your Lunch Routine
"If you are tired, you may need to fuel your body, but be wary of what you consume," says Dr. Hafeez to Bustle. "It is all too common for people to eat fast food at work or order a slice of pizza because they are in a hurry, but meals that are high on carbs, sugars, and fats can leave your body struggling to digest it all. This makes people drowsy in the morning."
While we all can get behind pizza for lunch, if you're feeling extra tired on a particular day, you may want to use lunch as an opportunity to wake yourself up a bit more — Dr. Hafeez recommends something "consisting of vegetables, fruits, grains, and protein" to help you power through.
We all have days where we feel tired every now and then, and hopefully some combination of these tips will help you combat them. That said, nothing can do a better job than a good night's sleep — and if even that isn't helping, it may be time to check in with a professional.
"If you are suffering from extreme fatigue with no seemingly recognizable cause talk to your doctor about any symptoms you are experiencing," Dr. Hafeez tells Bustle. "If you feel hopeless or lack motivation to arise from bed in the morning, also consider speaking to your doctor so they can evaluate what you are experiencing and guide you towards better rest and more alert mornings."
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