You've had those days at work.
The boss is droning on in a meeting, and you're struggling to stay conscious.
Your eyes are at half mast, and it takes all your willpower to keep your head from falling on the table.
You've stifled so many yawns that your jaws are on fire, and you long to get back to your desk and crawl under it with a pillow and blanket for the rest of the day.
But you can't. You have work to do.
You have a project finish or a client to meet. You need to be alert and on your game, but your body and mind are screaming, “Let me sleep!”
You may have had a late night out with friends or just a bout of insomnia, but today you're suffering the consequences, and it isn't pretty.
Struggling to stay awake and alert at work after a night like this can feel like a rollercoaster ride. You might start the day alert and focused, but as the afternoon hits, you start to crash hard.
You muster up every last bit of energy to stay on top of your responsibilities, but it's difficult to stay productive while riding the peaks and valleys of energy crashes.
Most people turn to caffeine to jolt them awake, but the small burst of energy you get is a short-term solution to your exhaustion. You have several more hours ahead of you, and you need to get energized.
Want to know how to stay awake without the caffeine? Try these seven strategies.
1. Get the blood flowing with mini office exercises.
You may feel like curling up in a ball and taking a nap, but getting up and moving can clear your head and revive your focus.
If you’ve ever gone for a walk while feeling stressed, you know the power it has to foster more clarity and perspective to the situation.
Fortunately, you can get these mind-clearing benefits of walking without leaving the office.
Stand up at your desk, and do some squats by moving your chair away and placing your feet shoulder width apart.
Bend your knees like you’re about to sit down in the chair. Once you feel the chair beneath you, stand back up in one motion. Repeat this exercise for three sets of eight to then squats.
If you’d rather get your upper body moving, try doing some desk pushups. Put your hands flat on the desk and take some steps back to create a 45-degree angle with your desk and the floor.
Tighten your core as you lower yourself toward the desk by bending your elbows. Do a few reps until you feel your blood start to flow and an energy perk up.
Even marching in place and pumping your arms can get the blood flowing and re-energize you.
2. Maintain your focus with neural brain stimulating foods.
Choosing your foods carefully is one of the best ways to maintain focus and energy throughout the day.
Pairing carbohydrates and protein is the perfect combination to achieve the sustained energy you need.
Complex carbs like whole grains take your body longer to digest and provide longer lasting energy.
When you combine them with a protein, it helps regulate your blood sugar so you don't have the spikes and crashes you get with simple carbs found in junk foods.
Stay away from candy bars, packaged foods, sodas, and white bread and rice.
Add some leafy greens to kick your focus up a notch. Greens like spinach and kale are full of B vitamins and vitamin K, which help brain function and focus.
3. Oxygenate your body with deep breathing.
Most of us breathe without thinking about what we're doing, so you may not realize that oxygen intake can affect your focus.
Modern technology has made us sedentary most of the day. There is less need to breathe deeply, so we have developed a habit of shallow breathing.
This shallow breathing makes us more fatigued because of the reduced oxygen to the blood and reduced circulation.
Breathing exercises can increase the oxygen in your body, which can relax you and help you work smarter.
Try this simple breathing exercise the next time you need to stay awake:
- Sit up straight in a chair and breathe out as much air from your lungs as you can.
- Then, inhale slowly from deep in your diaphragm, filling your lungs with as much air as possible.
- Hold this air for five seconds and exhale very slowly.
- Repeat this breathing technique ten times and enjoy the mental clarity it brings.
4. Take refreshing mental breaks.
After a morning of staring at the computer screen, your head hurts and your eyes can get dry and fatigued.
If you’re already feeling tired, looking at the computer screen for hours on end can turn you into a zombie.
Try to take a fifteen minute break every hour or so to combat these symptoms. Stand up and stretch, rest your eyes, and even listen to some relaxing music.
This break will refresh your mind and body and allow you to resume your work with more energy.
Also, try taking breaks using the 20-20-20 method. Every twenty minutes, take your eyes off the screen and look at something else for twenty seconds that is twenty feet away.
This practice gives your eyes a chance to refocus and relax, helping you maintain concentration longer while working.
5. Stay hydrated.
Believe it or not, being even a little dehydrated can make you feel uncomfortable and suffer from poor cognitive function.
Mild dehydration can significantly impair short-term attention and memory, impacting your performance at work.
Even mild dehydration can leave you feeling tired and lethargic, because your blood volume lowers, and you don't get as much blood to your brain. That requires your heart to pump harder.
Make sure you are getting enough water throughout the day – every day – to stay mentally sharp and feel good. On average men need 3.7 liters of fluids per day, and women need 2.7 liters.
If you feel thirsty, or you notice your urine is dark, it's past time to drink a glass of water. Stay on top of hydration before you notice these symptoms.
6. Try free-form writing.
Keeping your creative energies flowing can do wonders for your alertness and concentration.
Take ten to fifteen minutes, and jot down some of your thoughts to help clear your mind.
Writing in longhand is better than typing on the computer for this purpose, as it forces you to slow down and process what you are writing.
Writing in longhand reinforces critical thinking and conceptual development, allowing you to draw more connections and develop unconventional solutions to problems or challenges at work.
If you’re struggling with what to write, try a stream of consciousness exercise. Just start writing whatever comes to mind, even if it seems silly.
You’ll get on a roll and then be able to focus the writing on whatever you need to work out that’s been mentally draining.
Putting things down on paper will free you from storing it in your head, giving you more energy to focus on what’s important at work for the day.
7. Take a power nap.
When all else fails, try taking a power nap of ten to twenty minutes during your lunch hour (or later in the day if possible).
A nap of longer than thirty minutes can leave you feeling sluggish, but a shorter cat nap can refresh and re-energize you.
These short naps have been shown to:
- Improved concentration and alertness
- Better memory recall
- Reduced stress levels
- Increased stamina
- Sharpened motor skills
If you can't put your head down on your desk for a short nap without interruption, try napping in your car. Just be sure to set your phone alarm to wake up on time.
Staying awake at work when you are exhausted can be a challenge, but practicing these tips will help you get through the day and remain as productive as possible.
Of course the best solution for sleepiness at work is getting a good night sleep as often as possible. When this fails, use the techniques outlined here to help you make it through the day.