How to Stop Falling Asleep at Work: 5 Tips to Help You Stay Awake

Macgill Davis

We've all been there: sipping our coffee while wading through the morning inbox to the tune of our yawns — or perhaps, chugging a third cup of coffee after lunch to convince our eyelids to stay open for the rest of the day.

These scenarios probably feel familiar if you've ever struggled with falling asleep at work. Maintaining our productivity on a regular day can be challenging enough. But when we're going to work with no sleep, it becomes nearly impossible to get things done.

Whether your lack of sleep is a rare occurrence caused by too much Netflix the night before or a daily struggle associated with a chronic condition, you can overcome excessive daytime sleepiness. Understanding why you're falling asleep at work and tackling the root cause is key.

Let's explore why the yawns are dominating your morning and discover a few tips you can use to stop going to work with no sleep and start getting things done.

Why Do I Keep Falling Asleep at Work?

Falling asleep at work: employee yawning while holding a cup of coffee

If staying awake during the day becomes more difficult than your typical afternoon slump and you actually fall asleep at work, you’re probably wondering why. You may be sleepy during the day for a number of reasons.

Most commonly, daytime sleepiness is the side effect of a sleepless night. When you don't get enough sleep at night, you're more likely to doze off during the day. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night. If you're falling short of that from pulling all-nighters working or staying up too late scrolling social media, it's no wonder you're struggling to stay awake and survive work.

Of course, there are other reasons you might fall asleep during the day, even if you're getting enough sleep at night. Multiple chronic and acute conditions can cause fatigue and sleepiness. In fact, about 50 million to 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders or conditions causing excessive daytime sleepiness.

Over 80 distinct sleep disorders could wreak havoc on our workdays, including things we've likely all encountered at least once, like restless legs or insomnia. But there are more severe conditions that can disrupt sleep patterns and cause drastic side effects.

Those who suffer from sleep apnea, for instance, might unknowingly wake up 15 to 25 times an hour during sleep, leaving them exhausted the next day. Another disorder, narcolepsy, is characterized by sudden and uncontrolled loss of consciousness during the day.

Additionally, prescription or over-the-counter medications can often cause drowsiness, as can medical conditions and mental health issues such as depression. Shift work and alcohol consumption can also disturb sleep.

Is Going to Work With No Sleep Really So Bad?

Whatever the reason for your excessive daytime sleepiness, going to work with no sleep can have serious consequences. Short term, someone suffering from sleep deprivation is more likely to get into an accident than someone with enough sleep. Sleep-deprived driving is responsible for more than 6,400 deaths and 71,000 injuries each year. Overly sleepy workers are also 2.5 times more likely to have work-related accidents.

You are also more likely to make mistakes while tired, which can be dangerous in the workplace. In addition, fatigue makes focus and decision-making more difficult and results in lower productivity. Not to mention, dozing off and falling out of your chair in front of your coworkers would be pretty embarrassing — and probably painful.

Sleep deprivation can also have long-term consequences for your health and wellness. When you don't get enough sleep, your body doesn't have time to repair itself. Depriving yourself of sleep over an extended period is linked to mental exhaustion, burnout, heart conditions, diabetes, and other health problems. Sleep deprivation becomes more dangerous as we age, resulting in cognitive decline and memory loss.

The 5 Best Tips to Stop Falling Asleep at Work

Falling asleep at work: tired employee working late at night

Staying awake and alert at work, even if you didn't get a good night's sleep last night, is essential for productivity and safety. If falling asleep on the job is a regular occurrence for you, there are a few things you can do too. Here are five suggestions to stop falling asleep at work and start getting more done.

1. Get More Sleep at Night

This one may seem obvious, but getting enough sleep at night is essential to be productive during the day. For many, getting the right amount of sleep is as simple as improving their sleep hygiene.

Our health and well-being are greatly impacted by our sleep hygiene, a set of lifestyle habits that promote good sleep. Good sleep habits can distinguish between a good night's sleep and a sleepless night. 

If you want to improve your hygiene, there are several things you can do:

  • Establish a regular sleep schedule: Keeping the same sleep patterns can support your circadian rhythms and encourage sleep at bedtime.
  • Be mindful of food and drink before bed: A good way to prevent sleep disturbances is to avoid big meals two hours before, limit alcohol four hours before, and cut caffeine six hours before bed.
  • Create the right sleep environment: This means optimizing the light and noise levels, temperature, and comfort of your bedroom. Try light-blocking curtains or an eye mask, turn down the thermostat or use a fan, and consider a white noise machine or app.
  • Use your bed only for sleep: Keeping your bed for rest can trigger your brain to think it's bedtime. If possible, avoid using your bed for other activities like watching TV or working.
  • Try supportive supplements: Several natural sleep aids can help you support your sleep cycle. Melatonin, magnesium, lavender, and valerian root may help reduce sleep problems. Always be sure to consult your doctor before trying new supplements.

If you try a few changes and still can't seem to get enough sleep at night, it’s time to visit your doctor. A sleep specialist or doctor trained in sleep medicine can help you solve the problem and get better sleep.

2. Take a Power Nap

If you can't seem to make it through the day without falling asleep at your desk, try taking a quick nap. A power nap is a short, refreshing nap that can improve alertness, cognitive function, and mood. Be sure to limit yourself to an optimal 20-minute nap — longer can interfere with your circadian rhythms, and you might feel groggy when you wake up.

Getting a quick nap should be pretty easy if you work from home. If you work in the office, consider taking a short nap during your lunch break or at a time you've arranged with your workplace. Of course, you can't just close your eyes and immediately fall asleep — especially not at work. Try these suggestions for maximizing your power nap:

  • Find a quiet place to lie down comfortably.
  • Set an alarm so you don't sleep too long.
  • Loosen any tight clothing.
  • Close your eyes and take controlled breaths, focusing on each one.

After 20 minutes or so, slowly wake yourself up by moving your fingers and toes. Once you're fully awake, stand up and stretch your body to help you feel more alert. Even if you don't feel like you fell completely asleep, the rest will significantly benefit your body and mind.

3. Drink Lots of Water

A common cause of tiredness during the day is dehydration. Proper hydration is essential for sleep, so be sure you're drinking enough water throughout the day. Aim for eight glasses of water, but you might need more if you're working out or are in a hot environment.

Dehydration can cause many symptoms that make daytime sleepiness and falling asleep at work more likely, including:

  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Muscle cramps

If you're struggling to drink enough, try bringing a reusable water bottle to work or storing water at your desk. Drinking ice-cold water can also be energizing. Hydration helps you stay alert and focused throughout the day and may prevent you from falling asleep at work.

4. Get Up and Move Around

Manager holding a cup and looking at his computer

If you're feeling sleepy and just can't seem to keep your eyes open, get up and move around. If possible, try to get outside for some fresh air. Exposure to nature boosts energy levels, improves moods, and has many other health benefits. 

If you can't get outside, there’s still plenty you can do to feel more energetic and alert. Try some simple seated exercises or stretches if you can't get up from your desk. If you have a bit more freedom, here are a few ideas for an activity break:

  • Take a quick walk around the building.
  • Do some jumping jacks or push-ups.
  • Stretch your arms, legs, and neck.
  • Have a break room dance party.

Getting the blood flowing will help you feel more awake and alert, reduce the risk of soreness or injury, and help improve your focus.

5. Eat Healthy Snacks

Keeping your blood sugar at a healthy level is essential to maintaining your energy throughout the day. When sleepy at work, reach for a healthy snack instead of caffeine or sugary foods. Try to pair complex carbs with protein and add a little healthy fat for an added energy boost. A few balanced, desk-friendly snacks that can help you stay awake and focused include:

  • Whole grain toast with cream cheese
  • Greek yogurt with berries
  • A handful of nuts or seeds with a piece of fresh fruit
  • Veggies and hummus
  • Apple slices and peanut butter

Snacking keeps your mind active, and the nutrients in these snacks can sustain your energy. If you can't access whole-food snacks during the day, ask your doctor if a vitamin B complex supplement is right for you. The supplement contains eight different vitamin Bs, increasing serotonin, lowering cortisol, and improving blood sugar levels.

Tackle Your Sleepiness and Improve Your Productivity

If you’re experiencing excessive daytime sleepiness, try making some lifestyle changes to help improve your energy levels and get better sleep. Getting enough rest, staying hydrated, and eating healthy snacks can help you avoid falling asleep at work. If you still struggle to stay awake, talk to your doctor — you might have a sleep disorder that's interfering with your ability to get enough rest.

Curious how your sleepiness is affecting your productivity? The Rize app tracks your workday automatically to identify when you are most productive and when you are losing focus. Using shareable weekly and daily reports, you can analyze how your work is being affected by your nights and take the necessary steps to improve. Sign up for your free two-week trial of Rize