How to Wake Yourself up at Work: 9 Science-Backed Tips

Macgill Davis

We’ve all experienced those days when we just can’t seem to keep our eyes open during the hour-long meeting, no matter how much coffee is consumed. But dealing with workplace fatigue is not only a drain on productivity; it can also lead to disciplinary measures and costly errors while taking a toll on your mental and physical health.

For those days when you need help staying alert, there are more options than just consuming copious amounts of caffeine. Specifically, we’ll explore nine scientifically backed tips for how to wake yourself up at work. But first, if you’ve been experiencing chronic sleep problems or sleep disorders like sleep apnea, it’s best to skip the tips and consult with a sleep specialist or medical professional right away.

Why Do You Keep Falling Asleep at Work?

If you struggle to stay awake during the day and find yourself nodding off at your desk, it’s essential to understand what’s happening. Being constantly tired is your body’s way of signaling that something else isn’t being adequately addressed. Understanding why you get sleepy at work is the first step to addressing the root cause.

The most likely reason for being drowsy during the day is due to sleep deprivation or a lack of sleep at night. When you don’t get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep each night, your energy levels will wane, and you’ll probably experience physical and/or mental exhaustion the following day. You could also be experiencing poor sleep due to your body not getting enough REM sleep due to waking up multiple times throughout the night.

9 Tips for How to Wake Yourself up at Work

How to wake yourself up: employees working late at an office

For those days when sleep is in short supply, it’s important to know how to wake yourself up despite being tired. These science-backed tips will help you fight back against falling asleep at work or the mid-afternoon slump so you can get through the day. But while these tips will help you stay awake and alert, nothing can supplant the necessity of getting enough sleep each night. 

1. Avoid Eating Heavy Meals

Eating a large lunch in the middle of the workday can drag you down. Processed foods and unhealthy snacks can make you feel sluggish later in the day. Instead, try eating reasonable portions for lunch and mixing in light snacks if you get hungry. It also helps to eat a healthier diet emphasizing fruits and vegetables.

2. Expose Yourself to Natural Light Early

Exposure to natural sunlight is a key signal affecting your body’s circadian rhythm. When your body is exposed to natural light, it triggers a subconscious response that a new day has begun and boosts alertness. Exposure to sunlight first thing in the morning can improve wakefulness and seems associated with better sleep quality. If you struggle to feel alert first thing in the morning, try setting up your bedroom in a way that you’ll be exposed to sunlight when it’s time to wake up. 

3. Create a Shutdown Routine

Creating a shutdown routine is essential for establishing a sleep cycle that supports your body’s internal clock. If you have difficulty getting enough sleep in the first place, it’s worth analyzing your bedtime routine. Start by deciding what time you want to wake up each morning, then work backward to determine when you need to be in bed to get 7-9 hours of sleep.

Once you know when you need to be asleep, create a shutdown routine that starts one hour before bed. During the shutdown routine, you want to avoid screens emitting blue light. Instead, opt for reading a physical book or meditation to relax your mind. Get in bed at least 20-30 minutes before you need to fall asleep.

4. Stay Hydrated

While it may not seem obvious, a lack of hydration can cause you to experience morning fatigue. Drinking a glass of cold water or two is a simple step that can immediately make you feel more alert. Just realize that if you tend to work late into the evenings, drinking a lot of water before bedtime can be counterproductive since you may be waking up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.

5. Avoid Caffeine in the Afternoon

Consuming caffeine late in the afternoon or evening can also disrupt your ability to fall asleep. When consumed too close to bedtime, caffeine can prolong sleep latency, reduce how many hours of sleep you get, and worsen sleep quality. 

You want to stop consuming caffeine at least six hours before bedtime to prevent it from disrupting your sleep schedule. If you’re someone who requires that afternoon cup of coffee to keep going, try opting for tea instead to reduce your caffeine intake. 

6. Get Regular Exercise

Regular exercise is vital for your physical and mental health, but it can also improve your sleep quality. Exercising in the morning boosts endorphins and dopamine to help reduce stress and energize you for the rest of the day. It can also help you achieve deep sleep since your body uses sleep to recover and build muscle. Working out later in the day is another option as long as you don’t work out too close to bedtime, which can make it difficult to fall asleep.

7. Eat a High-Protein Breakfast

Eating a high-protein breakfast consisting of foods such as eggs, nut butters, and pork or turkey sausage will keep you satiated and energized throughout the morning. A meal loaded with protein and healthy fats will help curb morning hunger without making you feel bogged down or causing a mid-morning crash. Ditch the sweetened cereals and muffins that can spike your blood sugar for a delicious, nutrient-dense meal that will keep you energized throughout the day.

8. Experiment With Aromatherapy

Research has shown the effectiveness of aromatherapy in stimulating specific regions of your brain known to increase arousal in terms of attentiveness and alertness. Essential oils derived from peppermint, rosemary, bitter orange, and eucalyptus can reduce stress, stimulate your mind, and provide an energy boost. You can try experimenting with these essential oils by getting a diffuser and placing it somewhere you’ll be exposed to the scents in the morning.

9. Take a Focus Break

While the above tips will help you combat daytime sleepiness so you can remain alert, it’s also important to realize the benefits of taking a break from your work to give your mind a chance to relax. Taking a short focus break in the middle of the workday can quickly re-energize you to finish the day strong.

Here are some options for your next break that can benefit your body and mind:

  • Reading a book: Reading a book during your lunch break is a great way to free your mind from work. Whether you prefer light fiction, biographies, or self-help, reading something you find interesting that isn’t related to your work is a productive way to let your mind relax and reset for when it’s time to focus again.
  • Taking a walk: Getting up from your desk to go on a short walk can help combat sleep inertia — the grogginess you feel right when you wake up. If possible, it’s best to get outside to expose yourself to natural light and fresh air, which can help you wake yourself up. But if you can't make it out of the office or the house, moving around and breaking away from screens is still beneficial. Consider also doing some light stretches to help relax and keep your body from tightening up from any prolonged sitting that happens throughout the day.
  • Meditating: Meditation can be a powerful tool for reducing workplace stress and improving concentration. A short meditation practice lasting just a few minutes can do wonders to help you relax and feel refreshed, mentally and physically.
  • Taking a nap: When all else fails, sometimes the best thing you can do to combat sleepiness is to take an afternoon nap. A short power nap can make you more alert, improve your thinking, and elevate your mood. The key is to keep your naps to no more than 90 minutes, so you don’t disrupt your circadian rhythm.

Keep Yourself Awake at Work

How to wake yourself up: person reading a book and holding a cup of coffee

Getting a good night’s sleep is critical for living a healthy and productive life. But after a night when quality sleep was limited, it’s essential to know how to keep yourself awake and alert while at work. Whether you consider yourself a morning person or a night owl, the above tips can help.

Whether you're tired or well-rested, the Rize time-tracking app can help you maximize your productivity and build better work habits. It will even remind you when it's time to take a focus break. Download the Rize app today to give it a try.