How to stay awake when tired

Woman feeling tired and trying to stay awake. (Getty Images)
There are times when we need to stay awake even though we're exhausted. (Getty Images)

From meeting-induced sleepiness, to having to work late to meet a deadline, there are times in life when we need to stay awake, no matter how tired we are.

It's worth noting that if you continuously don't get enough sleep, there can be many negative effects on the body.

But for those rare occasions when you need to override the drowsy and wake yourself up there are a few tips and tricks you can adopt, other than chugging another coffee that is.

Cool yourself down

Keeping cool can help you stay awake as your body has to work harder to keep itself warm. "We all know how central heating can make you feel a bit drowsy so to stay alert open a window or wear thinner layers," Dr Ettlinger suggests.

Get moving

It may seem counterintuitive when you're already feeling low on energy, but staying active can keep you alert.

"Exercise and physical activity helps combat sleepiness as the body will release endorphins and help brain activity, keeping some people awake," explains Dr Paul Ettlinger, GP at The London General Practice.

"Sitting at a desk makes you more tired, so if you find yourself feeling sleepy, get up and go for a quick walk."

Read more: 10 expert-approved ways to sleep better, as millions of adults complain of being 'tired all the time'

Woman taking a power nap at her desk. (Getty Images)
A power nap will help you feel more awake when battling tiredness. (Getty Images)

Take a power nap

One of the best ways to stay alert even when you feel tired is by taking a power nap. "Find a quiet and comfortable place, set your alarm for 30 minutes and sleep," suggests Barbara Santini, psychologist at University of Oxford.

"When the alarm goes off, get up immediately and do some light stretches. You will get back to your tasks feeling rested and alert with a boost in memory and mood."

Go outside

It might sound simple but fresh air really can help give you a wake-up boost. "Fresh air coupled with the light outside are excellent tonics for feeling more awake as our body clock's circadian rhythm relies on natural conditions," explains Dr Ettlinger.

Snack right

You should choose foods high in nutrients every day, but doing so becomes extra important on days when you're feeling wiped.

"We can optimise energy levels by choosing nutrient-dense whole plant foods such as fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds over ultra-processed snacks," explains Rohini Bajeakl, nutritionist and lifestyle medicine professional at Plant Based Health Professionals.

When it comes to snacking, it’s best to choose unprocessed plant foods that feed your gut microbiome with fibre.

"Choose fresh fruit and pair it with some nuts (30g) or peanut butter for a fibre-rich snack that will keep you fuller for longer or raw vegetables crudités with hummus," Bajeakl continues.

"Other options that are rich in plant protein and will satisfy cravings without causing spikes in blood sugar, which lead to that afternoon "crash", include edamame beans with chilli flakes, chia seed pudding with soya milk and berries or roasted spiced chickpeas."

Read more: What is the TikTok colour noise trend and can it help you sleep better?

Woman exercising outside, which can help you feel more awake. (Getty Images)
Getting outside and exercising can help you feel more awake. (Getty Images)

Get a caffeine hit without the coffee

Caffeine-containing foods can affect people differently but tend to be stimulating. "Dark chocolate, which also contains caffeine, does have health benefits as a mood-boosting food but it is best enjoyed in small amounts," Bajeakl says. She suggests choosing plant-based varieties with higher cacao content (around 90%) that are low in sugar.

"Cacao nibs, which are just crushed pieces of cacao beans, used to make chocolate, can be enjoyed on top of smoothies or added to porridge. Flavanols, a plant nutrient found in many foods, is particularly abundant in cacao and studies show that it may benefit brain function."

Green teas such as matcha contains catechin and theanine, which affect brain health with research showing that consuming green tea improves attention and cognitive function.

"For those who find that coffee makes them jittery, it is worth trying matcha, as L-theanine seems to have a synergistic effect with caffeine," Bajeakl continues.

But it is worth noting that matcha does contain caffeine so should be avoided by those who are very sensitive to it or ideally by anyone who is pregnant.

Watch: Stress Awareness Month: Why nurturing gut health is key to fighting stress

Don’t skip breakfast

A healthy, balanced breakfast will help fuel your mind, body, and performance throughout the day helping you feel more energised, particularly when you're feeling low in energy.

"Go for healthier options with a combination of high fibre carbohydrates and protein such as porridge made with berries, nuts and seeds or scrambled egg on wholemeal toast," suggests performance dietitian, Jenaed Brodell, who works with Pro Plus. "This will ensure steady blood sugar release throughout the day as well as promoting satiety (fullness).”

Read more: Feeling Tired All The Time (TATT)? Simple ways to boost your energy levels

Up the H20

Hydration is one of the most important, and often overlooked, considerations in overcoming tiredness. "Even mild dehydration can cause fatigue and exhaustion, impacting your ability to concentrate and even make tasks feel more difficult," explains Brodell.

"If you feel as though your energy levels are flagging, one of the best things you can do is reach for a glass of plain old water – the NHS recommends that we all try to drink between 1.5 and 2 litres of water a day.”

Woman eating breakfast as experts say it is important to help beat tiredness. (Getty Images)
Not skipping breakfast can help you feel more awake. (Getty Images)

Play a game

Santini recommends having a game or crossword puzzle nearby for moments when you need to boost your energy when tired. "This will engage your mind and boost your clarity," she explains.

"Listening to upbeat music is another way to get your energy up," she continues. "Put your headphones on and listen to high-paced music."

Focus on sleep

Sleep is just as critical to our body as other basic functions of survival like eating, drinking, and breathing, so it is important to prioritise it, when you don't need to stay awake that is.

"The body has multiple systems regulating our sleep-wake cycle and our journey through the cycle of sleep stages," Brodell explains. "These processes work together to ensure we get deep, restful sleep, and have energy throughout the day. Lifestyle choices, such as the decisions we make relating to our diet, can impact these systems for better or for worse.”