We all want to succeed in our careers or education. So, the need to sleep is one of the most frustrating, albeit mundane, obstacles to productivity. Though there is no miraculous method to stay awake indefinitely, there are little changes we can make to our lives to maximize our alertness, as well as short-term solutions to stave off tiredness a little longer. Here are seven examples.
Get some light.
We respond naturally to light, for obvious reasons. It lets our bodies know that it’s time to be awake and to be getting things done. It can help general alertness to spend time outside and get sunlight, but just turning on bright lights also works as a short-term solution.
At some point, we’ve all gone outside at night and felt the cool air make us more lucid. In addition to making one feel physically revitalized, going outside is a great way to give your mind a break from whatever you’ve been doing, so you don’t fall asleep from boredom. Also, spending a little time in nature every day has been shown to improve your energy levels significantly.
Get focused while you’re not tired.
I assume most of you are reading this article because you want to be more productive; as a college student, that’s certainly my reason to try to maximize the time I am awake. I have found that starting earlier actually helps me to stay alert and get more done. If I put something off until midnight, I’m often already too tired to get really focused on what I need to be doing, so I never get much done, even if I work for hours. If I start reading or writing papers earlier in the evening, though, I often have no problem working until the early morning, and working at a decent pace as well, because I don’t have to spend additional mental resources getting focused on a task while I’m already tired.
Caffeine (used sparingly).
Perhaps the most popular way to stay up late is to drink coffee or tea. Certainly, this is an effective solution if used sparingly. But caffeine can also be addictive, causing you to become more tired if you go without it, and when used regularly to stay awake, its effects very quickly diminish. The best way to use caffeine, if you use it to stay awake at all, is actually to consume it in small doses throughout the day; this study showed that that was the best way to stay alert and awake for long periods of time.
Again because I know that most of us are interested in staying awake so that we can be more productive, I expect that multitasking is a familiar subject. It can be tempting, but it’s a terrible idea. There is abundant evidence to show that multitasking is bad for the brain and that it actually decreases productivity and the quality of whatever work one is doing. It can be even more problematic when one is trying to stay awake; staying awake for long periods of time drastically reduces one’s working memory, the very short-term type of memory that we use to reason and make decisions. Multitasking, and thereby dividing your working memory even further, will only exacerbate this problem and exhaust you more quickly. This being said, it can be beneficial to switch tasks to avoid monotony, but one you should not attempt to work on multiple tasks at one time.
Drink water, or eat something.
Dehydration is a common cause of tiredness, and eating something healthy will make sure you have the energy to stay awake. Eating can also help because any stimulation of the senses will help you stay alert. Of course, you should avoid eating too much, as this is known to make us tired.
Develop a regular sleep schedule.
Though it’s no short-term solution, a stable sleep schedule is essential for those who need to be able to stay awake often. Once your body adjusts to a schedule, you’ll be able to fall asleep more easily and get higher quality sleep, allowing you to spend less time actually sleeping and to waste no time trying to get to sleep. In the process, you’ll have to determine for yourself how much sleep you need to stay alert all day. If your lifestyle permits it, there are also alternative sleep cycles that can even further minimize the time you spend asleep, but they also require you to stick to them even more strictly.