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How to Stay Awake Naturally

By Camille Peri
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

With more and more of us getting less and less sleep, it’s tempting to reach for a Red Bull or an espresso when we feel sleepy at work. But consuming caffeine to combat sleepiness can lead to a vicious cycle.

The java jolt that helps you stay awake can take up to eight hours to wear off. Caffeine can also reduce your sleep time, alter the normal stages of sleep, and decrease the quality of your sleep.

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How can you stay awake naturally? Try some of these 12 jitter-free tips to take the edge off sleepiness.

1. Get Up and Move Around to Feel Awake

In one well-known study, Robert Thayer, PhD, a professor at California State University, Long Beach, studied whether people were more energized by eating a candy bar or taking a brisk 10-minute walk. Though the candy bar provided a quick energy boost, participants were actually more tired and had less energy an hour later. The 10-minute walk increased energy for two hours. That’s because walking pumps oxygen through your veins, brain, and muscles.

If you work at a desk, get up frequently for short walks. At meal breaks, walk to a restaurant or, if you bring your lunch, head for a nice spot to eat it. Whether you take a walk outside or just in the building where you work, it will make you feel more alert and refreshed.

2. Take a Nap to Take the Edge Off Sleepiness

There are two things to remember about naps: Don’t take more than one and don’t take it too close to your bedtime. “Nap between five and 25 minutes,” says Barry Krakow, MD, author of Sound Sleep, Sound Mind: Seven Keys to Sleeping Through the Night. It’s best to nap about six or seven hours before you would normally go to bed. If you must take a late nap close to bedtime, make it a short one.

Napping on the job can be touchy. If you need to nap at work, do it during your break and use a vibrating alarm clock, if necessary, to make sure it doesn’t spill over into your work time. Sleeping at your desk is usually not a good idea, but many companies now provide nap rooms for employees.

“If you can’t nap, even resting quietly with your eyes closed for 10 minutes or so will help,” says Allison T. Siebern, PhD, a fellow at the Stanford University Sleep Medicine Center in Redwood City, Calif.

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