We’ve all been in situations when we’ve had to make it through the night without sleeping. The occasion could have been a birthday party, a new job that required night shifts, exam week at school, or even nothing special – for those of us who perform better under pressure, it can simply be working or studying at the last moment.
However, regardless of why they happen, sleepless nights can be tricky, and it can be pretty hard to keep yourself awake when your eyes get droopy. So, what do you do?
In this article, we’ll provide you with some tips and tricks on how to force yourself to stay awake (when you have to).
The Circadian Rhythm and Sleep
There’s no doubt that getting a good night’s sleep regularly is one of the critical factors for improving your quality of life and health. Messing up your sleep cycle can lead to sleep disorders and various health issues, including mental health problems, so whatever you do, make sure you don’t pull all-nighters too often. However, in some circumstances, you’ll just have to, even if it doesn’t agree with your circadian rhythm.
The circadian rhythm is a natural process that regulates our sleep schedule, more often referred to as the sleep-wake cycle, which repeats roughly every 24 hours. Humans are naturally wired to respond to environmental cues such as changes in natural light, and our bodies adjust according to the cues we receive — we get sleepy when it gets dark outside, and we wake up as soon as natural light hits our eyes.
If you work night shifts frequently, it’s not impossible to adjust your circadian rhythm to fit your lifestyle, but you should be aware that it goes against your internal clock and that you won’t be performing optimally.
10 Tips for Staying Awake
So, let’s say you have a deadline you have to meet at work or school or you’re waiting for the launch of a new gadget you want but you know will get sold out quickly, so you have to pull an all-nighter. We’ve been there, and we got you.
Let’s look at some tips that can help you keep sleepiness at bay, even if just for a night.
Take a Power Nap
Napping is a great way to help yourself make it through an all-nighter. Taking power naps between 5 and 25 minutes long can not only be refreshing and restore your energy levels but it can also improve your cognitive function and boost your productivity.
For a power nap to be effective, it should last no more than 30 minutes because afterward, the body enters the deep sleep stage, from which it’s harder to wake up. Plus it will make you extremely groggy.
In contrast, power naps will literally make you feel powered up, and they’re a great way to get you through those nights when you need to stay awake. For the best results, it’s better to take a few quick naps in increments of a couple of hours for maximum productivity. If you’re driving, make sure you pull over and get a shut-eye. Do not drive when you’re feeling sleepy.
Take a Shower or Splash Your Face
Taking a shower is always refreshing, but even more so when tiredness sets in. And we’re not talking about a long hot shower that’ll make you even more sleepy, but a brisk, energizing one, preferably with cold water or as cold as you can tolerate.
Cold water stimulates your blood flow and nervous system, promoting alertness, which is perfect for when you need a little pick-me-up. If you’re somewhere where you can’t take a shower (the office, for example), splashing your face with cold water can also freshen you up. But don’t be shy with it — splash your face a few times until you feel as good as new.
Exercise or Take a Walk
It might sound crazy to say that exercising when you’re tired and sleepy will increase your energy, but it’s true. When you exercise, key changes happen to your body on a cellular level. For one, exercising stimulates the production of mitochondria, which are the powerhouses of the cells because they convert oxygen and glucose into energy, so more mitochondria means more energy. Plus, exercise increases the production of hormones that promote alertness and a better mood.
When you’re already tired and you’re trying to stay awake, taking a short walk and getting some fresh air, doing a few push-ups, or even just stretching your body can often be enough to remedy the sluggishness, at least for a few hours before you get sleepy again.
Have a Healthy Snack to Avoid Blood Sugar Fluctuations
Feeling tired when you need to stay awake is a good enough reason for many of us to reach for a sugary snack. Chocolate bars and ice cream are all the tastier when you’re struggling to keep your eyes open. But, the energy boost you get from simple sugars and carbs is only temporary, and it’s soon followed by more pronounced lethargy and drowsiness, not to mention that it causes blood sugar fluctuations.
To avoid this, opt for more wholesome snacks that contain protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats, alongside natural sugars, which will nourish you and actually energize you.
Here are some examples of healthy snacks that can help you survive the night:
- Peanut butter
- Greek yogurt
- Fruits and veggies
- Boiled eggs
You may be tired of hearing how important hydration is, but that’s because it really is that important. Many people don’t take drinking water seriously, and if you’re one of them, it’s time to change your tune. The human body is made up of around 60% water and your organs need it to function properly.
If you’re often dehydrated, it can drastically affect your energy levels and make you feel groggy all the time — and you may not even be aware that it’s because it’s been a few hours since you last had a glass of water. So to combat tiredness, make sure to always have your water bottle near you and sip on some water. If you detest the taste of plain water, you can add some pieces of fruit for flavor.
Drink Caffeinated Beverages
Everyone knows that caffeine can keep sleep at bay for a few hours, so of course, caffeine is essential for pulling an all-nighter. Up to 400 mg of caffeine per day is safe for most people, which translates to roughly four cups of brewed coffee. Caffeine eliminates sleepiness temporarily because it blocks the neurotransmitter adenosine, which signals to the body that it’s time to go to sleep. The result — you don’t feel sleepy anymore.
Caffeine takes around 15-20 minutes to start working and its effects can last four to six hours, but they’re followed by a major crash in energy. To get the full benefits of caffeine, it’s best to top up every few hours so you can stay caffeinated without crashing or getting too jittery.
If you want to opt for a milder drink, you can choose green tea or black tea, which are less stimulating than coffee. They contain L-theanine, an amino acid that softens the intensity of caffeine and prevents big peaks and dips in energy. Alternatively, you can use an energy drink.
Mind you, though, that if you’re sensitive to caffeine, you’d better look for alternative ways to stay awake.
This tip is really basic, but it’s also constructive, especially when you need to stay at your desk for hours. When you sit in front of the computer for a prolonged period of time, it can affect your posture, and your posture will inevitably affect your breathing.
You can get really drowsy when you’re not breathing properly because your brain isn’t receiving enough oxygen. Deep breathing slows your heart rate and improves your circulation while increasing the oxygen levels in your blood. Therefore, being mindful of your posture and breathing deeply can make it easier to go through the night without falling asleep.
Work Under Bright Light
Dimming the lights at night when you want to relax is an excellent way to unwind and prepare for bed, but not when you need to stay awake and study. On the contrary, you should turn on every light in your room. Since humans respond to external signals, especially light, you can trick your body into remaining awake for longer simply by keeping the lights on. The brighter the light is, the better, as long as it’s not headache-inducing. Of course, if you’re sensitive to bright lights, you can skip this tip.
Listen to Upbeat Music
Here’s a fun tip to help you engage your brain and make your all-nighter more enjoyable — listen to upbeat music. If you’re a music aficionado, this is probably your regular routine already, but if you’re someone who listens to music only casually, you should try it. But remember, since music can have a powerful impact on your mood and energy levels, it’s really important that it’s lively and upbeat as slow tempos will only make you more sleepy.
Use Natural Scents
Like music, scents can also be very stimulating (or calming, depending on what you’re looking for). You must already know how the scent of lavender is calming when you’re feeling stressed, but there are other natural scents that can invigorate you and make you feel refreshed.
Peppermint, citrus scents, eucalyptus, lemongrass, and rosemary are famous for their brain-stimulating properties, so having an essential oil made from these herbs on hand whenever you need to feel refreshed (even in times when you’re not staying awake all night) can be very handy. If you don’t have an essential oil diffuser, just add a couple of drops on a cotton ball and place it on your desk.
Resetting Your Circadian Rhythm
Night shift workers and people who have irregular sleep schedules can have a hard time readjusting to their regular routine after staying up all night. This is completely normal as your circadian rhythm gets out of sync, so you need to find ways to reset it.
To be able to keep pushing through your shifts and not get completely out of sync, you’ll need to make some long-term adjustments, especially when it comes to your hours of sleep. More hours of sleep after a night shift is essential to make up for the lack of sleep, so you need to take it seriously. If you can afford to sleep in the next day, it’ll help you remain healthy and avoid the plethora of negative effects lack of sleep can have on your body, such as chronic sleep deprivation or sleep apnea.
Therefore, to create a better sleep cycle and improve your wellness, follow these tips:
- Avoid stimulants before bed such as sugar, caffeine, and alcohol;
- Make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet;
- Exercise regularly, but avoid exercising 5 hours before bedtime;
- Eat more fruits and veggies;
- Wake up and get up at the same time on the days when you’re not working;
- Avoid taking naps during the day so you can fall asleep more easily at night;
- Limit screen use for at least an hour before bed.
Sleep deprivation is one of the worst feelings ever, but sometimes when you have to pull an all-nighter, you have to endure it and make up for sleep the next day. It becomes a problem only when you’re not getting enough sleep regularly, which can impair your circadian rhythm and lead to health issues.
Still, there are some things that you can do to help you stay awake all night, the most effective being getting a quick shut-eye and drinking caffeinated beverages, as well as snacking on something healthy. If you’re a night-shift worker who needs to stay awake a few nights a week or month, you might have trouble getting back into your regular routine, in which case it’s best to make some lifestyle changes to help you bounce back each time you lose track.