Look, whether you’re working or you’re a student these days, unfortunately, online classes, online meetings are just the fact of life. And many of my patients have been struggling with sleepiness staying awake during online school. Some of my colleagues. I know struggle with staying awake , with online meetings as well. So here are my top seven tips for how to stay awake during Zoom classes or meetings.
1. Make sure you get enough sleep at night
The most important thing is to make sure that you get enough sleep at night, which has been a big problem during the past year. (If you have been struggling to sleep, here’s some information on how to sleep better during Covid time).
I was at a meeting once and something a speaker said really struck with me: tedium unmasks sleepiness. If you aren’t sleep deprived, you won’t fall asleep in a boring class (even if you want to). However, if you are sleep deprived, you’re pretty likely to fall asleep in tedious situations. And, let’s be real here— online classes aren’t as engaging as in person classes.
Even if you don’t fall asleep, it’ll be difficult to participate. So for teenagers, you need eight to nine hours of sleep a night. Younger kids say middle-schoolers nine to 10 hours of sleep. If you are a, grown-up such as myself set up seven and a half to eight and a half hours of sleep at night, high-quality sleep is key.
2. Drink cold water or chew gum.
These are both things that help my narcolepsy patients stay awake in class. If you aren’t familiar with narcolepsy, it is a rare disorder which causes significant sleepiness during the day.
It just helps them wake up a little bit, especially if they need to push through the end of a class. So this may be useful for you as well.
Make sure that your are muted and not too closely mic’d— you don’t want to be the guy with the loud mouth noise
The fact is if you are standing up, you are not going to fall asleep and you’re actually going to feel more alert. If you are able to move around during a class, it can help. If you can, position your Chromebook or laptop, so you can stand up. Stretching can also help.
If you can pop in some headphones and walk around your room a little bit, that will also help wake you up.
Between classes, if you could get a little bit of exercise. Do some yoga, do some pushups, et cetera. That’ll actually get your heart rate going and it will help you be more alert when you go into your next class.
Of course again, it might be a little bit weird if you’re doing air squats while you’re on your conference call, but I don’t know maybe your teacher or your boss is going to be cool with that.
4. Take a short nap.
To be clear: don’t do this during your classes, but if you have 10 or 15 minutes beforehand, take what I call a short tactical nap.
I’m talking about a 10 or 15 minute nap where you put your head down. A really short nap will help your alertness for a few hours and can help you push through the end of the day.
Prolonged naps are a no-no cause they’re going to make it more difficult for you to fall asleep at night and then result in more sleep deprivation and sleepiness the next day. These naps are not three or four hour naps where you’re under your covers and your bed, because those are going to interfere with sleep onset.
Let’s talk about your friend and mine: caffeine. Caffeine certainly helps people stay awake. Cup of coffee or tea in the morning can be very helpful, but I’m going to put an asterix after caffeine because we also know that it can interfere with sleep onset.
(Link to caffeine article)
So I usually recommend that if you are really sensitive to caffeine, avoid it after 12 o’clock noon, because otherwise it can linger in your system long enough to interfere with falling asleep at bedtime. If you’re pounding cups of coffee while you’re trying to finish a term paper at 11 o’clock at night, you’re probably not going to be able to fall asleep and again, you’re going to have difficulty the next day (see #1).
6. Natural light exposure
If you can set up your desks, you near a window, get some natural sunlight coming in. It helps you wake up. You can also just get a bright lamp. It’ll help with the lighting in your classes as well. And believe it or not, we’ll help you wake up a little bit.
At night time, remember that bright light can actually interfere with sleep onset. If you are having problems falling asleep at night, you might want to consider going on a “light diet” in the evenings.
7. Think about your body position.
You don’t want to be lying down your bed because what do you do in your bed? You sleep. If you’re trying NOT to sleep, don’t be in your bed. If you’ve got a desk again, if you can stand up if you’re lucky, if you’re slumped over in a beanbag chair, you might fall asleep. However, if you are sitting on a stool without a back, you may be more likely to stay awake. (If you fell asleep, you’d probably fall on the floor. I don’t want that to happen to you, but again, you’re probably not going to fall asleep).
What else helps keep you awake?
These are the things that I found helpful for myself and for my patients in terms of staying awake during online or soon school or work. If you have any other ideas, please leave them in the comments below, because I’m really curious to hear them.