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How to Stay Awake at Work: 45+ Ways to Stay Alert All Day

by Caileen Kehayas | Last Updated August 18, 2016
How to Stay Awake at Work

It’s 2:30pm and your eyelids are very, very heavy. You swore hours passed since the last time you glanced at the clock at 2:15pm.

How are you ever going to stay awake at work?

We have all been there, in the afternoon slump when your forehead seems like it is magnetized to your desk and you just… cannot…. stay… awake.

Fortunately, we have help for you.  

Whether you are falling asleep right this moment, have regular trouble with drowsiness or you simply want to be more energized at work, we have solutions for you!

Follow these tried and true tips for getting great sleep, energizing your body (and your mind!) and staying awake at work.

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Everyday Practices

Exercise

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Exercise

You knew this was coming! Exercise gives you energy! Really!

Starting your day with exercise will give you compounded energy throughout the day. If you cannot bear to get up that early, you can also use your lunch break to go for a quick walk, jog or bike ride (depending on how sweaty you want to get!)

If you simply do not have the time to spare, some simple stretches can also get your blood circulating to keep you awake. A good rule is to stand up every 20 to 30 minutes. Replace that email or slack message you were going to send with an old-fashioned walk over to a colleague’s office. Walk over to grab a glass of cold water. (cold + water + movement = triple stay awake threat)

In addition, just as exercise helps you with energy during the day, exercise will also help you sleep better come nighttime. However, do not make the mistake of exercising too close to bedtime, as this will energize you too much to fall asleep.

Snacks

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Snacks

We are not talking about one of those yard-long Pixy Stix here. A great midday snack packed with natural energy can be a great replacement for that third cup of coffee.

Bananas are a great midday snack. Their natural sweetness takes longer to metabolize than processed or artificial sugars.

Peanut butter is also a great energizing snack, as it is jam-packed with protein. In fact, a handful of nuts will provide sustained energy for your afternoon slump.

A protein bar is great for someone on-the-go for prolonged energy. Make sure that your protein bar is around 100-200 calories and not a meal replacement bar packed with artificial sweetener and, well, calories.

In short, if you are going to opt for a snack, make sure to make it count!

Hydrate Yourself

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Hydrate Yourself

Staying hydrated is key to not only your health in general but also to staying alert. The ultimate hydrator, water, offers almost limitless benefits. Water boosts your energy by helping oxygen flow to the brain and bodily organs.

For an added boost, drink ice cold water!

Posture

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Posture

I know this list is beginning to sound like your grandmother scolding you, but sit up straight!

Our bodies take in up to 30% less oxygen when we are slumped over our desks. Next time you are feeling that slump at work, make sure it is not you who is slumping! Realign yourself so that your chin is up and your shoulders are back.

Find a Work BFF

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Find a Work BFF

Think of how excited you get when you see your best friend. Now, imagine getting that excited Monday through Friday.

Make yourself a work best friend.

This can be a person with whom you feel comfortable enough with to confide in, giggle by the water cooler and discuss the day’s events. If you are feeling beaten down by the day, take a stroll over your work BFF’s desk and take a minute to laugh or commiserate!

Eat Lunch Away From Your Desk

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Eat Lunch Away From Your Desk

Don’t be a slave to your desk! Changing up scenery, especially in a 9 to 5 setting, it absolutely crucial to keeping your energy up. Leaving your desk to eat a sandwich will pry you away from “work mode” for a few minutes.

Try to combine this with some other tips. Eat your lunch in a sunny spot, in a park down the street, or over some laughs with your work BFF.

Managing Productivity in Time Slots

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Managing Productivity in Time Slots

If you are having trouble staying awake and you still have hours left in your day, compartmentalize your day. Break the remainder of the day into manageable time slots, maybe 20 minutes apiece.

Use each time slot to achieve a specific task. You will find the time goes by faster when broken up into pieces.

Pre-Schedule Your Workday

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Pre-Schedule Your Workday

If the mid-afternoon slump has become a part of your everyday, consider pre-scheduling your days in advance, from beginning to end.

Having dedicated times for specific tasks will make you at once more productive and help the day go by without focusing on sleepiness or dragging.

Stay Awake During Commute

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Stay Awake During Commute

This is a no-brainer if you drive to work.

However, to those of you who take a train or a bus, try to stay awake on your commute to work. Use this time to exercise your brain by reading, working on a crossword or listening to your favorite podcast.

Nodding off on your commute into work will only leave you groggy upon arrival. Use your commute to wake up completely, not to backpedal into sleep mode.

Talk to Someone

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Talk to Someone

Talk to someone! Anyone! If you find your head magnetized to your keyboard, shake it off for a moment. Stand up and talk to a coworker about an upcoming meeting or an upcoming sporting event.

Take a moment outside of yourself to interact with someone else.

Don't Look at The Clock

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Don't Look at The Clock

Try not to look at the clock every two minutes.

Immerse yourself in an activity that can take your focus off the time slowly ticking by! Take the time to complete a menial task to distract yourself. Organize some files or archive some papers that don’t need to be sitting on your desk.

Engaging in semi-mindless and repetitive activities will help time tick by without your noticing.

Get a Standing Desk

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Get a Standing Desk

If sitting all day is zapping your energy, consider changing over to a standing desk. Standing desks help in reducing your risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

At the same time, it is much harder to fall asleep while standing up!

Stay Positive

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Stay Positive

Don’t give into negative thoughts!

Focusing on keeping your energy positive. When you feel tired or dragging, reorient your thoughts to recent achievements or exciting projects to come.

Reduce Stress & Worry

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Reduce Stress & Worry

Stress and worry are two huge causes of lethargy. Try to leave them behind!

If stress and worry are unavoidable in your day-to-day, schedule yourself a designated “worry time”- use this time to address your worries and try not to let them control your entire day.

Another useful practice is to ask yourself, “Is this a solvable problem?”

If the answer is, no try to let it go.

Make & Tackle a List

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Make & Tackle a List

This is a good practice in general. At the beginning of every week, make a list of things you need to get done. They can be long-term goals you want to work towards or simple tasks like buying cake mix for a birthday party.

When you find yourself really sleepy, get one of these tasks done. Call your pharmacy to refill a prescription or make that appointment with the allergist you have been putting off for months.

Avoid Heavy Meals

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Avoid Heavy Meals

Don’t go out for a king’s feast at lunch.

Large, heavy meals will leave you feeling lethargic. You will also want to steer clear of foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, as they will leave you feeling doubly tired after a large meal.

Instead, aim for food high in fiber and protein. Instead of packing or buying a huge lunch, try separating your food intake into smaller, more manageable meals. The second half of that giant turkey sandwich will still be there after lunch hour is over.

 

Last Resorts

Get a New Job

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Get a New Job

Is this an extreme solution? Yes!

Is your sleepiness at work a symptom of being really tired or ar you just drained from your particular job? If you are feeling consistently unstimulated, bored and tired, you might consider that you just hate your job.

Do you count down the minutes to lunch only to then count down the minutes until 5pm?

Are you insanely bored with the work you are doing?

Even when you are at your busiest, are you still bored?

Do you suspect that the fluorescent office lighting is actually sucking your soul from your body?

If the answer to one or more of these questions is yes, it might be time to consider looking for a new job!

Scare Yourself

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Scare Yourself

This seems silly, but it could work.

Remember those videos on YouTube that seemed like a normal tutorial and then a demon pops out on the screen and scares you? Well, if you're an easy scare like me, that could wake you up.

Whatever you do, though, do not resort to searching out ailments on WebMD. That is too scary.

Pinch Yourself

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Pinch Yourself

This seems a little silly, but giving yourself a good pinch will awaken your senses much like a splash of frigid water. Give yourself an energizing pinch on your arms or legs to awaken your senses.

Take it easy, though! Don’t pinch yourself so many times (or so hard) that you are covered in bruises!

Energy Drinks

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Energy Drinks

I am begrudgingly adding this as an option, because it is a route many people take when desperate.

Energy drinks are an effective solution for a quick boost of energy when you are really lagging. While pounding a Red Bull may give you temporary wings, you will probably crash out after.

If there is a local juice shop around, seek out a healthy and natural energy-boosting juice.

 

Preventative Measures

Eat a Good Breakfast

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Eat a Good Breakfast

Eating a good breakfast is the best start to an energy-filled day. Make sure to make it count!

Instead of fueling up with three bowls of Lucky Charms, make sure your breakfast is a good mix of healthy carbs, protein and fiber for long-lasting energy. Check out some of the healthiest foods you should be having for breakfast!

Increase Your Iron Intake

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Increase Your Iron Intake

Iron is an essential mineral for your body. As an important component in hemoglobin, iron helps your red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body.

Iron helps your daily brain function as well as your body’s ability to fight off infection. The recommendation for daily iron intake is 8 mg for men and 18 mg for women.

Put Away Your Screens

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Put Away Your Screens

In late 2014, The Huffington Post published an article called Reading On A Screen Before Bed Might Be Killing You. Yikes!

Like we spoke about on the issue of sunlight and Circadian rhythm, light can trick your brain into being more alert.

Staring at a screen close to bedtime, whether it is a phone, a television, a tablet or a computer screen, causes your hypothalamus (the area of your brain that controls your sleep) to delay the release of the sleep hormone, melatonin.

It is advisable to ditch your glowing screens at least 15-30 minutes before you sleep. If possible, try to make the bedroom a completely technology-free zone.

If you are irreversibly addicted to Netflix, seriously consider installing f.lux, free software that will warm up your device’s display (and warn you about your wake-up time!) in the evening.

Strict Bedtime

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Strict Bedtime

Speaking of bedtime, you will want to adhere to a schedule.

I know this is easier said than done, but going to sleep and waking up at the same time everyday will help you immensely.

Adequate Sleep

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Adequate Sleep

Make sure you are getting the recommended eight hours of sleep. Do not skimp on sleep!

Recent studies have shown that people who get six hours of sleep or just about as useful and productive as those who had not slept at all.

Allowing 8 hours of sleep is important for a variety of reasons. Lack of sleep leads to weight gain, moodiness, stress, irritability, increased risk of diabetes and the list goes on (and on).

 

Quick Fixes

Caffeine

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Caffeine

If you are reading this, chances are that you have already tried coffee, maybe lots of it, and it has not worked out.

Typically one cup of coffee causes an alert feeling in as little as 15 minutes. After that, it stays in your body for hours with a half life of about six hours.

PRO TIP: Next time you are feeling drowsy at work, consider your last cup of coffee yesterday. Did you consume it within six hours of your bedtime? If so, you could have seriously disrupted your sleep.

Be aware that drinking coffee everyday can cause your body to build up a tolerance to caffeine. As a result, the one or two coffees you drank to keep you awake may turn into three or four.

If you feel that you have developed a dependence on caffeine and that is does not work as well as it used to, consider cutting down. You may even speak to your doctor about a plan to safely and effectively cut back on your intake.

Ideally, an adult should limit consumption to about 250 milligrams a day, roughly the equivalent of three 8-ounce cups of the good stuff.

In case you haven’t considered caffeine, you might. Start small with a cup of standard brew coffee.

Sunlight

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Sunlight

The sun has been waking humans up for as long as humans have been roaming the earth. Your body’s circadian rhythm is regulated by the sun. If you are feeling very drowsy at work and the sun is shining outside, take advantage. Get yourself to a window in your office, or better, get yourself into the sun.

Just a  few minutes’ exposure to natural sunlight will energize your body. 

Is it winter in Seattle with no sunlight to be found for months? Resort to artificial light. Outfit your desk with an additional lamp. This will do a world of good for your energy levels, especially in the dark months of winter.

In addition to artificial sunlight, you might consider looking into VItamin D supplements.

Vitamin D is the hormone normally produced when your skin is exposed to sunlight. It naturally boosts your energy. Aside from supplements, you may find Vitamin D is in foods like fish, butter, eggs and cheese.

Power Naps

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Power Naps

Ah, the wondrous power nap! Your kindergarten teacher knew some things about life, after all.

For those who can acquire it, it may be the ultimate fix for sleepiness at work. If you follow the two cardinal rules of the power nap aka the disco nap aka the cat nap, you will awake refreshed, energized and clear-headed.

Be consistent with your naps: Keep a regular naptime, if possible. Mid-day, between 1pm and 3pm, is the optimal time for a post-lunch quick snooze.

Limit your nap time: Set an alarm for no longer than 20 minutes. Keeping the power nap between 15 and 20 minutes will have you waking up feel refreshed.

Longer naps could lead to late afternoon grogginess, from which it can be hard to recover.

Music

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Music

Everybody has their own special power songs, no matter how embarrassing they might be (mine is “Break Stuff” by Limp Bizkit. You're welcome.)

Music triggers emotional responses in the brain and awakens some of your concentration skills. You don’t necessarily need to listen to loud, heavy music.

Studies have shown that surgeons who listen to music while performing repetitive tasks improved their speed and accuracy when compared to surgeons who did not listen to music at all.

Music, especially with a fixed tempo and volume, is proven to help employees with focus and energy. 

Exposure to Cold

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Exposure to Cold

Your body wants to keep you warm. How nice!

By splashing some water on your face, ditching a layer of clothing or standing in front of an air conditioning vent, you can immediately throw your body into a little bit of a shock.

In order to keep your organs properly functioning, your body needs to regulate its internal temperature. When your body detects cold (or extreme cold), it will immediately wake itself up to regulate its temperature. Removing your cardigan in a cold office will cause your body to consistently work to keep warm.

Splashing cold water on your face in particular activates the trigeminal nerve, which both controls all that you feel on your face and is the most sensitive nerve in the human body. When exposed to sudden cold, it will send a jolt response to the brain.

Voila, awake!

Scent

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Scent

Many scents are proven to help energize and awaken.

Whether good or bad, a pungent smell can make you alert very quickly. Instead of rummaging through the fridge for your co-workers’ 3 month-old beef casserole to wake you up, try some pleasant scents instead.

Good scents can give energy, too!

 A strong citrus scent will not only wake you up. The scent of fruits can also boost your body’s serotonin levels, giving a feeling of happiness. Lemon scent has also been proven to increase mental stimulation.

Peppermint, rosemary and eucalyptus can also help you to wake up and stay alert. Consider buying these scents in essential oil form and keeping them at your desk for an afternoon pick-me-up!

DIY Acupuncture

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DIY Acupuncture

If you have an acupuncturist on call, then by all means, call him on!

If not, massaging the back of your hand between your thumb and index finger will provide a boost in energy. If that still doesn’t do the trick, you may also try rubbing behind your knees.

Try Yogic Breathing

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Try Yogic Breathing

Warning This one might be a bit... noisy.

Try some yogic breathing to awaken your body. Start with 15 seconds of rapid inhale-exhales followed by 15 seconds of regular breathing. For an added boost, move your shoulders up and down to the rhythm of your breathing.

You may also try taking deep, concentrated breaths, inhaling for 4 counts, holding your breath for 7 counts and exhaling for 8 counts.

Laugh Break

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Laugh Break

This is where you break out your arsenal of cat videos to liven up your day!

Taking a few minutes to smile, giggle or just LOL it out is a guaranteed energy booster. We all have different sense of humor, but this video (sent to me originally from a co-worker) always works when I need a 20-second pick up.

Don’t confuse this laugh break with hours of internet videos. Pick about 5 minutes’ worth of your favorites, laugh it out and try to get back to productive work.

Chew Ice or Gum

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Chew Ice or Gum

Chewing anything awakens your body by tricking it into thinking it is about to eat.

When you chew on anything (even the top of a pencil) your body will begin to release insulin and keep you alert.

Chewing ice also adds the cold factor which awakens your brain.

Give Your Eyes a Break

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Give Your Eyes a Break

At many jobs, you will likely find yourself face-to-face with a glowing screen for the majority of your day.

Give your eyes a break by looking across the office or out a window. The key is to give your eyes a break from focusing on something as close to you as your monitor.

Take the Stairs

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Take the Stairs

This is a great solution, even if you work on the fiftieth floor of a high rise.

While you may not be equipped to take the stairs the entire way, you may opt to take the elevator to about five floors below your office and climb the rest of the way.

As stairways tend to be a more private place, you can also enact a small workout by running up and down some stairs, taking two or three stairs at a time or by leap-frogging up some steps.

Game Break

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Game Break

Much like the laugh break, this is not an excuse to spend the remainder of your day playing solitaire. However, take a five minute break to awaken your brain.

Open a crossword and devote five minute an hour to solving as much as possible. By the end of the day, you will hopefully have a completely conquered crossword.

With the dawn of virtual reality games, you can also combine your game break with a walking break and some time in the sun.

Go catch a few Pokemon, some rays and some steps on your Fitbit all in one five-minute span!

Switch Tasks

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Switch Tasks

Is your work boring you to death? Can it wait until tomorrow?

If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then take some time to refocus your efforts. Everybody has tasks on the backburner that need to be done.

Take this opportunity to crank out a quick, easy task. Once you put a checkmark next to something on your to-do list, you will feel a sense of achievement and the accompanying energy alongside it!

Writing Exercise

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Writing Exercise

This may not come naturally to everyone, but try it out. Take out a pen and paper or open a Word document.

Set a three-minute timer. Take this time to write out some specific goals, to express how you are feeling or to brainstorm a new project or idea.

If you are lucky, you will feel yourself drawing inspiration from a dedicated writing exercise!

Organize Your Desk

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Organize Your Desk

This is a great way to help you stay focused, declutter and organize your workspace.

If you are nodding off, stand up and organize your physical desk. Throw out old food wrappers, recycle and shred papers you no longer need. You may even take this opportunity to tack a picture or two on your wall.

Once that is done and you have achieved perfect desk feng shui, repeat this task on the desktop of your computer. Rename and organize files so that your desktop doesn’t look like the mess of files that mine does at the moment :)

Meditate

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Meditate

Meditation may sound like a one-way ticket to sleep town for someone who is battling heavy eyelids. Much like a power nap, a ten-minute meditation session can help you rest, refocus and come back to your work energized.

Take the time to rest your eyes and concentrate on your intentions for the remainder of the day.

Do 30 Seconds of Push-Ups

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Do 30 Seconds of Push-Ups

This one is pretty self-explanatory.

For a quick rush of energy, do thirty seconds of rapid activity. Try sit-ups, push-ups or jumping jacks to get your blood quickly flowing. For best results (and maybe a few laughs) see if you can coerce a few coworkers to join you.

Tug Your Earlobes

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Tug Your Earlobes

Much like rubbing the space between your thumb and forefinger, massaging your earlobes will also elicit a waking response. Pull gently, but with pressure, down on your earlobes in order to hit a popular accupressure point for an awake feeling.

 

Unconventional

Nurse Your Coffee/Tea Throughout The Day

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Nurse Your Coffee/Tea Throughout The Day

Instead of taking a giant cup of coffee or tea to the face as soon as you wake up, consider waiting a little while and then drinking slowly.

Studies show that your body doesn’t “need” your first coffee until about an hour after you wake up, when your cortisol levels begin to drop.

Try experimenting with this method. Then, instead of swallowing coffee after coffee in order to stay awake, try sipping slowly to stretch out your caffeine (and to limit your intake)

Take a Shot (of Apple Cider Vinegar)

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Take a Shot (of Apple Cider Vinegar)

Apple Cider is basically a cure-all.

Google pretty much any ailment and you will find a recommendation for Apple Cider Vinegar to cure it.

ACV has been linked to lower diabetes rates, improved cholesterol, weight loss, vibrant and silky hair, increased energy, and much more.

Take a shot of ACV mixed with water for instant energy and the dozens of health benefits that come with it!

PRO TIP: Do not take a shot of Apple Cider Vinegar on an empty stomach. It is, after all, vinegar.

Massage

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Massage

Give yourself a quick massage, to the best of your ability.

While you may not be able to enact a deep tissue Swedish massage on yourself, you may get your blood circulating by massaging your own neck, shoulder and head to give yourself a jolt of energy.

Set a Competition With Yourself

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Set a Competition With Yourself

When you are nodding off at your desk, try getting tough with yourself.

Challenge yourself to finish a specific task by a specific time in order to energize yourself. When faced with repetitive tasks, challenge yourself to make it more efficient, faster and better each time around. Remember, you are your greatest competitor.

In Conclusion

Every human body is different.

Some people need sunshine, coffee, exercise and nine hours  of sleep to function properly. A mere 3% of the human population is equipped with a gene that allows them to survive on less than six hours of sleep a night and operate just fine.

Some people need an IV of coffee before they can even think of rolling out of bed in the morning. Others go through their whole lives without touching caffeine at all.

Try out some of these tips. Let us know if these or other  hacks that have worked for you.

Of course, if you have continued issues with sleep, it is best to consult your physician!

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Topics: how to stay awake at work

Caileen Kehayas

Written by Caileen Kehayas

Caileen is the Director of Marketing at Proven. When she is not blogging or tweeting, she likes to hit the nearest trail for a run, take her camera on a trip or curl up with a good book.

 

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