Sleep is an essential daily routine. But what if it sets in at the wrong hour or in a moment when you need to stay awake? How do you resist the naturally compelling urge to sleep?
This article will give you the best tips on how to resist the urge to sleep. Before that, though, we will discuss two related questions:
- Why do people feel the urge to sleep at odd hours of the day?
- When does sleep become an urge to be resisted?
Why Do People Feel the Urge to Sleep at Odd Hours of the Day?
Scientists explain that sleep follows a naturally programmed rhythm. From the moment we wake up, our body begins to release the sleep hormone known as melatonin in preparation for the regular time of sleep.
At the same time, the body chemicals that sustain wakefulness are also building to keep us alert, especially in the late hours of the afternoon. If the timing of the sleep and wakefulness hormones collide, we find ourselves falling asleep at odd times of the afternoon.
So when you start snoozing, it is a sign that your body does not send the signal to stay awake but instead sends the signal to sleep.
Several factors make the sleep hormone overshadow the wakefulness hormone to send the “sleep now” signal.
Here are some of the key factors.
You may have heard about the chronotype trait or people being a Lark or an Owl.
- The Owl is a late-night bird and depicts people who can stay late into the night working or chatting away the night into the wee hours.
- The Lark represents people who may sleep in the early hours of the night but are awake very early, similar to this early morning bird.
Research suggests that being a Lark or an Owl has genetic foundations.
So if you genetically tend towards being a morning person (Lark), you will be alert in the early hours of the day but tend to doze off in the afternoon.
The evening person (Owl) will do the opposite; be alert in the afternoon and snooze in the morning hours.
This is probably the number one reason for sleeping out of time.
The 2019 Global Relaxation Report indicates that “more than half of the world is getting less sleep than they need.” This is around 51%.
The recommended amount of sleep for an adult is 7+ hours. Anything less than that is considered a short sleep duration within 24 hours. When this rhythm is consistent, it turns into sleep deprivation.
Without a consistent sleep routine, your sleep and alertness clock is disordered. You can experience involuntary sleep episodes at odd moments during the day.
While sleep deprivation is generally self-induced, insomnia is an involuntary struggle to sleep. The person may feel sleepy but is unable to fall asleep. Doctors will diagnose you for insomnia when all other sleep disorders have been ruled out.
Apart from the inability to sleep, other insomnia symptoms include waking up consistently during the night and waking up very early without being able to get back to sleep.
Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that causes people to feel extremely sleepy during the day. This may lead to involuntarily sleeping during normal activities.
Unfortunately, this sleep disorder can be managed but not cured.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a sleep disorder triggered by the blockage of the upper airway. The disorder causes sleep-related breathing issues that lead to repeated awakening.
If not treated, OSA causes impaired vigilance during the day, compromising your efficiency in carrying out the day’s activities.
A device known as Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) helps to manage OSA by keeping your airways open during sleep.
Several other causes of sleepiness include swapping the night with day for work reasons, drug and alcohol abuse, a sedentary life, obesity, using certain medications, and depression.
When Does Sleep Become an Urge to Be Resisted?
Nodding off when you need or want to be awake can become problematic in these situations:
- Snoozing while driving
- Easily drifting to sleep any time you are inactive, irrespective of the context
- Dozing off during important moments like meetings, classes, or at the work desk
- Needing daily naps at specific times of the day.
- Struggling to get out of bed every morning even after a good night’s sleep
If you find yourself in any of these situations, knowing how to resist the urge to sleep is necessary.
How to Resist the Urge to Sleep
Whether you want to stay awake for work reasons or just because it’s an odd moment to be snoozing, some choices that can help you cope with this compelling urge. Here is a comprehensive list of sleep-fighting options.
Sleep is a relaxation mechanism. So to fall asleep, you have to be relaxed.
Engaging in exercise will disturb the relaxed state of your body. This means increasing the rate of blood flow in parts of the body where it might be slow, like the brain. You will feel more energized and be more productive in what you are doing.
If you love the gym, scheduling your workout in the mid-afternoon hours is an optimal way to stay alert for the remaining hours of the day. You may have to reduce the amount of energy you put into the workout, but your body will have the drive to stay awake.
A short walk, stretching out, or just moving around in the office will re-energize you and get you back to your activity with greater efficiency.
Eating a balanced diet
A heavy meal triggers sleep. Once the food is consumed, the body produces chemicals that increase blood sugar levels making you feel full. The resulting insulin is sent to the cells to provide energy. Also, the blood chemicals serotonin and melatonin are produced and are responsible for the feeling of sleepiness.
This process can vary with the type of food you eat. Foods rich in protein have the amino acid tryptophan, which causes high production of serotonin and the consequent feeling of drowsiness. It follows that eating a meal with high amounts of proteins and carbohydrates will make you sleepy.
The amount of food also makes a difference. Because higher levels of the blood are directed to the digestive system after eating, a temporary shortage of nutrients and blood is created in the brain, causing sleepiness.
A significant relationship between food and sleep is also explained by the fact that being sleep-deprived can affect the hormones that control hunger.
If you are sleepy, you may crave high energy foods, which then disrupts the balance in your body chemicals, making you even sleepier.
The ideal situation is to eat a balanced diet that is rich in all three types of food so that the body’s chemical balance is not messed up in a way that makes you feel sleepy. Eating smaller energy-rich meals works better than a heavy meal.
Avoiding sugars is also advised because they create abrupt surges of insulin.
Dehydration works against your entire body system. Your heart works harder when your body is lacking the essential amount of fluids. The flow of oxygen into the brain and other parts of the body is also limited. The result is a constant feeling of fatigue and lack of energy.
Drinking plenty of water will keep you alert in many ways. First, you have a consistent supply of energy to your brain and body. Second, getting up from your desk to fill your water mug or visit the restroom serves as a form of exercise that fights the urge to snooze.
The third reason water helps you stay awake is because it is detoxifying and increases the rate at which you burn calories. This makes your body lighter and energized.
There is also a fourth way you can use water to help you stay awake. If you go to sleep dehydrated, your mouth and nasal airways will get dry, predisposing you to snoring and poor sleep.
Lack of fluids has also been associated with nocturnal cramps in your legs, which disrupt your sleep. Poor sleep means less energy when you need to stay alert during the day.
Get a dose of caffeine at the right time
Caffeine is a stimulant that acts on the central nervous system, increasing your blood pressure and energy levels. This makes you alert, preventing you from sleeping.
People metabolize caffeine differently. Some will drink a cup of coffee but still sleep deeply a few minutes later, while others will stay awake half the night with a cup of black tea. Some may metabolize caffeine quickly, while others may do so slowly. All this determines the effect that caffeine has on your sleepiness.
A dose of caffeine in the morning may give you the boost you need to stay awake and start your day energized. But the same may deprive you of sleep if taken after 2 pm, depending on how fast or slow you metabolize caffeine. This works against the goal of staying awake because a sleepless night means a tired day.
If you want to use caffeine to fight the urge to sleep, then study its effects on your body system. Taking caffeine to stay awake at work in the afternoon but risking to stay up all night means you are better off trying other methods of controlling sleepiness.
Talk to a colleague
If your urge to sleep is uncontrollable, you can talk to your workmate to put off snoozing. Making a work-related call could also serve as a conversation.
When you talk to someone, your brain and other senses like hearing and seeing are activated. Speaking also activates your mouth muscles, and the same is true if your colleague cracks a joke and makes you laugh.
Besides, laughing releases the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine, which positively rewards your brain and helps you stay awake.
Five minutes of conversation is enough to help you reawaken your drooping mind and body. More than that may become a distraction for your work or activity.
The relaxation that comes with meditation can make you drift to sleep. But the concentration that is required in meditation may also serve to fight the urge to doze.
Especially when it is done systematically, meditation requires you to focus on your body and senses. The mental and physical images or sounds that inspire your reflection and meditation goal also stimulate alertness.
A five minutes mediation at work may be geared towards reawakening your relaxing brain and body muscles. You can do this by sitting upright with your arms resting on the seat and mentally repeating a motivation phrase. Doing so will reactivate your brain and cause your body to be alert again.
The key point here is that quick meditation is consciously intended to reawaken your brain and body. Otherwise, it turns to a nap.
Moving to a different room will make your meditation more productive than staying on the same spot.
Light up your space
There is a natural link between light and sleep. Light is a core part of your circadian rhythm, the natural clock that regulates the sleep-wake process.
Even though the circadian rhythm is internally controlled, it can be moderated by external cues such as the amount of light in a space. The eye detects the amount of light in our space so that the internal and external clocks are synchronized.
A dark room will mimic night time for the circadian rhythm while a bright room reflects the day. If your space is well lit, your internal clock helps you stay awake because it records the day time.
Give your face a splash of cold water
You have probably seen one person force another to awaken by splashing them with cold water. Washing your face with cold water, or better, even taking a cold shower, sends a wave of adrenaline throughout your body and stimulates blood flow.
The temperature of cold water is usually way below that of the body, which causes a stimulation shock. The sudden change fuels blood flow and awakens your body, making it difficult to drift back to the sleepy state. Your body will need to go back to the regular flow of blood slowly.
Not every employer will be amused to see their employee chewing continuously. But chewing gum keeps your head and face muscles active, stimulating the flow of blood to the brain. The result is greater alertness and concentration.
Studies have shown that people who chew gum during a cognitive exercise have quicker reaction time compared to those who don’t. This is especially true when people have been on a task for some time.
Chewing gum during those hours of the day when you are already tired and tend to sleep will reactivate your alertness and keep you from sleeping.
Play some music
Listening involves more than just your ear. When you hear a sound, your ear sends signals to your brain to decode the sound and words. This makes your brain more alert.
Opt for energetic rather than slow rhythm music because the latter can also serve to relax you and lead you to sleep.
Using earphones makes the sound closer to your ear and creates a greater impact on your capacity to be alert. Besides, earphones will keep you from disturbing those around you.
Turn on the fan
There are five reasons warmer temperatures activate the urge to sleep.
- Heat tends to dehydrate, creating a feeling of fatigue.
- The body expends energy to keep cool, as in the case of sweating. This also comes with exhaustion.
- The brain may associate being warm with being cozy and so become relaxed and lead to sleep.
- Blood pressure tends to drop with the rise in temperatures, and this implies less blood in the brain. The result is less alertness and a feeling of drowsiness.
- Sleeping makes your blood pressure drop. Your body may activate the need to sleep to keep cooler.
If you want or need to stay awake, turning on the fan and preferably directing it to your face has the same impact as a natural cool breeze. It will help you stay alert and keep your brain and body energized.
Take a quick nap
In extreme cases of sleep deprivation, the body reaches a point where staying awake is altogether impossible. Taking a power nap is the only way out in this case.
You can place your head on the desk or recline back in your seat and close your eyes for a 15 minutes nap. You’ll be surprised at how effective the nap can be in restoring your energy and alertness.
A power nap is also advisable when you are struggling with sleep while driving. Pulling over and taking that nap can save you from the worst scenario.
If you want or need to be awake at that moment when sleep grips you, you should exercise or eat or drink something that stimulates your blood flow. A rapid flow of blood keeps your brain, and physical muscles become alert.
Not everyone will fight sleep in the same way. You need to experiment and see what works best for you.