Falling Asleep At Work? Here’s How To Stop It

Fatigue, leading up to sleep, during work hours is not uncommon.

In fact, according to a study, more than 50% of Americans sleep at work.

This might be an embarrassing situation for some, especially if you are caught by your boss (or you ARE the boss and are caught by your employees).

Sleepiness at work is known to reduce job performance considerably thus becoming a professional liability that may hamper productivity, safety, and efficiency.

In this article, we will give you some tips on how to stop falling asleep at work. But before we start that, let’s briefly discuss why people sleep at work. 

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Why People Sleep At Work

Here are some reasons why you may be feeling sleepy. Sometimes, taking care of the possible reasons why you may be sleepy at work can reverse the trend and make you stay awake.

1. Stress

In some people, their body reacts to stress by literally shutting down, causing them to sleep when faced with a conflict. Mental exhaustion also puts the body in automatic snooze mode without warning.

This allows your brain to tune out and so, attention to detail and productivity drops drastically. Stress at work due to long hours of work or the nature of the job itself may cause people to sleep more at work, especially at facilities with no designated nap areas or nap periods for workers.

2. Mobile phones: 

phone and sleep

Phones have changed human behavior and the way we interact with each other. With the advent of social media, many people find it difficult to keep away from their devices, usually at the expense of sleep.

Although this is commonest in teenagers, older people have reported losing sleep hours due to social media activity at bedtime in a bid to keep up with the world.

3. Environmental factors:

Employees living close to train stations, airports, event centers (for concerts) or stadiums report a higher rate of problems with getting enough sleep at home and sleep more at work.

The environment plays a crucial part in the length and quality of sleep we get.

4. Medical conditions:

Globally, a lot of people suffer from varying sleep disorders like:

  • narcolepsy (caused by the failure of the brain to regulate sleep cycles leading to excessive daytime sleepiness)
  • sleep apnea (a breathing disorder that affects sleep patterns and quality),
  • sleepwalking
  • insomnia (inability to get into sleep).

For these people, sleeping at work may be nearly impossible without proper medical intervention. For others with conditions such as asthma, cardiovascular disease or epilepsy, overall sleep quality may be reduced causing them to feel sleepy at work.

5. Medications:

Some medicines, like cough syrups and allergy medicines, may cause you to feel drowsy, leading to sleep. Others may induce fatigue and induce sleep.

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How To Stop Falling Asleep At Work

Here are some of our best tips to help you stay awake when at work.

1. Get Enough Sleep At Night

get enough sleep

The average adult human requires around 7-9 hours of sleep. In some people, a culture of prolonged wakefulness means that they have adapted to sleeping for less than 6 hours.

However, sleep is necessary for good health and productivity, memory consolidation, repair of body cells, and cooling the body temperature.

When you do not get enough sleep during your rest period, a sleep debt will be incurred and this may be repaid at work. If you work in a say, an industry or in transportation, this may cause great harm to you and others. If you need to sleep, consider a power nap at break time. Mental fatigue may be as dangerous as drunk driving.

2. Cut Down Caffeine

coffee cup

When approaching bedtime particularly, avoid caffeine-containing products or drugs, unless it is necessary. Cola drinks, coffee, chocolates, and others are counter-productive as they will increase your wakefulness period and prevent you from getting adequate rest.

3. Switch Off Electronics Before Bed

When set to go to bed, avoid the temptation of using your phone, especially for social media, watching television or playing music.

While music may be soothing for some and lead them to sleep faster, for many it stimulates brain activity and therefore increases the time of wakefulness. Instead, you should take a warm bath, and do something relaxing without electronics. An example would be yoga or meditation.

4. Dim Your Bedroom Lights

dim bedroom lights

A well-lit room often tricks your brain into prolonging wakefulness. Conversely, if you feel sleepy at work, moving to a brighter room or turning on the lights may be beneficial to you.

5. Avoid Alcohol At Night

Although you may fall asleep after alcohol ingestion, it is overall a poorer sleep in quality. Also, alcohol can alter your sleep pattern. Choosing warm milk or water is much beneficial for you at bedtime.

6. Earmuffs

If you live in a noisy neighborhood, you should invest in ear muffs or pods. These will save you a lot of quality sleep hours.

7. Avoid Drugs That Cause Drowsiness

medication drowsiness

If you must use them, you should aim for a time close to your sleep period. Also, discuss with your doctor if drowsiness is one of the side effects of any medication you might be taking.

8. Get Interested

Paying maximal attention to work and work activities will increase brain activity and increase wakefulness. Sometimes you might be bored in your department, discuss with your human resource team about the possibility of changing your role to something more in line with your strengths.

9. Eat Healthy And Natural Foods

These will give you the energy necessary to keep the engine running through the day. By extension, never skip breakfast if you can help it. If you need energy for activities just before bedtime, consider fruits as they are a good source of energy, like bananas.

10. Drink Lots Of Water

drinking water

Sometimes, dehydration causes you to feel tired and sleepy. Keep a bottle of water close by to keep you hydrated through the day.

11. Use A Notepad

If you find yourself sleeping at work because you are bored or unable to concentrate, it helps to make a note of all you need to do for the day, at the start of the day then working through each item on the list till completion, with the most tedious jobs appearing at the top of your list.

This keeps your brain activity at a premium and increases wakefulness. Also, a cup of hot coffee at the start of the day could be beneficial.

12. Exercise

stretch

If you are drifting at work and slacking off with your tasks, periodic exercises may help you regain full concentration and wakefulness. Getting up, stretching and moving around or popping out for some fresh air is sure to do you a world of good. Outside of work, taking short walks or joining a gym may also be beneficial.

13. Avoid Paying Detailed Attention To Events Of The Day

This may keep you awake for much longer than you want and, in some cases, throughout your designated sleep period. Thinking about matters with little emotional content can help with the onset of sleep.

14. Look Away

If you work on a computer, take a few minutes to look away from the screen, about every 30 minutes to blink and observe other things. Prolonged screen time may cause you to feel sleepy.

15. Medical Attention

Seek medical intervention if you have a sleep disorder or any other diseases affecting your sleep.

16. Chew Gum

Chewing has been noted to suppress sleepiness. Use this key tip whenever you begin to nod off at work.

17. Avoid Heavy Meals At Lunch

This may cause you to sleep as more blood is directed to your digestive system to process the meal. The key to eating healthy (and staying awake!) is to have balanced meals.

18. Involve Your Colleagues

If you alert others to help you when needed, a friendly nudge or tap may be all you need to power through the day.

Summary

Now that ends our strategies for helping you stay awake at work. However, the most important thing is to find out why you’re feeling sleepy in the first place before applying any of these tips.

If you can identify why you’re always sleepy in the first place, you can then go ahead to work on how to combat your sleepiness.

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Zubair Abdulahi, MBBS

Dr. Zubair Abdulahi is a licensed medical practitioner with a degree in medicine and surgery who is interested in using new media to influence health decisions by providing information on health queries. He has written for top publications in Nigeria like the Guardian. When he's not working as a doctor, he enjoys the game of football as well as sight-seeing and listening to classical music.
Zubair Abdulahi, MBBS
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