How to Stay Awake in Class: 15 Steps to Keep Your Eyes Open
Have you ever fallen asleep in class?
There’s no need to be ashamed about dozing off in class. It is actually a natural phenomenon that people can only stay completely focused on something for a maximum of 10 minutes.
Unfortunately, most classes last longer (often waaaay longer) than 10 minutes. In addition, many class instructors ignore this information or are totally oblivious to this learning process.
The problem, of course, is that falling asleep in class can cause poor academic performance. Furthermore, dozing off during an important activity or event on a regular basis can develop into a habit that you might carry into other areas of your life (e.g., in your career or during important gatherings that require your participation).
This article explores the reasons why students fall asleep during class hours, and offers tips on how to stay awake in class.
First, let’s explore some more possible reasons why students can’t stay awake in class.
Why Can’t I Stay Awake In Class?
The following are some of the most common reasons why students can’t stay awake in class.
You already know what the lesson is all about.
If you feel like you have already mastered the information being presented to you and therefore don't need to pay attention, you may find your mind wandering off as you give yourself permission to relax a bit. With this little bit of relaxation, your body might give in to the temptation to sleep because your mind and body are idle.
The subject is not part of the curriculum for your course, and you’re just taking it for additional units.
If this is the case, you may be in the mindset that you will never need to know the material in your everyday life, so you really don't need to engage in class discussions. If you're not interested in the subject, sleeping may seem like the best use of your time during that class period.
The instructor is a special kind of boring.
Perhaps he or she has a monotone voice that is actually relaxing and sends your body into a state of semi-hypnosis. Or, perhaps you are not an audio learner, and you need visual or kinesthetic methods of teaching for you to be able to absorb the information. This could mean that sitting still and listening is incredibly boring for you, and maybe even a little stressful, making your brain want to shut down.
Also, if your professor doesn't offer any variation in the class and lectures for the entire period, your attention is likely to decrease no matter how interesting the subject matter is. When professors add variety into their teaching methods, it generates students' interest and keeps them engaged.
The lecture is way over your head, confusing, or difficult, and your mind completely zones out.
This could also result in stress and lead to a sense of defeat. Once you feel like you are behind to the point where you won't be able to catch up, you are likely to stop trying. And, once you stop paying attention, you're likely to get bored. The human body has a tendency to fall asleep when it is not presented with motivating stimuli, so this may feel like the perfect time to do just that.
A bored brain becomes tired because the part of the brain associated with motivation and pleasure (called the nucleus accumbens) can also cause you to fall asleep. The neurons in this part of the brain are so powerful that humans cannot distinguish their signals from signals of natural sleep.
You’re feeling under the weather.
The last thing you want to do when you're not feeling well is to listen intently to someone talk—especially if it is about a subject that you are not particularly interested in. You just want to zone out and let your mind relax. If you have a headache or feel sick in some other way, your mind is probably a bit shut down.
It’s too warm and cozy in the classroom.
Maybe you're in a big classroom in a relaxed situation where you are not forced to actively participate. Being in a warm auditorium with comfortable chairs can cause your underlying fatigue to make an appearance.
The four-minute animated film below shows a student struggling to fight off sleep while in class. People who have viewed the video find the scenes very relatable to their own experiences.
How Do I Stay Awake During Class Hours?
1. Avoid eating a large meal before class.
Most people have experienced the notorious "food coma" after eating a large meal, which results in a feeling of heaviness that drains your energy. This happens because the body releases chemicals that signal drowsiness after eating. This is particularly true if you eat certain foods, such as a meal that is high in carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates release more serotonin from the brain, which makes you feel good. However, too much serotonin can increase melatonin production, leading to drowsiness. Basically, not all foods have the same impact on your body. While some foods can increase your energy, others can make you sleepy.
Also, tasking your body with digesting a large meal is exhausting. Eating large portions—especially of unhealthy foods—will leave your body with little energy to use elsewhere. You can keep a stable level of energy if you eat smaller meals more frequently so your body has the opportunity to digest smaller amounts of food at a time, which will leave you feeling energized instead of tired after your meals.
Avoid heavy foods and opt for healthy, balanced meals instead. A healthy meal to eat before class could include fruit, vegetables, lean protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. An example of a well-rounded breakfast to have before class would be one cup of plain Greek yogurt sprinkled with bran flakes and topped with 1/4 cup of berries.
2. Sleep the night before your class.
Students who doze in class often missed sleep the night before. Getting enough sleep is your first line of defense when it comes to staying away in class. Make sure to get some shut eye if you have a class the next day. For most people, eight hours of sleep is sufficient to get through the day, but your body may require more.
Maintaining a regular sleep schedule by going to bed at the same time each night will train your body to know when it needs to be asleep and when it is time to wake up. Allow yourself time to relax before heading to bed by putting away your phone, homework, and other things that keep your mind active. Getting enough high-quality sleep can alleviate daytime fatigue.
3. Take a shower before class.
Showering helps you feel refreshed and awakens your senses. The warm water from your shower raises your body temperature, which also increases your heart rate and circulation so your blood travels around your body faster. This also helps deliver oxygen to your vital organs so your body can work at an optimal level of efficiency.
For an extra boost of energy, finish your shower with a blast of cold water. When your body is exposed to cold water, your arteries and veins constrict, which allows your blood to flow at a higher pressure, meaning that your circulation is even further increased. The cold water will also help wake you up because it will shock your body, forcing you to breathe more deeply. This will increase your oxygen intake, leading you to be more mentally sharp.
4. Have some mints.
The crisp, refreshing smell of mint can awaken your senses and keep you alert in class. When you eat a mint, the menthol component excites your senses and stimulates the hippocampus area of your brain, which directly impacts your mental clarity and memory. The clean smell triggers your mind to wake up and pay attention.
Studies have found that people who are exposed to peppermint become more alert and less tired, have an increased sense of motivation, and become less irritable. Studies have also found that peppermint slows the release of cortisol and can keep people calm by limiting the release of this stress hormone, yet without putting them to sleep.
5. Drink plenty of water, and bring some to class too.
Dehydration causes fatigue and sluggishness. Every cell in your body needs water in order to function, and a deficiency in body water disrupts various processes. Your blood concentration thickens due to a lack of fluid, which results in the reduction of plasma in the blood, which in turn makes the heart work harder to supply oxygen and nutrients to the body. Since more energy is needed for blood circulation, you experience weakness and fatigue.
Secondly, a decline in hydration is typically accompanied by a loss of electrolytes. These chemical ions are present in your bloodstream and play a vital role in regulating your fluid levels, muscle function, and nerve reactions. An electrolyte imbalance leads to tiredness and fatigue, muscle weakness, lightheadedness, and an irregular heartbeat.
6. Munch on a light snack.
If your professor allows eating in class, you can bring some light snacks to munch on. Glucose gives a quick energy boost when you’re feeling drowsy. A sugary snack will give you a quick boost of energy, but it will be followed by an energy crash, which can leave you feeling worse than you did before your snack.
Choose a healthy snack that will keep you satiated and won't cause a spike in your blood sugar levels. Some good options are carrots with hummus, an apple with peanut butter, and yogurt with almonds. The healthy fats and protein will help tide you over and give you lasting energy.
7. Don’t get too warm.
Feeling warm and cozy leads to sleepiness. Typically, your body expends energy to maintain a consistent temperature, but when you get warm, your body has to work overtime to keep you cool. This requires your heart rate and metabolic rate to increase, and this extra effort can make you feel sleepy.
Additionally, we often correlate being warm with being cozy, and coziness leads to sleep. This psychological link is stronger than one may think. When you associate something so strongly with a feeling, such as comfort and sleep, it’s easy for your mind to react accordingly by starting to shut down when you are warm.
Open the nearest window or take off your jacket to keep cool during class. Make sure you wear some layers in case you start to feel sleepy.
8. Take notes.
Keep your attention on what’s going on in class by taking notes as the professor gives the lecture. Taking notes is an effective way to stay awake in class because it forces you to maintain activity in your mind. Your brain will be engaged in class if you write down what is being said.
Taking notes can also help you think more and pay more attention to the lecture. Your notes don't have to be perfect—just write down the main points that you find to be interesting, and any questions that you think of. There are various methods to taking notes, you just have to experiment and find the one that works best for you and keeps you focused.
9. Take notes in a creative way.
Speaking of various methods of note taking, doodling has been proven to be an effective way to maintain focus and recall. Doodling prevents you from completely losing interest when you need to pay attention because it requires enough brain power to prevent you from daydreaming, but not enough to make you lose focus. In other words, doodling helps you anchor your attention and remain engaged rather than zoning out.
Doodling can also help you find solutions to problems. Doodling is thought to activate areas of the brain that help you analyze information in new ways. Even if you are simply drawing on the corner of your paper, you're activating different networks in the brain and engaging with new and different information. Doing this may lead you to come up with a new solution to a problem.
10. Take a quick walk.
Excuse yourself from class and go to the bathroom. The quick stroll can help keep you awake—not only because it will get you up and moving, but also because the change in environment for a few minutes will help your brain stay active.
Physical activity signals to your brain that it’s not quite time to go to sleep. Get your blood pumping a little bit to improve your sense of alertness. When you sit in one place for too long, it slows down your circulation and negatively impacts your state of mind.
You can also use physical activity as a preventative measure before going to class. Take the stairs instead of the elevator on your way to class to increase your heart rate and give you some energy.
11. Sit in the front row.
Sitting in front allows you to become more engaged in the lecture. Just like when you are taking notes, sitting in the front of the class will keep you focused on what the teacher is saying, and less on how tired you are. Also, you will probably be nervous about getting scolded by your teacher for falling asleep, so you will actively keep your eyes open.
It is also easier to pay attention and participate in class when you’re sitting in the front. You will likely be sitting near people who are actively participating in class, and hearing their voices might help keep you awake.
12. Drink green tea.
Green tea has properties that boost your energy without the jitters that others experience when they take coffee. It has about one-third the amount of caffeine as coffee does, so it doesn't give you that quick rush of energy followed by a crash. Green tea also contains L-theanine, which is an amino acid that gives you a feeling of calm alertness.
Drinking green tea throughout the day can also keep you full and prevent you from eating a big meal that will make you tired later on. It will give you a steady stream of energy throughout the day, and the act of sipping on green tea throughout class will keep your body engaged.
13. Listen to isochronic tones.
If the class instructor allows it, listen to brain-entrainment tones to keep awake and stay focused. Listening to isochronic tones is a fast and effective audio-based way to keep your mind stimulated. These sounds can help you improve your focus, increase your energy levels, and get a good night's sleep without taking drugs or using any special equipment.
Listening to isochronic tones leads your brainwave activity to a different frequency, which allows you to alter your mental state and how you feel. Some people report feeling more alert and having an enhanced ability to focus while watching the following video featuring isochronic tones.
14. Use essential oils to raise your energy and perk you up.
Essential oils have properties that keep you energized. The best part is that they don’t have the side effects of palpitations, heartburn, and trembling that some people get when they drink coffee. Inhaling an essential oil can give you the quick burst of energy that you need to stay awake during class.
One of the most well-known essential oils that is used to increase alertness is rosemary. Grapefruit and peppermint essential oils are also popular choices. Keep some essential oils in your bag to take out in the middle of the day if you need a quick pick-me-up.
Stretching resets your nervous system and promotes blood flow, giving you a quick energy boost. Stretching is especially great to do during class if you can't get up and move around, because you can do some simple stretches in your seat. Stretching can activate your energy reserves and help you breathe deeper, giving your body more oxygen to supply to your vital organs.
We’ve learned that a person’s average attention span lasts for 10 minutes. However, most class lectures last much longer than this. It is quite understandable to feel sleepy in classes where the instructor is not aware of this fact, or chooses to ignore it.
The tips on how to stay awake in class provided here serve as a guide to helping you concentrate and focus your attention to maximize your learning.
Try a couple of these suggestions for the next few weeks in the class where you tend to doze off, and see what happens.
Another thing: If the reason you’re drowsy in class is because you’re sick, it might be better to allow yourself to be absent for a day and rest.
Finally, to further motivate you to stay awake during class hours, practice the habit of rewarding yourself when you’ve successfully made it through a couple of weeks without sleeping in class. This post shows you 100+ ways to reward yourself for completing a goal.