How To Stay Awake In Class: Dealing with All Nighters & Building Habits


We Get It- it’s Tough to Stay Awake in Class

Did you pull an all nighter last night studying for something? Were you at a party and lost track of time? Maybe you were binge watching Orange is the New Black.

No matter what the reason is for your staying up late, it can make things very difficult the next day in class. The truth is class is typically pretty boring. Many classes are set in large, dim auditoriums. There’s the background noise of the lecture hall – papers shuffling, hushed murmuring, and the soft clickety click of keyboards. The perfect white noise for a nap. Then the Econ 101 professor comes out and starts talking about the supply and demand curves for blue widgets. It’s like they’re daring you to fall asleep. Never mind the fact that you only slept 3 hours the night before. It feels like a lost cause at this point. Your head is already starting to nod.

Some students feel they might as well just miss class and catch up on sleep. The problem with this is:

  • Skipping class is not conducive to your education
  • Sleeping in perpetuates the problem of staying up too late
  • Each time you skip class, you’re essentially throwing away $50-$70.

Skipping class puts you at risk for missing information and puts you behind in your studies. Getting up early is difficult, but waking up late creates a vicious cycle – if you sleep late you’re not going to go to bed until later. Your entire schedule gets thrown off balance just by pulling an all-nighter or by staying up too late.

Tips to Keep you Awake During Class after an All Nighter

There are a few ways to stay alert and awake while you are in your class, even if you’re totally exhausted. Here are a few key tips and tricks to stay awake in class even if you’ve had little to no sleep.

One trick to staying alert is to interact with the professor. Ask questions about things you are unsure about. Also, engage in classroom discussion. Go ahead and volunteer to help the professor pass out papers or write material on the board. You’re not going to fall asleep mid-discussion with the professor no matter how tired you are.

Another trick is to make sure you bring a small snack or beverage to class. This can give you a mid-lecture energy boost, and it also gives you something to focus on if you feel like you might doze off. At the very least, you want to stay hydrated – you should always have a bottle of water with you. Studies show that dehydration can cause fatigue, moodiness, affect your concentration, and lower your cognitive abilities – these are four things that you absolutely don’t want to be feeling during class. Every time you feel like you’re about to doze off, take a sip of water. This has two effects: it helps hydrate you, which keeps you awake, and it gives you something to do with your hands, which will take your attention away from the fact that you’re about to nod-off.

You can also try chewing gum – this is another thing that can keep your mind off of the fact that your professor is giving the most boring lecture of all time.

Also, consider doing small stretches while in class – stretch your legs out a bit, maybe even stretch your arms and/or back. Even something as simple as tensing and relaxing different parts of your body can help. You might try clenching and unclenching your fist, for example – this gives you something to focus on and will keep your mind occupied.

If you still find yourself doing the embarrassing sleepy head-nodding thing, leave the lecture for a bit and take a brisk walk to the bathroom or around the building. Stretching or other forms of mild exercise help boost energy levels – it’s the perfect mid-lecture pickup. Just don’t get out of your seat and start doing jumping jacks.

One of the best ways to stay awake in class is to take good notes. Actively listen to the professor and jot down everything and anything that you need to know. You’ll be surprised by how simply focusing on taking notes can keep you from dozing off, especially if you think about how important and useful those notes will be when it comes time for exams. Have a good process for note taking that’s sophisticated enough to require your concentration – use different highlighters, make sure your notes are well structured and well formatted, and use things like charts, diagrams, and bullet points.

If you just follow the simple tips that we’ve mentioned, chances are you’ll find yourself more alert, more focused, and much less likely to succumb to the sweet embrace of sleep. You’ll also absorb so much more information – which in turn means that you’ll likely be a better student overall. Also, some of the tips, like participating in class discussions, asking questions, and taking good notes – these all directly contribute to your success in college.

Developing a Solid Pre-Class Routine to Help you Stay Awake in Class

How to Stay Awake in Class

To prevent falling asleep in class, you must take some precautionary measures beforehand. First, you will want to make sure you have good sleep habits to begin with. The best way to develop a good sleeping pattern is to get up at the same time every day. It doesn’t matter how late you stay up – make it a point to try and get up at the same time regardless of how little sleep you got. To make it easier to fall asleep, make sure your bed is used only for sleeping and try to turn off all electronics at least an hour before bed. If you manage to wake up at the same time every day for a few weeks, your body will fall into the habit of it and you can avoid the vicious cycle that can come from sleeping and waking later and later.

Next, what you eat and drink is important. Before class you might want to have a cup of coffee to get you going. Black tea with caffeine also works well for this purpose. If you’re not a fan of caffeine, you should try to work some kind of aromatic drink into your morning routine – after a while, you’ll associate waking up with the smell, and it’ll help you perk up. Have a light balanced breakfast with an adequate amount of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Having a balanced meal before class will keep your blood sugar stable. Protein intake in the morning is particularly important – it’ll keep you awake, and has the added benefit of keeping you from getting hungry during class. A good breakfast will give you enough energy to stay awake in class. On the other hand, avoid heavy late night meals and caffeinated drinks at night. These things will tend to keep you up late. Here are some foods  (and drinks) that have been scientifically validated as energy boosters – you might want to try integrating these into your breakfasts:

  • Coffee/Caffeinated beverages
  • Citrus Fruits (Oranges, grapfruits, etc. You can also drink citrus juices in lieu of actually eating the fruits)
  • Bran and other Whole Grain Cereals
  • Eggs
  • Beans
  • Walnuts
  • Leafy Greens
  • Dark Chocolate (an odd choice for breakfast, but hey, the science says it works!

Another important thing to know is that staying hydrated is vital to staying awake. Drink a couple of glasses of water in the morning and you’ll see a marked difference in your alertness in class. Treat your lectures like a workout – after all, it’s a bit like a workout for the mind. You wouldn’t go workout without making sure you’re hydrated, so don’t do it with your lectures either.

Finally, developing a morning routine can be beneficial. When you wake up, get in the habit of doing specific things in a specific order. Humans are creatures of habit, and after a while it’ll become natural to wake up on time and follow the same routine, which will help you get to class on time. A possible list of activities might be as follows:

Wake Up

  • Use the Restroom
  • Coffee, Tea, or other Aromatic drink
  • Eat A Small Balanced Meal
  • Brush Your Teeth
  • Shower
  • Get Dressed

Being mentally prepared for your day is exceptionally important. You can do this by taking a moment to think about what you want to accomplish in each of your classes. Think about how important your class notes will be for your midterms and exams – don’t just show up to class with a foggy mind and a I-don’t-care attitude. Even if the course material isn’t interesting, you can at least admit that it might be important (to your GPA). Recognizing the significance of each lecture will help you with staying awake in class (for example, it’s unlikely you would fall asleep if you were attending a wedding of a close friend – because it’s something you see as an important event).

Staying Awake in Class after Lunch

The human body is programmed to go to sleep after meals. Unfortunately for you, college class  schedules rarely allow for a siesta. Here’s a few things you can do to make sure you don’t fall asleep in the dreaded post-lunch lecture:

  1. Don’t eat a heavy lunch. Overeating is one of the main causes of the post-lunch food coma.
  2. Eat healthy – foods high in sugar or processed carbohydrates cause your body to release insulin, which in turn leads to drowsiness.
  3. Any carbs that you do eat should be whole grain – unrefined carbs are slow-burners, which gives you sustained energy over time.
  4. Don’t avoid protein –  moderate amount of protein combined with carbs gives you a mental and physical boost that will carry you through the afternoon.

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