RISE Sleep Tracker
One of Apple's Best Apps of 2024
★★★★★
(20,627)
TRY FREE

Falling Asleep at Work? 23 Ways to Get More Energy

Stop falling asleep at work by lowering your sleep debt and getting in sync with your body clock. Music, exercise, coffee, and a nap can help while at work.
Published
2021-08-23
Updated
2023-07-24
22 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
Our Editorial Standards
We bring sleep research out of the lab and into your life. Every post begins with peer-reviewed studies — not third-party sources — to make sure we only share advice that can be defended to a room full of sleep scientists.
Learn more
Updated Regularly
We regularly update our articles to explain the latest research and shifts in scientific consensus in a simple and actionable way.
Man asleep on his desk at work.

Falling Asleep at Work: The Key Advice 

  • If you’re falling asleep at work, you may have high sleep debt. This means you’re not getting enough sleep at night. 
  • Try lowering your sleep debt to boost your energy levels. You can do this by sleeping for longer at night and taking naps. Music, exercise, coffee, and a nap (if possible) can help wake you up while on the job.
  • The RISE app can work out how much sleep debt you have and guide you through 20+ daily habits to help you get enough sleep.

Whether your eyelids are drooping as you read a legal document or you nod off briefly as your colleague drags out a presentation, falling asleep at work is never fun. And depending on your job, it can be downright dangerous. 

Below, we’ll dive into why you might be falling asleep at work and what you can do to get more energy for the workday. Plus, we’ll share how the RISE app can make it happen.

A Sleep Doctor's Advice

“If you’re falling asleep at work, you may be sleep deprived. Try catching up on sleep to boost your energy levels. You can catch up by taking an afternoon nap, heading to bed a little earlier, or sleeping in an hour or so later on the weekend.”

Rise Science Sleep Advisor and Medical Reviewer Dr. Chester Wu

Why Do I Keep Falling Asleep at Work?

You may be falling asleep at work because of high sleep debt, being out of sync with your circadian rhythm, working through your afternoon slump, a medical condition, or a sleep disorder. 

You’re not alone if you fall asleep on the job. A 2017 National Safety Council report found that 69% of employees are tired at work, and we suspect that’s a sizable undercount. 

Here are the main factors at play. 

1. You’ve Got High Sleep Debt

High sleep debt is the most common cause of excessive daytime sleepiness, which increases the likelihood that you'll nod off on the job. 

Sleep debt is the amount of sleep you owe your body. At RISE, we measure it over your last 14 nights. That means a lack of sleep last night or missed shut-eye at some point in the last two weeks can lead to feeling sleepy, or fully falling asleep, at work. 

It’s all too easy to build up sleep debt because: 

  • You may not know your sleep need: So you might assume it’s much less than it is or compare yourself to your partner, friends, or colleagues, who may need less sleep than you (more on this soon). 
  • It can be easy to confuse time in bed for time asleep: It takes time to fall asleep and it’s normal to wake up during the night. So, you might be spending what seems like the right amount of time in bed, but not spending enough time actually sleeping. 
  • You may rely on the common seven-to-nine-hours guideline: This guideline can be inaccurate as it’s based on how much sleep people get, not what they need. 
  • You may adapt to sleep loss: Research shows people are largely unaware of the mental performance declines they get from sleep loss. 
  • You blame your sleepiness on diet or lifestyle: When really sleep debt is one of the biggest factors determining how you feel each day.

Getting “enough” sleep looks different for all of us. This is where your sleep need comes in. Your sleep need is the amount of sleep you need each night. It’s determined by genetics, and it’s highly individual. 

Looking at the sleep needs of 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and older, we found the average was eight hours. Almost half of our users need eight hours of sleep or more, and sleep needs range from a tiny five hours to a whopping 11 hours 30 minutes. 

Looking at the sleep needs of 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and older, we found the average was eight hours. Almost half of our users need eight hours of sleep or more, and sleep needs range from a tiny five hours to a whopping 11 hours 30 minutes. 
The RISE app can tell you how much sleep you need.

RISE can work out how much sleep you need and whether you’re carrying any sleep debt. Got more than five hours of debt? This is probably the reason you’re feeling tired at work. Research suggests your mental performance with five hours of sleep debt can be similar to what it would be with no sleep debt. 

RISE app screenshot showing how much debt you have
The RISE app can work out how much sleep debt you have.

We’ve covered more on how to find out how much sleep debt you have here. 

Fun fact: The idea for the RISE app came from feeling tired and falling asleep while working at school. Rise Science co-founder Leon Sasson and I were sleep deprived engineering students. As Leon and I dug into the science of sleep, we found both in the research and through our own experience that it’s lowering sleep debt that makes the biggest difference to our days. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click view their sleep need here and view their sleep debt here.

{{ cta }}

2. You’re Out of Sync With Your Circadian Rhythm 

Your circadian rhythm is your body’s internal clock. It runs on a roughly 24-hour cycle, helping to control your sleep cycle and when you’ll feel sleepy and alert throughout the day. 

If you’re out of sync with your circadian rhythm, your energy levels will take a hit.

You might be out of sync if: 

3. You’re Working Through Your Afternoon Slump 

Your energy levels will naturally fluctuate as part of your circadian rhythm each day. You might feel alert mid-morning, but come the afternoon, the dreaded afternoon slump can hit.

Feeling tired in the afternoon is natural, even if you’ve had enough sleep. But this tiredness will feel worse and last longer if you’ve got a lot of sleep debt. And you might find yourself falling asleep at your desk during this afternoon dip in energy. 

4. You’ve Got a Medical Condition or Sleep Disorder 

Something more serious may be behind your daytime sleepiness. 

That includes medical conditions like: 

  • Anxiety
  • Depression 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Type 2 diabetes 
  • Iron deficiency anemia 
  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) 
  • Heart disease 

And sleep problems like: 

  • Insomnia
  • Hypersomnia
  • Sleep apnea 
  • Restless leg syndrome 
  • Narcolepsy 

Hormonal changes can also make you feel tired and have trouble sleeping. So you might struggle to keep your eyes open at work while on your period, pregnant, or going through menopause.

Speak to your healthcare provider or a sleep expert if you think a health problem or sleep disorder could be making you fall asleep at work. 

We’ve covered more on why you’re always tired here. 

How to Stop Falling Asleep at Work?

Stop falling asleep at work by lowering your sleep debt and getting in sync with your circadian rhythm. These two changes will make the biggest difference to your energy levels long term. To stay awake in the moment, try blasting some music, doing some exercise, or drinking a coffee (if it’s not too late in the day). 

Here’s more on how to stay awake at work: 

1. Lower Your Sleep Debt 

Less sleep debt equals more energy, but you don’t need to get it down to zero. While having no sleep debt at all will certainly help you stay awake at work, it’s a tough goal to reach. 

Instead, we recommend keeping your sleep debt below five hours. Your mental performance with five hours of sleep debt can be comparable to what it would be with zero sleep debt. 

You can lower your sleep debt by: 

  • Taking naps: Be sure to keep naps short and not too late in the day, so you can still fall asleep at night. Check RISE for when your afternoon dip in energy will be — this is the ideal time to nap. 
  • Going to bed a little earlier. 
  • Sleeping in a little later: Keep this to an hour or so (or two hours maximum) to avoid getting out of sync with your circadian rhythm. 

RISE automatically tracks your sleep duration and works out your sleep debt. It’ll then keep track of it as you catch up on sleep

Expert tip: Lowering your sleep debt will do more than help you stay awake at work. It’ll improve your focus, memory, reaction time, emotional regulation, and mood. Low sleep debt will help you procrastinate less and it’ll reduce your odds of brain fog and burnout. In short, you’ll be more likely to stay awake and perform better overall.  

{{ cta-mini }}

2. Get in Sync With Your Circadian Rhythm 

Sync up with your circadian rhythm to enjoy more energy all day long. 

You can do this by: 

  • Keeping a regular sleep schedule (more on that soon)
  • Eating meals and getting out in sunlight at roughly the same time each day
  • Going to bed when your body naturally wants you to 

On that last point, there’s a roughly one-hour window of time each night when your body’s rate of melatonin production is at its highest. Melatonin is your natural sleep hormone, so going to bed during this window can help you fall asleep, stay in sync, and get enough sleep. In RISE, we call this your Melatonin Window, and we predict when it’ll be each night. 

RISE predicts your overall circadian rhythm each day, so you can see when your body wants to naturally wake up and go to sleep. Do your best to sync up with these times to boost your energy levels.

Expert tip: Just like with sleep debt, the benefits of getting in sync with your circadian rhythm go beyond increased energy. You’ll also boost your cognitive performance as well as your overall health and well-being.  

3. Keep a Consistent Sleep Schedule 

Resist the snooze button and try sticking to a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends. 

Research shows those with a regular sleep pattern have more energy than those without, even when both groups get enough sleep. 

And our own data shows RISE users with consistent sleep-wake times have lower sleep debt than those with inconsistent sleep-wake times. 

Keeping a consistent sleep schedule can also help you stay in sync with your circadian rhythm, so it’s a win-win when it comes to having more energy at work. 

4. Work With Your Afternoon Slump  

The afternoon slump is going to happen no matter what. Keep your sleep debt low to minimize how much it affects you. But beyond this, you can also schedule your day to work with, not against, this natural dip in energy. 

If you have control over your work schedule, plan to do your most challenging tasks in the mid-morning, when your energy levels should be higher. Save easy tasks for the afternoon, like admin, emails, or casual catch-up meetings.

We’ve covered more ways to beat the afternoon slump here. 

Check RISE for when your afternoon slump is predicted to hit each day and plan ahead. 

RISE app screenshot showing your energy peak and dip times
The RISE app can predict the timing of your afternoon slump each day.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can see their circadian rhythm on the Energy screen here

5. Get Out in Sunlight in the Morning 

Getting out in sunlight suppresses melatonin, and boosts cortisol and your body temperature to give you an energy boost. 

Morning light also resets your circadian rhythm for the day. This will help you fall asleep come bedtime, meaning you’re less likely to feel sleepy the next day.

Aim to be out in sunlight for at least 10 minutes as soon as you can each morning. If it’s overcast or you’re getting light through a window, make that 15 minutes to 20 minutes.   

Expert tip: If you do shift work, consider getting a red light therapy lamp. A 2020 study found red light can help shift workers feel more alert without disrupting their melatonin levels and sleep after their shift. 

6. Spend Time in Sunlight During the Day 

The more light exposure you get during the day, the less sensitive you’ll be to light at night. 

Evening light can keep you awake, cut into your sleep time, and cause you to wrack up sleep debt. This’ll make falling asleep at work much more likely the next day. 

If your work environment is dark, try moving your desk closer to a window. And to soak up more sunlight, get outside on your lunch break, go for a walk before work, and swap your gym workout for a run outside.

7. Drink Coffee Carefully 

If you’re falling asleep at work, you’ve probably already tried reaching for a cup of coffee. It’s true that coffee can perk you up, but you need to drink it at the right times for it to work its best (or it can actually make you more tired). 

Try drinking coffee in the morning to get an energy boost, but cutting yourself off in the afternoons. Caffeine can last more than 12 hours in your system, so it can keep you up at night if consumed too late in the day.

We’ve covered more on when to stop drinking coffee here. And RISE can tell you the exact time you should have your final coffee each day. 

RISE app screenshot showing when to limit caffeine intake
The RISE app can tell you when to stop drinking coffee each day.

8. Work Out   

Exercise can help you stop falling asleep at work in a few ways. 

First up, try working out when tiredness hits. Research shows a 10-minute walk can boost energy more than a sugary snack. 

Set reminders to take activity breaks throughout the day. And make the most of this exercise by getting outside in sunlight and fresh air, if possible. Can’t get outside? Try doing a few jumping jacks or yoga poses instead. 

In the long term, exercise can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer, making it easier to keep your sleep debt low.

And if you struggle with morning sleepiness at work, a 2022 study found physical activity during the day can help you feel more alert the next morning.  

Expert tip: Avoid intense workouts within an hour of bedtime. They can keep you awake, which won’t do your next-day energy levels any favors. 

9. Take a Nap 

Can’t keep your eyes open at work? Consider taking a nap. 

Depending on your job, it isn’t always possible to sleep at work. But if you’re working from home or work for a company with nap rooms, getting some shut-eye can help. 

Not only will a nap boost your energy and job performance in the short term, it’ll help you chip away at sleep debt to get more energy in the long run. 

And you don’t have to nap for long to get the benefits. Research shows 10-minute power naps are enough to boost your energy levels and cognitive performance. 

Expert tip: Keep your naps short and early in the day so you can still fall asleep at night. Your afternoon dip in energy is the ideal time to nap. Your work performance may not be its best during this time anyway. 

{{ cta-mini }}

10. Drink a Glass of Water 

This tip is an easy one: drink a glass of water. Even better? Keep a water bottle on your desk and sip from it throughout the day. 

Research shows mild dehydration is enough to make you feel tired and drinking water, even when you’re not thirsty, can boost alertness levels. 

11. Eat a Healthy Snack 

Sugary snacks are not a good way to stay awake at work. Sure, they can give you a short-term energizing buzz, but this will spike your blood sugar levels and cause a sugar crash shortly after. 

Try healthy snacks like:

  • Fruits and veggies
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Low-fat cheddar or mozzarella cheese 
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Unsweetened Greek yogurt 

12. Take a Cold Shower

Ever felt sleepy while taking an icy shower? We didn’t think so. If you’re working from home, jump in a cold shower for a few minutes to jolt yourself awake. If you’re in the office, try splashing your face with cold water instead. 

Cold water can increase your heart rate, blood pressure, and metabolism, making you feel more awake. 

13. Play Your Favorite Music 

Grab your headphones and press play on your favorite music. One study found listening to excitative music after a nap helped to reduce sleep inertia — that feeling of grogginess right after waking up. The music was even more effective when it included songs participants liked. 

And you don’t need to listen to music all day. Another study found listening to music you like for 10 minutes can boost energy levels, whereas listening to relaxation instructions or sitting in silence can make you feel more tired.  

14. Skip the Chewing Gum 

It’s common advice to chew gum if you’re feeling tired, especially if you’re falling asleep while driving. But it may not be as helpful as you think. 

One study found chewing gum actually decreased alertness levels. 

15. Try Aromatherapy 

One easy thing you can do to keep yourself awake at work is aromatherapy. 

Research shows these scents can make you feel more alert: 

Steer clear of these scents, though, as they can increase drowsiness:

16. Engage Your Brain if You’re Doing a Monotonous Task 

Watching security cameras, waiting on a call, or driving a truck? Try engaging your brain to keep yourself awake. 

One study found when drivers did trivia tasks — which included answering multiple-choice questions — they felt more alert while driving. They also maintained their driving performance and felt like the drive was shorter. 

17. Have a Conversation 

Shake off sleepiness during work hours by striking up a conversation with someone. Walk over to a colleague’s desk to talk, rather than emailing them, or phone mom for a quick catch-up while you take a break. 

The more interesting and challenging the conversation the better. 

Bonus tip: Forging good relationships with colleagues could help you sleep better, so it’s worth picking up the phone or getting up to have that conversation. A 2023 study found having supportive coworkers was linked to a lower risk of sleep disturbances. 

18. Do a Breathing Exercise 

Breathing exercises are great for making you feel more awake in the moment and they can help you fall asleep at night, which can lead to more energy the next day. 

Here’s what the science behind breathing exercises says: 

  • A 2023 study (which was co-authored by one of our sleep advisors Dr. Jamie Zeitzer, Co-Director of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Sciences at Stanford University) found psychological sighing, which involves prolonged exhales, can improve stress, anxiety, and mood. 
  • A 2022 study found diaphragmatic breathing can help those with sleep apnea feel less daytime sleepiness. 
  • And 2017 sleep research found eight weeks of diaphragmatic breathing can improve attention, mood, and cortisol levels. 

We’ve covered how to do these breathing exercises here. And RISE has in-app audio guides to talk you through exercises like diaphragmatic breathing. 

RISE app screenshot reminds you of relaxation session
The RISE app has in-app audio guides to talk you through relaxation and breathing exercises like diaphragmatic breathing

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can go right to their relaxation audio guide homepage and get started here.

19. Give Your Eyes a Break 

If you look at a screen all day, try scheduling breaks for your eyes. This’ll reduce the chances of eye strain and can stop you from falling asleep at your desk. 

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look at something at least 20 feet away from you for at least 20 seconds. Set reminders if you have to.

You can wake yourself up further by getting up, grabbing a glass of water, or doing a burst of physical activity during those breaks, too. 

20. Improve Your Sleep Hygiene 

Sleep hygiene is the name for the daily habits you can do to get a good night of healthy sleep. And as we’ve said, keeping your sleep debt low is key to not falling asleep at work the next day. 

Here’s what good sleep hygiene looks like (we’ve already covered a few of these tips): 

  • Get bright light first thing: Natural sunlight is best. But if it’s dark when you wake up, try a 10,000 lux light therapy lamp. Sit about 16 to 24 inches away from a lamp for 30 minutes in the morning. 
  • Avoid light close to bedtime: Late-night light can keep you up in the evening. Be careful of watching TV or scrolling on social media late into the night. Dim the lights and put on blue-light blocking glasses about 90 minutes before bed to help you fall asleep on time. And set a screen-time curfew if you have to. 
  • Avoid caffeine, large meals, intense exercise, and alcohol too late in the day: All four can keep you up, wake you up during the night, and lead to poor sleep overall. RISE can tell you when to avoid each one daily. 
  • Do a calming bedtime routine: This is especially important if work stress is keeping you up or if you work long hours and try to fall asleep soon after closing your laptop. Take an hour or so before bed to wind down and prepare your body for sleep. Try reading, listening to a podcast, journaling, or taking a warm shower or bath.
  • Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet: Aim for 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, use blackout curtains and an eye mask, and wear earplugs or use a white noise machine or white noise app like RISE. 

To keep up good sleep habits every day, RISE can tell you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene behaviors at the right time for you. 

RISE app screenshot reminding you of sleep hygiene habits
The RISE app can tell you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications here

21. Eat a Healthy Breakfast 

What you eat for breakfast can set you up for the day. A 2022 study found a breakfast rich in complex carbohydrates that are slowly digested and absorbed was linked to more alertness in the morning. 

A high-protein breakfast, on the other hand, was linked to lower alertness. So go for whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, and fruits and veggies in the morning.

Now’s also a great time to have a coffee to perk you up for the morning at work. 

22. Eat a Healthy Lunch 

Your lunch isn’t necessarily to blame for the afternoon slump, but it can make you feel more tired. 

One study compared a heavier lunch to a light lunch. The heavier lunch was linked to feeling more sleepy and performing worse on a simulated driving test when sleep deprived. 

And try improving your diet overall to get better sleep and more daytime energy. A 2022 paper states: “In general, diets rich in fiber, fruits, vegetables, and anti-inflammatory nutrients and lower in saturated fat (eg, Mediterranean diet) were associated with better sleep quality.”

We’ve covered more on what gives you energy here, including the foods to add to your grocery list and the foods to avoid.

Expert tip: When it comes to dinner, avoid eating within two to three hours of bedtime as this can keep you awake. RISE can tell you when exactly to be done with dinner each day. 

23. Combine Coffee and a Nap (Occasionally) 

The coffee and nap combo — sometimes called a nappuccino — involves drinking a cup of coffee and then taking a short nap. When you wake up, the caffeine should be kicking in, giving you a bigger energy boost. 

One study looked at participants about to do a two-hour monotonous simulated driving test. Those who napped and had caffeine felt less tired and had fewer driving incidents compared to those who didn’t nap or have caffeine and those who only had caffeine.

Expert tip: Don’t rely on this every workday. Remember, caffeine can last in your system for more than 12 hours, so if you have it in the afternoon, it may keep you up at night, making you feel more tired the next day. Try taking a coffee nap only when you really need it — like before a big meeting. 

We’ve covered more ways to get more energy here. 

Stay Awake At Work 

Falling asleep at work can be dangerous, embarrassing, or just plain unproductive. To stop it from happening, try taking a nap, playing music, or getting outside for some exercise. 

To get more energy in the long term, lower your sleep debt and get in sync with your circadian rhythm. 

The RISE app can work out how much sleep you need, how much sleep debt you have, and predict your circadian rhythm each day to help you make real changes to your energy levels. Plus, you can see when your afternoon dip in energy is likely to be each day, so you can schedule easy tasks or take a break during this time. 

You can have better work days this time next week — 80% of RISE users report having more energy within five days. 

FAQs

Why am I falling asleep at work?

You might be falling asleep at work due to high sleep debt, being out of sync with your circadian rhythm, or working through your afternoon slump in energy. A medical condition or sleep disorder could also make you feel tired during the day.

Why am I suddenly falling asleep at work?

You may be suddenly falling asleep at work because you’ve built up sleep debt, gotten out of sync with your circadian rhythm, or you’re working through your afternoon slump in energy (and having sleep debt or being out of sync can make this feel worse). A medical condition or sleep disorder may also be to blame for falling asleep at work.

Is it normal to fall asleep at work?

It’s normal to feel tired every now and again at work, especially during your natural mid-afternoon dip in energy. But if you’re regularly falling asleep at work, it’s a problem. This could be due to sleep debt, being out of sync with your circadian rhythm, working through your afternoon dip in energy, a medical condition, or a sleep disorder.

How to avoid falling asleep at work?

Avoid falling asleep at work by lowering your sleep debt, syncing up with your circadian rhythm, getting out in light first thing in the morning, taking a nap, playing your favorite music, and staying hydrated.

How can I stop falling asleep at work?

Stop falling asleep at work by lowering your sleep debt, syncing up with your circadian rhythm, getting out in light first thing in the morning, taking a nap, playing your favorite music, and staying hydrated.

How to wake up when falling asleep at work?

Wake up when falling asleep at work by taking a nap, drinking coffee (if it’s the morning), playing your favorite music, taking a cold shower, drinking a glass of water, and doing some exercise. In the long term, lowering your sleep debt and syncing up with your circadian rhythm will boost your energy levels.

Sleep better. Sell more.

Learn more about Rise for sales teams.

Thanks! We received your information. You'll hear from us shortly.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
About Rise
Rise is the only app that unlocks the real-world benefits of better sleep.

Instead of just promising a better night, we use 100 years of sleep science to help you pay down sleep debt and take advantage of your circadian rhythm to be your best.

Over the past decade, we've helped professional athletes, startups, and Fortune 500s improve their sleep to measurably win more in the real-world scenarios that matter most.

Rise Science is backed by True Ventures, Freestyle Capital, and High Alpha; investors behind category winners Fitbit, Peloton, and Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

Natural Energy

View all
Try 7 days free

The power behind your next best day

RISE makes it easy to improve your sleep and daily energy to reach your potential

RISE app iconApp store icon