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How to Feel More Awake and Be Your Best Self

Do you have the energy you need to get through the day? Keep reading for tips on how to feel more awake and get the sleep you need.
18 MINS

It's normal to wake up groggy or desire a mid-afternoon snooze. What's not so normal is consistently feeling tired throughout the day.

Low energy levels put a damper on your mood, creativity, and willpower, making it more difficult to check off your to-do list. If you find yourself regularly yawning, take stock of what's causing your daytime tiredness and learn how to feel more awake.

The Levers of Wakefulness: Sleep Debt and Circadian Rhythm

Before we share tips on how to feel more awake, let’s find out what's stopping you from being your best.

Feeling more awake during the day boils down to two things: low sleep debt and circadian alignment. Any alterations to these two factors will likely deflate energy levels during the day.

Below, we'll show you how sleep debt and circadian rhythm independently — and synergistically — influence wakefulness.

The Inescapable Link Between Sleep Debt and Sleep Pressure

Sleep debt refers to the amount of sleep you’ve owed your body over the past 14 days. But, how does sleep debt exactly relate to staying awake when it's bright outside?

Two words: Sleep pressure. It’s our biological response that encourages us to go to bed and get the rest we need. Sleep pressure builds up during the day (courtesy of the drowsiness-inducing chemical called adenosine) and subsides at night in a process called the homeostatic sleep drive. Put it this way — the longer you're awake, the more adenosine accumulates in your brain to amplify sleep pressure.

The only way to relieve sleep pressure is to get enough sleep.

Unfortunately, when you don't meet your sleep need, you aren’t easing sleep pressure. Instead, you’re accruing sleep debt. This sleep deprivation directly impacts how you feel during the day — think increased morning sleep inertia (i.e., you wake up feeling groggier) and lower energy levels.

That said, your sleep debt isn't the only factor in regulating your body's transition from sleep to wakefulness.

Circadian Rhythm — The Other Missing Piece

Aside from sleep debt, your circadian rhythm also plays a huge part in how awake you feel. Fondly referred to as your body's internal clock, your circadian rhythm tells you when it's time to turn in or to get up. It's also the reason why your energy levels fluctuate throughout the day.

PSA: It's absolutely normal for your energy levels to peak and dip as the day wears on. In fact, there's one dip everyone goes through, no matter if you've had a good night’s sleep or eaten a healthy lunch.

The Afternoon Slump

When afternoon arrives, you're probably yawning at your desk and trying to keep your eyes open. In other words, it's the dreaded afternoon slump.

But, here’s the thing: The afternoon dip is natural and expected. Sure, super early birds may experience a noon-ish dip, and extreme night owls usually feel the effects in the late afternoon. Still, no matter your biological sleep-wake inclinations, everyone goes through the afternoon slump — and no, it isn’t due to your lunch. 

After all, you’ve been riding high on your morning peak and expending immense brainpower. What goes up must eventually come down. (That said, a high-carb lunch can worsen the afternoon slump, as it spikes your blood sugar levels and triggers an energy crash.)

Science explains the afternoon dip occurs due to a temporary fall in circadian alerting signals. Light prompts your circadian master clock to release circadian alerting signals in steadily increasing levels from the moment you rise. These signals promote wakefulness to counter sleep pressure.

Corresponding to the rise and fall of your circadian rhythm, the level of circadian alerting signals naturally dips at certain times of the day. For many, the first of two notable dips coincides with the hours just after lunch, resulting in your mid-afternoon slump. During this time, your circadian alerting signals aren’t enough to override sleep pressure, which explains the intense sleepiness and yawns.

Sleep Debt and Circadian Rhythm Team Up

How to feel more awake: The RISE app's energy schedule screens

While your sleep debt and circadian rhythm work independently, they proffer a synergistic effect on how awake you feel during the day.

As your circadian rhythm dictates your sleep and wake times, it invariably determines your sleep length. Poor sleep cycles — characterized by late bedtimes and early wake times — promote circadian misalignment and inevitably insufficient sleep. In other words, you're carrying high sleep debt, which leads to more difficulty staying awake during the daytime.

At the same time, high sleep debt does a number on your energy levels, too. While it's true that your circadian rhythm directly influences your energy fluctuations, sleep deprivation shrinks your peaks and amplifies your dips, leading to an overall drop in productivity and performance.

In essence, lowering your sleep debt and practicing circadian consistency helps you feel more awake and energetic during the day.

How to Feel More Awake: Science-Based Tips to Be Your Best

If you want to be at your best, follow these science-based tips and learn how to feel more awake with RISE.

Prime Your Sleep Environment

Abide by the first rule of optimal wakefulness (i.e., keep sleep debt low) and get enough sleep every night. To start, inventory your sleep environment and prime it for a good night's sleep.

Here’s what you can do to enter dreamland more smoothly:

  • Keep it cool: Your core body temperature naturally drops in preparation for sleep. Keep your bedroom between 65 and 68 degrees to simulate this change. Also, a hot shower before bed is a simple thermoregulation hack to quickly shift your core body temperature from hot to cold. This can help you fall asleep faster and enjoy deeper sleep.
  • Keep it dark: Artificial and natural light are the greatest circadian cues for wakefulness. It's best to block out all light sources with an eye mask and light-blocking curtains or blinds.
  • Keep it quiet: Noise keeps you from restful slumber through increased sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep) and sleep fragmentation (how often you wake up during the night). We recommend wearing earplugs and soundproofing your room with carpet and noise-blocking curtains.

We understand it can be difficult to implement new changes and follow through with them. That’s why RISE has an in-app section called “Habits” to make the habit-forming process as effortless as possible. Simply go to Habits in the app and add the following activities to your energy schedule:

This way, RISE can send you prompts to make the above changes that will soon become second nature to you. 

Adopt Healthy Sleep Habits

Healthy sleep habits that you perform from the moment you wake up to the time you hit the sack help you fall asleep more effortlessly and get enough rest at night. This way, you're all set to take on the next day.

Schedule Sleep Consistently

Remember how circadian misalignment disrupts your sleep patterns and hikes up sleep debt?

Nip that in the bud with a consistent sleep schedule tailored to your chronotype — are you a morning lark, a night owl, or somewhere in between? Go to bed when your body tells you to and keep to a consistent wake time (that accounts for your sleep need), even on the weekends. Not only will you benefit from increased energy during the day, but you'll also enjoy sounder sleep at night.

Curb Anxious Thoughts

Anxiety doesn't just increase sleep latency (you take longer to enter dreamland) and fragmentation (you’re less likely to sleep through the night). In fact, this negative emotion is also linked to sleep disorders like insomnia, which downgrades daytime alertness.

Fortunately, you can take steps to stop anxiety from overwhelming you. Mentally decelerate just before bed to slow down your brain and signal to it that it’s time for sleep. Find what works for you, whether it's writing tomorrow's to-do lists, spending quality time with family, or rewatching old movies.

Relaxation techniques also help lower stress and anxiety to lull you to sleep more easily. RISE offers scientifically proven relaxation programs — think Diaphragmatic Breathing and Relaxing Sounds — which you can play in bed at night.

Try Alertness-Boosting Techniques During the Day

How to feel more awake: A man naps on the couch

You should always prioritize your sleep routine to meet your sleep need. But on the chance you didn't get enough sleep, try these alertness-boosting techniques to help you feel more awake during the day.

Naps

Napping is an effective way to relieve sleep pressure, shrink sleep debt, and increase alertness. But there's a science to napping, taking into account your individual needs and circumstances.

  • Replacement napping: This type of napping is conducive to paying down sleep debt. Power naps of 10-20 minutes boost energy for 1-2 hours sans the wake-up drowsiness. Deeper naps of 40-90 minutes provide longer energy spurts but are much likelier to incur grogginess.
  • Prophylactic napping: You can also nap in anticipation of sleep deprivation. This is especially popular among the night-shift crowd but works just as well in any circumstance when you know you won’t be meeting your sleep need. Not only does it keep sleep debt low, but it also optimizes alertness, mood, and performance better than a cup of coffee.
  • Appetitive napping: This is the proverbial pick-me-up when you aren't napping to counter sleep deprivation, now or later. It may seem frivolous, but science shows appetitive naps — on top of a good night's sleep — offer significant health benefits in terms of mood, alertness, and cognition.

Cold Water

If you need to feel more awake instantly, head to the restroom and splash some cold water on your face — it raises your heartbeat, blood flow, and metabolism to wake up your body. Plus, a cold shower acts as a mood-lifter by relieving gloomy thoughts.

Caffeine

A cup of espresso is the quintessential pick-me-up, whether it's in the morning to neutralize sleep inertia or in the afternoon to combat your energy dip. That said, caffeine clings to your system for up to 10 hours, so be wary of how late you drink it to ensure it doesn't disrupt your sleep cycle that night.

You may think decaf is a good alternative for an afternoon cup of joe. Unfortunately, it isn't entirely caffeine-free. If you're sensitive to caffeine, decaf beverages can still throw your sleep routine off-balance and incite higher sleep debt.

RISE helps you determine when you should cut off your caffeine consumption based on your unique biology. Go to Habits and add the "Limit Caffeine" reminder to your energy schedule.

Exercise

Nothing's better than a rush of endorphins to battle tiredness if paying down sleep debt isn’t immediately possible. Scientific literature recommends low- to moderate-intensity workouts to boost energy during the day and sleep better at night. Go for a morning walk to get some fresh air or cycle during your afternoon dip.

Review Your Nutrition

Aside from sleep being the primary determinant of your day-to-day energy levels, nutrition can also influence how awake you feel (albeit on a smaller scale).

Avoid Large Evening Meals

Your diet impacts your energy levels in two significant ways: One, it can undermine your sleep (which will negatively impact your wakefulness), and two, it can directly affect how awake you feel in and of itself.

Relating to the first point, large evening meals inflate the risk of abdominal discomfort, indigestion, and acid reflux when you lie down. In other words, it’s harder for you to drift off to sleep after overeating.

But it's not just how much you eat at night — the type of food also matters, which is where the second point comes in:

  • Research shows a high-carbohydrate, high-fat food intake is linked to poor sleep, possibly worsening morning grogginess.
  • On the other hand, milk products, fish, fruit, and vegetables may help you drift off more easily.
  • A 2020 medical review also highlights tryptophan, melatonin, and phytonutrients as slumber-promoting micronutrients. To get these micronutrients, try incorporating foods like turkey, tart cherry juice, carrots, tomatoes, berries, and kale in your diet.

Abstain from Alcohol and Nicotine

Alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking do more harm to your sleep than good.

  • Alcohol might promote sedation, but it also causes interrupted sleep and reduced REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Simply put, you wake up more tired than usual.
  • Nicotine also interrupts your sleep and inhibits slow-wave sleep (i.e., deep sleep in which your body repairs and rejuvenates itself). This translates into poor slumber and a vicious cycle of ever-growing sleep debt.

Overall, it's best to abstain from alcohol and nicotine — your sleep cycle will thank you for it. But, if you have to drink and/or smoke, do so a few hours before bedtime so it’s less likely to disrupt your sleep.

Stack Dip-Friendly Activities

The RISE app's screen showing the afternoon dip

OK, this tip may not directly increase alertness, but stacking dip-friendly activities during your afternoon dip will help you feel maximally productive.

So, what are dip-friendly activities? Think tasks that don't need much brainpower, whether it's watching a lecture or clearing admin work. For more inspiration, check out our Sleep Guide to find out how you can make the most of your energy dip.

RISE also gives you a heads up by predicting the timing and duration of your daily energy dip, so you can plan ahead.

How to Feel More Awake Begins With Sleeping Better

After understanding how sleep debt and circadian consistency impact wakefulness, it’s time to make the necessary changes to your bedroom, sleep schedule, and wind-down routine. If you’re wondering how to stay awake during the day, our alertness-boosting tips and nutritional guidelines can help you maximize your energy levels.

Once you’ve realized you can overcome the obstacles to feeling more awake, productive wakefulness is just within your reach. The RISE app can help you turn that into reality by encouraging and sustaining practical, healthy habits for better sleep and energy management.

Sleep better. Sell more.

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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.

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