How to Wake Yourself up When Tired: 7 Science-Based Tips

Learn the short-term fixes to wake yourself up when tired and how keeping sleep debt low and working with your circadian rhythm are the long-term solutions.
Reviewed by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
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Tired man asleep at desk holding cup of coffee

It's only 3 p.m. with a few more hours to go till work ends. Yet, your eyelids are drooping, and you can't resist the urge to snooze at your desk. The question is: How do you wake yourself up when you’re tired to get through the day?

As you'll learn below, it's OK to feel tired at certain times of the day. But if you're constantly tuckered-out, high sleep debt and an off-kilter circadian rhythm (your internal clock) are usually the two main instigators.

Below, you'll learn scientifically proven tips on how to wake yourself up when tired. But keep in mind that these hacks are only temporary at best; you're better off keeping your sleep debt and internal clock in check.

Disclaimer: This post is not intended as medical advice. While the RISE app is designed to support natural sleep and boost sleep hygiene to address symptoms of sleep deprivation, it does not treat medical conditions such as sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome.

PSA: It’s OK to Be Tired at Certain Times of Day

As much as we would like to be “on” all the time, the human body isn’t like the Energizer Bunny, raring to go 24/7. Even time management hacks, like the Pomodoro technique, are aligned with the rest-activity cycles of your circadian rhythm (the internal body clock). At Rise, we refer to these fluctuations as “energy peaks and dips” for a more relatable term.

On the RISE app, you’ll notice three periods where everyone experiences low energy levels, even when you’ve had enough sleep:

  • Morning sleep inertia: This period of wake-up grogginess lasts from 60-90 minutes and takes place no matter if you wake up early or sleep in late.
  • Afternoon dip: Commonly known as a “food coma,” the post-lunch stupor actually has nothing to do with your noontime meal and everything to do with the dip in your circadian rhythm. (Although a meal rich in processed carbohydrates does spike your blood sugar levels and can worsen your dip.)
  • Wind-down to biological night: Winding down as part of your bedtime routine prepares you for a good night's sleep, so you're less likely to hit the snooze button when your alarm clock rings.
RISE app screenshot showing your energy peak and dip times
RISE reveals your unique peaks and dips in energy

You Don’t Have to Feel Tired All the Time

Perhaps you find yourself running on low fuel even outside of your low-energy periods. It’s hard to focus on an important meeting or spend quality time with your family when you’re constantly yawning. Here's the thing — you don't have to feel tired all the time.

The first trick is to keep your sleep debt low by outsleeping your sleep need (the genetically determined amount of sleep your body needs). You can do this via one of the four ways:

  • Go to bed early
  • Take a nap
  • Sleep in the next day
  • Practice sleep hygiene to optimize your sleep efficiency (how much time you spend asleep while in bed)

The second trick is to keep yourself circadianally aligned. Even if you've met your sleep need, not playing to the tune of your circadian rhythm can make you feel out of sorts. A prime example would be social jetlag, in which your social and biological clocks are out of sync. For many, this entails an early-to-bed, early-to-rise sleep schedule during the workweek and staying up late and sleeping in on the weekends or days off.

The best way to work with your body clock is a consistent sleep schedule that meets your sleep need. If you need help getting your sleep patterns back on track, learn how to reset your sleep schedule.

How to Wake Yourself up When Tired With These Temporary Hacks

Because life happens, there may be days where you need more help in the energy department. This prompts you to search for viable ways to wake yourself up when tired.

Good news, science has a few tricks up its sleeves to temporarily combat your fatigue — temporarily being the operative word here, if effective at all. We also want to caution that some of these hacks may disrupt your sleep-wake cycle unless administered strategically, potentially inciting an endless loop of less sleep and more tiredness.

1. Well-Timed Naps

Well-timed naps within your afternoon dip (you can check the exact timing on the RISE app) are a good way to dial down sleep deprivation and the accompanying daytime sleepiness. During your circadian dip, your body is primed to go into hibernation mode, making dozing off easier than ever.

A power nap of 10-20 minutes during this window of time can help you stay maximally productive as you rest and recharge for the rest of the day’s activities. A study by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and the Federal Aviation Administration found that pilots who napped for roughly 26 minutes had "improved physiological alertness and performance" than their counterparts who didn't.

If you want a longer-lasting energy boost, consider deeper naps of 40-90 minutes. The trade-off, though, is more intense sleep inertia afterward.

Play It Safe

Don’t nap too long or too late in the day, as it can dilute your sleep pressure (biochemically known as adenosine), the key factor that helps you drift off to sleep at night. Use the RISE app to find your best window of time for a daytime siesta.

2. Caffeine

Caffeine is a well-known stimulant when you want to wake yourself up when tired.

How it works: Caffeine inactivates the adenosine receptors in your brain, so you don't feel the urge to doze off — at least for the moment. A 2008 study shows that its effectiveness wanes after 3-4 hours. It's also interesting to note that the energizing effects of a cup of coffee (or tea) is more short-lived than naps.

Play It Safe

Not many people realize that caffeine stays in your system for up to 10 hours. So, drinking it too late in the day can incite or aggravate your sleep problems. To avoid this unwanted scenario, add the "Limit Caffeine" habit to your Energy Schedule in the RISE app so you know when to cut off your caffeine consumption based on your unique chronobiology.

3. Naps Plus Caffeine

For a potent duo, drink a cup of coffee before taking a nap, also known as a "coffee nap." For the record, scientists highly endorse caffeinated naps over coffee or napping alone.

One study involving 12 sleepy participants in a driving simulation showed that 200 milligrams of caffeine coupled with a power nap significantly "reduced incidents to 9% of placebo levels versus 34% of placebo levels for caffeine alone."

Play It Safe

To get the most out of your coffee nap, keep it short (20 minutes tops) to avoid falling into the deep sleep stage. If you're using a coffee nap to combat excessive sleepiness while driving, take note: It isn't 100% foolproof against drowsy driving.

4. Exercise

Regular exercise is one of the pillars of good health and better sleep. It gets your heart rate going and floods your system with feel-good endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. The result? Not only do you feel more awake, but you'll also likely be in a better mood.

Because natural light is the most powerful circadian cue to wake up your body clock, pair exercise with sunshine. Even if you aren't a morning person, take a short walk in natural sunlight during the afternoon for an invigorating breath of fresh air.

Play It Safe

While exercise can energize you, doing it at the wrong time can delay your sleep schedule. To make your workout work for you, check out our tell-all guide on exercising before bed.

5. Hydration

A glass of water is another simple (albeit brief) pick-me-up. When you're mildly dehydrated, your alertness suffers. Also, studies explain that water intake (no matter if you're thirsty, to begin with, or not) improved self-reported alertness levels.

Play It Safe

Just like exercise, the timing of your water intake affects your sleep. Avoid drinking water before bed to minimize middle-of-the-night awakenings because you have to get up to use the restroom.

6. Cold Shower

On a related note, a cold shower steps up your heart rate, metabolism, and blood flow to instantly revive your senses. If a cold shower isn't possible, say you're in the office, splash some cold water on your face to reap similar benefits.

Play It Safe

Limit cold showers to the earlier part of the day. From dusk onward, switch to hot showers and baths to mimic the natural drop in your core body temperature as sleep beckons.

7. Aromatherapy

Specific essential oils are scientifically proven to boost your attention, alertness, and focus. Eucalyptus and peppermint essential oils, in particular, are known to stimulate and rejuvenate your mind as well as boost your energy levels.

Play It Safe

Bear in mind that some essential oils, like lavender, promote drowsiness. They may help you get the hours of sleep you need at night but won’t help you stay vigilant during daylight.

The Sustainable Way of Staying Awake

As you've learned, many of the hacks on how to wake yourself up when tired are temporary at best, if effective at all. Rather than relying on them for short-lived energy boosts, RISE offers a more sustainable way of staying awake.

You've guessed it right — it's all about keeping your sleep debt low and learning to work with your circadian rhythm. In other words, practice healthy sleep habits 24/7 to get the sleep you need. Download the RISE app today to perfect your sleep hygiene so that you can feel and function at your best when you need to.

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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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