How to Wake Yourself Up When Tired: 23 Science-Backed Tips

Wake yourself up when tired by lowering sleep debt, getting in sync with your circadian rhythm, exercising, or getting some natural light.
Updated
2023-05-23
18 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
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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.
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We regularly update our articles to explain the latest research and shifts in scientific consensus in a simple and actionable way.

How to wake yourself up when tired?

  • Science-backed ways to wake yourself up when you're tired include taking a nap, drinking coffee, getting natural light, exercising, eating a healthy snack, drinking water, doing breathing exercises, taking a break, and listening to music.
  • Lowering your sleep debt and syncing up with your circadian rhythm will boost energy levels long term.
  • The RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits to help you get more sleep and more energy in no time. 80% of users feel less tired within 5 days.

When you’re tired, it can seem like nothing can help except crawling back into bed. But if you’re at work, driving, or just trying to get through the day, going back to bed isn’t always an option. 

Luckily, there are plenty of science-backed ways to wake yourself up when tired. 

Below, we’ll dive into short and long-term energy boosts and how the RISE app can help you make a real difference to your energy levels. 

Advice from a sleep doctor:

“For a quick boost in energy, try taking a short power nap. This will help you catch up on any lost sleep and improve your energy, focus, and mood. Just be sure to keep naps short, sleeping for more than 90 minutes may leave you feeling groggy.”

Rise Science Medical Reviewer Dr. Chester Wu

1. Take a Well-Timed Nap 

If you’re tired, your body most likely needs more sleep. So, if possible, give it what it wants. 

A study by NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration found pilots who napped for about 26 minutes had “improved physiological alertness and performance” than those who didn’t.

But naps don’t need to be long to be effective. One study found a 10-minute nap was best for reducing sleepiness compared to naps of five minutes, 20 minutes, and 30 minutes. 

And naps aren’t just great for those who are sleep deprived. Research shows naps can improve alertness in well-rested people, too. 

Expert tip for more energy: Nap at the right time to avoid daytime sleep making it harder to fall asleep at night. Snoozing during your natural afternoon dip in energy is best. Check RISE for when this will be daily. 

For more expert advice, we asked our sleep advisor and medical reviewer, Dr. Chester Wu, for his top tips for waking yourself up when tired. 

“For a quick boost in energy, try taking a short power nap. This will help you catch up on any lost sleep and improve your energy, focus, and mood. Just be sure to keep naps short, sleeping for more than 90 minutes may leave you feeling groggy.”  Rise Science Medical Reviewer Dr. Chester Wu

2. Drink a Cup of Coffee 

RISE app screenshot showing when to limit caffeine intake
The RISE app can tell you when to have your last coffee each day.

A cup of coffee can be the perfect pick-me-up. Caffeine blocks the sleepiness chemical, adenosine, making you feel more alert and awake. 

Not a coffee drinker? You can also get caffeine from: 

  • Black tea 
  • Green tea 
  • Chocolate — dark chocolate has more caffeine than milk or white chocolate 

Just be sure not to overdo it. Try capping yourself to about 400 milligrams of caffeine a day. We’ve covered more on how much caffeine is too much here. 

Expert tip for more energy: Caffeine can last in your system for more than 12 hours and too much too late in the day can make it harder to fall asleep. RISE can tell you when to have your final coffee of the day to stop this from happening. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their limit caffeine reminder.

3. Combine Coffee and a Nap (Occasionally) 

Ever heard of a “nappuccino?” It’s when you drink a cup of coffee right before taking a power nap. When you wake up, the caffeine will be kicking in, just in time for a potent energy boost. 

One study looked at sleepy participants about to do a two-hour monotonous drive in a car simulator. Those who napped and had caffeine had far fewer simulated driving incidents compared to those who didn’t and those who just had caffeine alone. 

Expert tip: Use this tip sparingly. As we mentioned above, caffeine can last in your system for more than 12 hours, so you’d usually want to avoid it in the afternoons. But afternoons are the best time to get a nap in as your energy levels naturally dip. A coffee-nap combo can come in handy in the rare times you’ve got to stay up late or when you’re sleep deprived, but have to be “on” for an important meeting in the afternoon.

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4. Exercise 

Regular exercise will help to improve your energy levels long term, but a workout can give you a short-term hit of energy, too. 

Working out increases your heart rate and body temperature, and it releases endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin for a feel-good boost. 

Hit the gym, go for a run, or even get up from your desk to do a few jumping jacks. Try exercising outside, too. You’ll get fresh air and sunlight to wake you up further. 

Expert tip for more energy: Exercise during the day can help you fall asleep at night, but be sure to avoid intense workouts within an hour of bedtime. They can have the opposite effect and keep you up. We’ve covered more on the best time to work out here.

5. Go for a Walk 

You don’t need to make time for a full gym session to boost your energy levels — even a short walk can help. 

Research shows a 10-minute walk can boost your energy levels more than a sugary snack. 

For bonus points, make going for a walk part of your morning routine. This will combine exercise with getting morning sunlight, which will set you up for more energy for the rest of the day, and better sleep at night. 

6. Get Some Natural Light 

RISE app screenshot showing when to get and avoid bright light
The RISE app can tell you when to get and avoid bright light.

Light exposure suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin. When you get light first thing, you’re telling your body it’s time to be awake. Sunlight also boosts the hormone cortisol, which makes you feel more alert.

Beyond morning sunlight, when you get light during the day, you’ll be less sensitive to the ill effects of blue light in the evening. 

Try: 

  • Going for a morning walk or drinking your morning coffee by a window
  • Working by a window 
  • Going outside on your lunch break 
  • Taking your workout outside 

Expert tip for more energy: To maximize your energy and sleep, get light in the morning and during the day, and then avoid it in the evenings. RISE can tell you when to get and avoid bright light to boost your energy and help you sleep. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their get bright light reminder.

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7. Use a Light Therapy Lamp 

Whether you're chained to your desk and can’t get outside, it’s dark out when you wake up early, or you’re pulling an all-nighter and need a boost, a 10,000 lux light therapy lamp can help you get light exposure when you can’t get out in sunlight. 

The next best thing is artificial light from indoor light and blue light from screens

Expert tip for more energy: Trying to wake yourself up during a night shift? Research from 2020 found red light can help shift workers feel more alert without messing up their melatonin levels and sleep after their shift. 

We’ve covered more on the best color light at each time of day here.

8. Eat a Healthy Snack 

Skip sugary snacks and junk food. They may give you a short-term boost, but you’ll get a blood sugar crash soon enough. 

Opt for a healthy snack that contains fiber, protein, and healthy fats instead to wake yourself up. 

Try: 

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

Beyond snacks, research from 2022 states an overall diet rich in fiber, fruits, vegetables, and anti-inflammatory nutrients is best for sleep. And complex carbohydrates, like oatmeal, brown rice, and lentils can give you a steady release of energy throughout the day. 

9. Drink a Glass of Water 

Hydration is important for feeling and functioning your best. And research shows even mild dehydration can leave you feeling tired and the very act of drinking water, even if you’re not thirsty, can boost alertness. 

10. Take a Cold Shower 

It’s hard to feel sleepy when you’re taking an icy shower. Cold water increases your heart rate, metabolism, and blood pressure for an energizing boost. 

Expert tip for more energy: Want to wake yourself up when tired at work? Try splashing your face with cold water instead. 

11. Try Aromatherapy 

If you’re working or studying, you can’t always stop to take a nap or go for a walk. This is when aromatherapy and essential oils can come in handy. 

These scents can increase alertness: 

But these scents can increase drowsiness: 

12. Engage Your Brain During Monotonous Tasks

Try engaging your brain during monotonous tasks to stay awake. 

One study looked at truck drivers on long drives. It found that when drivers did trivia tasks — which included answering a series of multiple-choice questions — they felt more alert.

Even better? When the truck drivers did the trivia tasks they maintained better driving performance and felt like the driving duration was shorter. 

13. Have a Conversation 

Another way to engage your brain? Have a conversation. This is particularly effective if it's a conversation about an interesting or challenging topic. 

If you’re on a long drive, spark up a debate with car mates. If you’re at work, chat with a colleague about a tricky work problem. 

14. Do a Burst of Activity to Shake Off Sleep Inertia 

Feeling tired when you wake up? That’s most likely sleep inertia at work. Sleep inertia is the groggy feeling you get right after waking up. It’s natural and happens even after you get enough sleep. 

To get over sleep inertia faster, exercise can help. But, again, you don’t need to schedule a full workout. 

A 2021 study found just 30 seconds of exercise can help shake off sleep inertia. High-intensity exercise worked best, but 30 seconds of low-intensity exercise was also effective at boosting alertness. 

15. Do a Breathing Exercise 

RISE app screenshot showing relaxation exercises
The RISE app can guide you through relaxation exercises.

Breathing exercises can be powerful. And they’re a quick and easy energy-boosting hack you can do while working or studying. 

For example,

  • Research from 2023 (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) shows psychological sighing can lower stress levels and anxiety, and improve your mood. 
  • A 2022 study found diaphragmatic breathing can help those with sleep apnea feel less daytime sleepiness. 
  • A 2017 study found diaphragmatic breathing can boost attention and mood.  

To help you get more sleep, and therefore more energy, we’ve covered breathing exercises to do before bed here, including psychological sighing and diaphragmatic breathing.

RISE can also guide you through breathing exercises, like diaphragmatic breathing, in the app. 

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

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16. Listen to Music 

Try playing your favorite tunes when you’re feeling sleepy at your desk.

Research shows listening to music can boost energy levels, whereas sitting in silence or listening to relaxation instructions can make you feel more tired. 

And one study found 20 minutes of “excitative music” after a nap decreased sleep inertia. It was even more effective when participants liked the song. 

17. Avoid Alcohol 

An espresso martini may sound like the ideal pick-me-up on a night out, but alcohol messes with your sleep and next-day energy levels. 

Even though it causes tiredness at first, alcohol can wake you up in the night and it suppresses the rapid-eye-movement (REM) stage of sleep. In short, it’s bad news for your energy levels.  

To get the most out of your shut-eye, avoid alcoholic drinks three to four hours before bed. RISE can tell you the exact timing based on your body clock. 

We’ve covered more on how long before bed you should avoid alcohol here. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their avoid late alcohol reminder.

18. Take a Break 

We know it’s hard to take a break if you’re rushing to hit a deadline or cramming for an exam. But getting up from your desk, looking at something that isn’t a screen, and switching tasks can boost your alertness levels. 

What should you do during this break? Combine taking a break with other tips we’re covered like going for a walk, doing some exercise, or taking a nap. 

Taking a break is useful during the dreaded afternoon slump, when your energy levels naturally dip in the afternoon. You can check RISE for when this dip is expected to happen each day and schedule a break for this time. 

19. Pull Over if You’re Driving 

While some of these tips can help you if you’re feeling tired while driving, it’s dangerous to push through sleepiness when you’re behind the wheel. If possible, pull over and get some rest or let someone else in the car take over.  

Unfortunately, common driving hacks like turning up the radio or opening the window aren’t that effective at keeping you awake. 

20. Lower Your Overall Sleep Debt 

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

Sleep debt is the measure of how much sleep you owe your body. You’ll have sleep debt if you haven’t been meeting your sleep need recently, which is the number of hours of sleep your body needs. 

While it’s hard to fix when you need a short-term energy boost, lowering your sleep debt is one of the best things you can do to improve your energy levels long term. 

Use RISE to find out how much sleep debt you’re carrying. We recommend keeping it below five hours to feel the most energy. Got more than that? You can pay back sleep debt by: 

  • Taking naps: Remember not to nap too close to bedtime. Check RISE for the best time to snooze during the day. 
  • Going to bed a little earlier. 
  • Sleeping in a little later: Keep this to an hour or two to avoid messing up your circadian rhythm. (More on that next.)
  • Improving your sleep hygiene: Focus on sleep hygiene habits that can help you fall and stay asleep, meaning you get more sleep overall. (More on what to do soon.)

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

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

21. Get in Sync with Your Circadian Rhythm 

RISE app screenshot showing energy peak and dip times
The RISE app can predict your circadian rhythm each day.

Your circadian rhythm is your body’s roughly 24-hour body clock. When you’re in sync with it, you’ll feel more energized and alert during the day and have an easier time falling asleep at night. 

You might be out of sync if: 

  • You work night shifts
  • You’ve got an irregular sleep pattern 
  • You’re living at odds with your chronotype — like a night owl forcing themselves to be a morning person 

You can stay in sync by: 

  • Keeping a consistent sleep schedule: That means heading to bed at roughly the same time each night and resisting the snooze button when your alarm clock rings, even on weekends. 
  • Eating meals at roughly the same times: And avoid eating at night or eating too close to bedtime
  • Going to bed during your Melatonin Window: This is what we call the roughly one-hour window of time when your body’s rate of melatonin production is at its highest. Melatonin primes your body for sleep, so going to bed during this window will give you the best chance of getting a good night’s sleep.

RISE can predict your circadian rhythm each day and show you when your body wants to wake up and go to sleep. This will help you sync up your daily life with it. 

Want more science on this? We’ve covered how to wake yourself up here.

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

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22. Improve Your Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene is the name for the set of daily sleep habits you can do to help you fall and stay asleep at night. This will make keeping your sleep debt low and staying in sync with your circadian rhythm easier. 

Here’s what to do: 

  • Get bright light first thing: Light in the morning resets your circadian rhythm for the day, keeping your sleep cycle in check. Aim for at least 10 minutes of light as soon as possible after waking up. Make that 15 to 20 minutes if it's overcast or you’re getting light through a window.
  • Avoid light close to bedtime: Bright light can keep you up in the evening. About 90 minutes before bed, dim the lights and put on blue-light blocking glasses (we recommend these).
  • Avoid caffeine, large meals, intense exercise, and alcohol too late in the day: Check RISE for when to avoid each one daily.
  • Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet: Aim for 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, use blackout curtains, and wear earplugs and an eye mask.

Sound like a lot to remember? It doesn’t have to be. The RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day and tell you the ideal time to do each one.

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

23. Speak to a Doctor 

Most of the time, sleepiness is caused by high sleep debt and being out of sync with your circadian rhythm. But, if you’ve fixed these and still find yourself feeling tired, it might be worth speaking with your healthcare provider. 

They can test you for sleep disorders and medical conditions that could be making you tired, such as: 

  • Insomnia
  • Sleep apnea
  • Restless leg syndrome 
  • Hypersomnia 
  • Mental health issues like depression and anxiety 
  • Iron deficiency anemia 
  • Diabetes 
  • Chronic fatigue 

Wake Yourself Up Once And For All 

There are times in life when you need a quick hit of energy — think when driving, when working night shifts, or when you need to speed through your to-do list. In these times, a well-timed nap, coffee, or burst of exercise can help. 

But for a long-term improvement in energy, you need to turn to the things science says makes the biggest difference in your energy levels: sleep debt and circadian alignment. 

You can use the RISE app to find out how much sleep debt you have and get a prediction of your circadian rhythm, so you can stay in sync. To make it easier, RISE can also guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits to help you get more sleep and more energy in no time. In fact, 80% of RISE users feel more energy within five days.

Summary FAQs

How to wake yourself up when tired

Wake yourself up when tired by taking a nap, drinking coffee, getting natural light, exercising, eating a healthy snack, drinking water, doing breathing exercises, taking a break, and listening to music. Lowering your sleep debt and syncing up with your circadian rhythm will boost energy levels long term.

How to wake yourself up when tired naturally

Wake yourself up when tired naturally by taking a nap, getting natural light, exercising, eating a healthy snack, drinking water, doing breathing exercises, taking a break, and listening to music. Lowering your sleep debt and syncing up with your circadian rhythm will boost energy levels long term.

How to wake yourself up when tired without caffeine

Wake yourself up when tired without caffeine by taking a nap, getting natural light, exercising, eating a healthy snack, drinking water, doing breathing exercises, taking a break, and listening to music. Lowering your sleep debt and syncing up with your circadian rhythm will boost energy levels long term.

How to wake yourself up when tired during the day

Wake yourself up when tired during the day by taking a nap, drinking coffee, getting natural light, exercising, eating a healthy snack, drinking water, doing breathing exercises, taking a break, and listening to music. Lowering your sleep debt and syncing up with your circadian rhythm will boost energy levels long term.

How to wake yourself up when tired at night

Wake yourself up when tired at night by taking a nap, drinking coffee (if you’re staying up all night), getting light exposure, exercising, eating a healthy snack, drinking water, doing breathing exercises, taking a break, and listening to music. Lowering your sleep debt and syncing up with your circadian rhythm will boost energy levels long term.

How to wake yourself up when tired at work

Wake yourself up when tired at work by drinking coffee, having a conversation with a coworker, getting natural light, exercising, eating a healthy snack, drinking water, doing breathing exercises, taking a break, and listening to music. Lowering your sleep debt and syncing up with your circadian rhythm will boost energy levels long term.

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