How To Stay Awake Even Though You're Exhausted — Because Parenthood, Man

by Becky Bracken
Originally Published: 
How To Stay Awake
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Any parent can tell you that raising kids is a sleep-deprivation marathon that can last well into their adulthood. Everything from midnight feedings to daybreak diarrhea can conspire to leave frazzled parents overwhelmed, under-rested, and ready to fall apart. But don’t. We’ve got your back with a few tips on how to stay awake through the midnight hours — and all the way up till the break of dawn when needed. Yes, even those nights (and, let’s be honest, days too) when you’re completely exhausted.

The Centers for Disease Control recommend adults get at least seven hours of sleep every night and should stay awake for no longer than 17 hours without sleep. Don’t laugh! It’s good advice. But when that’s not possible, there are ways to stay awake and cope.

How to Stay Awake When Tired


Bottom line: Coffee or other caffeinated, sugar-free drinks are probably your best bet. But how much caffeine you consume and when is key to keeping that buzz steady all night long. All it takes for most people is a five-ounce cup of coffee to feel the effects, and it takes about 30 minutes to kick in. Fatigue management expert Mark Rosekind, Ph.D., suggests having a cup of coffee, then laying down for a 30-minute nap so you’ll wake up feeling perky. No need to guzzle gallons of caffeinated drinks — just a steady stream will keep you awake.

Once your bedtime is in sight, taper off the caffeine so that it doesn’t keep you awake longer than you need. And remember, once it’s out of your system, prepare for the crash. It’s also important to remember that sugar will inevitably lead to a quick crash, so stay away from the sweet stuff.

Strategic Naps

Napping, when deployed strategically, can also help keep you in the fight well past your regular bedtime. But maintaining short naps — no longer than about 45 minutes — will help revive you without the dreaded groggy sleep inertia effects. Medical sleep expert Dr. Barry Krakow suggests keeping naps between five and 25 minutes and at least seven hours before your regular bedtime to avoid sleep disruption.

Light Exposure

As the late-night hours pass, it might be tempting to dim the lights to give your eyes a bit of rest. Bad idea. Our internal clocks, or circadian rhythms, are sensitive to light, meaning when your surroundings are bright and well-lit, it helps trick your body into thinking it’s time to be awake. If you’re trying to stay awake during daylight hours, getting some good sunlight can also help you stay awake.

Exercise and a Shower

Anything from a challenging yoga pose to a few jumping jacks can get you moving and breathing, waking you up more and creating a feeling of alertness. If you want to double down on that wide-awake feeling, follow up the exercise with a brisk, cool (not warm) shower.

Practice Staying Up

When it comes to staying awake, practice makes perfect. The key to keeping your eyes open is to reset your internal clock. To do that, you’re going to need to stay up a few times to train your body to stay awake past a certain time. At first, it can be hard because you’re training a new muscle, but after a few late nights, you’ll be a pro.

Give Your Eyes a Break

When working on a computer for several hours, our eyes become tired and sleepy. Looking at a screen can be draining so practice looking away from it every few minutes to avoid less strain on your eyes.

Eat Energy-Boosting Snacks

A little natural sugar can go a long way when you’re sleepy. A few delicious and energy-boosting snacks you can try include peanut butter, yogurt, nuts, baby carrots, and celery sticks.

How to Stay Up All Night

If you’re going to stay awake for 24 hours or more, you’re going to be off your game. In fact, experts say losing a day’s worth of sleep can leave you as impaired as someone too drunk to drive. After 24 hours without sleep, your body starts to temporarily shut down parts of the brain to conserve energy — which, in turn, throws hormones out of whack responsible for everything from your immune system to metabolism.

After staying awake for 48 hours or more, hallucinations, anxiety, and irritability are common. You might also start involuntarily falling into “microsleeps” for brief periods, where you effectively lose consciousness. It goes without saying such behavior can be dangerous, particularly for caregivers of young children.

Staying awake through late nights is just part of being a parent, but bear in mind that going to extremes to get by without sleep can be a potential risk for you and those who count on you to be in control. It might also be worth noting that the more hours you forego sleep, the longer it will take for you to recover. And in the immortal words of Sweet Brown, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

Expert Advice on Keeping Yourself Awake

So, what’s a parent to do? Especially one with a newborn feeding around the clock, an infant amid sleep regression, or a toddler who refuses to sleep? For a healthier approach to not falling asleep/staying up late, experts actually recommend good sleep hygiene to help improve the overall quality of sleep. Per the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, this includes:

  • Keeping a consistent sleep schedule
  • Setting an early enough bedtime to get at least seven hours of sleep
  • Not going to bed unless you are sleepy
  • Establishing a relaxing bedtime routine
  • Using your bed only for sleep and sex
  • Making your bedroom quiet and soothing
  • Turning off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime
  • Abstaining from large meals before bedtime
  • Reducing fluid intake before bedtime
  • Taking a walk and getting some fresh air can really wake you up. If you find yourself slumping at your desk, walk around the block and take some deep breaths.
  • Play some upbeat music very loud. Music is a great way to put yourself in a hyper mood, so blast songs you would use during a workout. It’s a motivating mood changer.

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