• Jan 2024

Trying to avoid feeling tired at work? Our tips on staying awake

Trying to avoid feeling tired at work? Our tips on staying awake
  • While you may be tempted to grab a caffeinated drink and a sugary treat when you’re tired at work, high-glycaemic foods can actually lead to fatigue.
  • Regulating blood sugar levels, also known as glucose, can help give you sustained energy throughout the day and ward off feelings of sluggishness.
  • An easy way to boost energy is with exercise, which promotes steady glucose and is highly effective at combating daily fatigue.

‘Fess up. At some point in your adult life, you probably feared falling asleep at work, imagined what it would be like to have a job where you could take a nap, or simply felt too tired to focus.

For one reason or another, some days, you simply feel tired and must find ways to avoid falling asleep at your desk.

Those factors might make you think about reaching for a sugary pick-me-up or another cup of coffee or tea.

It's time to break the cycle of a quick sugar fix followed by extreme highs and lows in your glucose levels or relying too heavily on caffeine. These short-term solutions won’t give you the sustained energy you’re looking for. 

You can experience better energy at work through not only what you eat but also how you manage your lifestyle. Read our tips below on how you can avoid feeling tired at work. 

Why staying awake at work can be difficult

There could be a few reasons why you’re dragging during the day. Here are some potential causes of why you feel sleepy at your desk:

  • Poor sleep: How well you sleep (quality) matters in addition to how much you sleep. Even if you think you got a full eight hours, if you have a condition like sleep apnoea or woke up repeatedly through the night, it can leave you feeling tired the next day. Also, eating a carb-heavy meal close to bed can negatively affect your sleep and subsequent energy levels the next day. (1) Allow a few hours between your last meal and when you plan to fall asleep. .
  • Not getting enough sleep: If you didn’t get into bed at a time that allowed you to get the NHS’s recommended seven to nine hours of sleep, it could be why you’re falling asleep at your desk.
  • Your breakfast wasn’t satisfying. You may have skipped a morning meal, which can leave you feeling zapped of energy. Or your breakfast could have been lacking enough protein to keep you satiated or had too much sugar or simple carbs. When you eat primarily simple carbs with little to no protein in the morning, such as buttered toast with marmalade or a bowl of cereal, this often causes a glucose spike. This can lead to a crash, which leaves you feeling sluggish and hungry soon after. 
  • You’re not properly hydrated. Lethargy is a common sign of dehydration. Without enough fluids, blood volume shrinks and your heart has to work harder to pump oxygen-saturated blood all over the body. (2) You likely won’t notice that it’s working harder, but that additional effort makes you feel sluggish and tired.
  • You’re stressed. Both acute (short-term) and chronic (ongoing) stress can cause you to feel tired throughout the day and interfere with a good night’s sleep, perpetuating the problem. Sure, worries alone can cause you to toss and turn, which could impact sleep and make you feel tired. But mental fatigue can cause feelings of overwhelm which leave you feeling drained and unmotivated throughout the day. It’s different from physical fatigue which is usually gone once you’ve gotten rest.

    Stress sends your body into flight-or-fight mode which ramps up your heart rate, can cause faster breathing, result in a rush of energy, and increase muscle tension due to a rush of the stress hormone cortisol. When cortisol stops surging, you’re more likely to feel tired and depleted. Stress can also lead to a glucose spike, and a subsequent crash can drain your energy. (3)


Practical tips: Staying awake at work 

Avoiding falling asleep at work is crucial for job performance and overall safety. Plus, maintaining steady energy throughout the day can benefit your health and well-being. 

Here’s how to stay awake at work:

  1. Start the day with a balanced meal: Individuals following a low-glycaemic diet have reported feeling significantly less fatigue than those following a high-glycaemic diet. (4). Choosing a high protein, low glycaemic breakfast will start your day off on the right foot for steady energy. Opt for something with at least 30 grams of protein and some healthy fats and fibre, such as an egg omelette with veggies and a side of lean sausage, Greek yoghurt with berries, or a whey protein shake. 

    If you’re reading this after eating an unbalanced breakfast, you can still turn things around. A smart lunch choice can help improve your energy levels and mood so you don’t get sleepy and grumpy around your colleagues in the afternoon. (4) Try a tuna and avocado wrap, grilled chicken salad with an oil-based dressing, a buffalo chicken salad sandwich, or a salmon and veggie bowl to keep you full, steady your glucose, and give you energy.
  2. Snack wisely: It’s important to keep some healthy snacks on hand so you won’t be tempted to grab a sugary, carb-heavy convenience snack when the need to nosh hits during an energy slump. Try eating about a handful of pistachios (40 grams), a hardboiled egg with raw vegetables, oats with almond butter, a scoop of high-quality protein powder, or some full-fat Greek yoghurt. 
  3. Manage your stress: Unmanaged stress can cause glucose spikes and crashes. If you’re feeling stressed at work, take a short break (block off some time on your calendar if you can) to sip some chamomile tea, do some stretches, or call a friend. Deep breathing exercises might also help relieve stress and boost energy. (5)  
  4. Retool your environment: Exposure to sunlight in the morning can kick-start your circadian rhythm, helping you feel more awake and energised. (6) On days when it’s challenging to get natural sunlight, find ways to set up your workspace to avoid falling asleep at desk. You might want to try using a light therapy lamp or light box to help you feel more awake and help with mood on cloudy days. Ensuring your office is well-lit and has good air circulation and isn’t too warm or too cold can ward off feelings of sleepiness at work. 
  5. Bring in the green: Surrounding your workspace with a little bit of nature such as nice-smelling fresh-cut flowers or living indoor plants can help perk you up. (7) 
  6. Get regular exercise: Routine physical activity helps support steady glucose (and steady energy) by improving insulin sensitivity. (8) The NHS recommends doing at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity each week (30 minutes, five days a week) or racking up 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise each week (25 minutes, three days a week). Going for a 10-minute walk on your work break can help keep glucose steady and energy levels high by stimulating circulation of fresh oxygenated blood and nutrients to your muscles and brain —all of which will help you avoid falling asleep at work.  
  7. Stay hydrated: When the body is dehydrated, you’re likely to feel tired. To stay properly hydrated, plan to drink about three litres of water each day. You can also opt for other no- or low-sugar beverages that are hydrating, such as sparkling water and caffeine-free herbal tea. A good rule of thumb is to get at least half of your daily hydration from plain water. 
  8. Establish good sleep patterns: Getting seven to nine hours of high-quality sleep sets you up for having more energy the next day so you are more likely to exercise, make better food choices, and can concentrate better. (9) Practice good sleep hygiene tips like turning lights low, stopping screen time one to two hours before bed, and taking a warm bath or shower to wind down. Good sleep also helps your body regulate glucose. (10) 

A final note from Lingo

To feel more awake during the day and decrease your risk of falling asleep at work, manage energy levels through a balanced diet that keeps glucose levels steady.

It’s also important to try to get regular exercise and increase your movement throughout the day to feel energised. 

Finally, start a proper sleep hygiene routine to help you wind down for bed and prioritise getting around eight hours of sleep a night.

January 29, 2024


  1. Gu C, Brereton N, Schweitzer A, Cotter M, Duan D, Børsheim E, Wolfe RR, Pham LV, Polotsky VY, Jun JC. Metabolic Effects of Late Dinner in Healthy Volunteers-A Randomized Crossover Clinical Trial. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2020 Aug 1;105(8):2789–802. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32525525/

  2. El-Sharkawy AM, Sahota O, Lobo DN. Acute and chronic effects of hydration status on health. Nutr Rev. 2015 Sep;73 Suppl 2:97-109. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26290295/

  3. Sharma K, Akre S, Chakole S, Wanjari MB. Stress-Induced Diabetes: A Review. Cureus. 2022 Sep 13;14(9):e29142.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9561544

  4. Breymeyer KL, Lampe JW, McGregor BA, Neuhouser ML. Subjective mood and energy levels of healthy weight and overweight/obese healthy adults on high-and low-glycemic load experimental diets. Appetite. 2016 Dec 1;107:253-259.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27507131/

  5. Zaccaro A, Piarulli A, Laurino M, Garbella E, Menicucci D, Neri B, Gemignani A. How Breath-Control Can Change Your Life: A Systematic Review on Psycho-Physiological Correlates of Slow Breathing. Front Hum Neurosci. 2018 Sep 7;12:353. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30245619/

  6. Blume C, Garbazza C, Spitschan M. Effects of light on human circadian rhythms, sleep and mood. Somnologie (Berl). 2019 Sep;23(3):147-156. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11818-019-00215-x.

  7. de Vries S, Hermans T, Langers F. Effects of indoor plants on office workers: a field study in multiple Dutch organizations. Front Psychol. 2023 Jun 28;14:1196106. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37457080/

  8. Borghouts LB, Keizer HA. Exercise and insulin sensitivity: a review. Int J Sports Med. 2000 Jan;21(1):1-12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10683091

  9. Kline CE, Bizhanova ZH, Sereika SM, Buysse D, Imes CC, Kariuki J, et al. Abstract MP21: Better Sleep Health is Associated With Greater Weight Loss During a 12-month Behavioral Weight Loss Intervention. Circulation. 2020;141(Suppl_1):AMP21-AMP. 

  10. Tsereteli N, Vallat R, Fernandez-Tajes J, Delahanty LM, Ordovas JM, Drew DA, Valdes AM, Segata N, Chan AT, Wolf J, Berry SE, Walker MP, Spector TD, Franks PW. Impact of insufficient sleep on dysregulated blood glucose control under standardised meal conditions. Diabetologia. 2022 Feb;65(2):356-365.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34845532/

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