It can be tempting to reach for an espresso or an energy drink to stay awake when tired. However, drinking coffee when you’re sleepy causes more harm than good, placing you in a vicious cycle. Just 500 to 600 milligrams of caffeine, from roughly 4 cups of coffee can cause side effects, such as jitters, nervousness, and stomach issues.
The caffeine rush that helps you beat your daytime drowsiness takes up to 8 hours to wear off. If you’re downing multiple cups of java, expect the caffeine to change your sleep patterns. Caffeine reduces sleep time and alters your stages of sleep, thus drastically decreasing your sleep quality. This can leave you feeling less refreshed when you wake up the next day and craving for more caffeine to stay up.
How to Stay Awake When Tired without Caffeine
Fortunately, there are many ways you can perk yourself up without coffee – beyond getting more shuteye in the night. Incorporating more activities that refresh you and stimulate the brain are surefire ways of improving your mood and getting a quick boost of energy.
They also prevent you from reaching for a drink that will eventually make you feel more tired than you did before. Keep reading to find out our most effective and natural energy-boosting tips, minus the jitters.
1) Nutritious Snacks
Low blood sugar can cause lethargy, mental fog and an inability to concentrate on your work. This is normally caused by having large meals. Have you heard the term “food coma?” When you consume large meals, it takes more energy to digest your food at a given time. Furthermore, a heavy meal can result in massive insulin spikes, which later drops suddenly and leaves you feeling incredibly zapped.
Masking this effect with coffee, energy drinks or sugar-laden snacks may result in a momentary high, but will cause a deep crash that will leave you lethargic for hours.
Instead of having one heavy lunch, try having lighter meals with small snacks in between. A healthy light snack can offer you with energy- and mood-lifting nutrients, such as iron and good fats.
Here are some snack ideas for preventing a midday slump:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Kale crackers and chips
- Dark chocolate
- Roasted chickpeas
- Quinoa puffs
- Low-fat yogurt with berries
- Banana and peanut butter
- Dark chocolate coated almond
- Carrots and hummus
- Olives (not more than 5 large, or 10 small olives)
- Chia “pudding,” made by soaking chia seeds in almond milk
2) Breathe Deeply
When you breathe deeply, you’re increasing the amount of oxygen that reaches your lungs and is delivered to the rest of your body. This boosts circulation and metabolism, which helps bring your energy levels to improve.
Any time you get the chance, try placing your hands over the stomach and breathe in deeply into your belly. Gently breathe in deeply through your nose and notice your belly rising upwards, pushing your hand out. After a deep inhalation, breathe out through your mouth with your lips pursed. Complete ten full breaths to boost your energy levels and reduce your stress.
3) Olfactory Stimulation
There is nothing like the smell of fresh coffee early in the morning. Smell is a powerful stimulation technique, which is why aromatherapists have been using it for centuries.
If you’re feeling unusually sluggish or lethargic, try the following essential oils:
- Peppermint essential oil: Helps boost energy
- Rosemary essential oil: Increases awareness
- Eucalyptus essential oil: Increases oxygen supply in the body
- Cinnamon essential oil: Improves your reaction time
- Cedarwood essential oil: Activates your mind and boosts creativity
If you don’t have any of these essential oils at home, try lotions or candles that give off the same scents. You can also get similar effects from having peppermint tea or green tea with cinnamon.
Citrus, such as oranges, limes, and grapefruits are also natural olfactory stimulators that can help you feel more refreshed. When you tear off the peel of these fruits, they release oils with unique scents that can help you stay awake.
And, by the way, there are also essential oils that help you sleep at night.
4) Step Outside for a While
If you’re powering through long projects at work and feel like you need a quick recharge, try leaving your office space for a little and getting some sun. According to research published in Frontiers in Physics, exposure to blue light can help increase alertness and improve performance. Blue light is the natural visible light that comes from the sun. It can also come from artificial sources such as laptops, smartphones, TVs and LED lighting, which is why watching a screen before bedtime is not recommended.
However, in the daytime, the softly glowing blue light from your phone or laptop isn’t going to be enough to keep you up while you work. You need a stronger dose of blue light, which can be obtained easily from the sun. Researchers have found that when people are exposed to special formulations of blue light, they feel less tired, more attentive and have quicker reaction times.
Sunlight also activates the hypothalamus of the brain – a part that controls your circadian rhythms. This is what regulates your wakefulness and sleep, setting a normal sleep pattern for your mind and body. Therefore, next time you feel like you need a quick pick-me-up, try stepping out and going for a 10-minute walk. This will not only give you some sun but will also increase your blood flow and oxygen supply to the brain.
5) Have a Power-Packed Breakfast
According to a study published in the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition, consuming a high-fiber breakfast resulted in the greatest boost in alertness among participants. Protein is also a vital nutrient for energy, and it can be easily added to your meal. Protein is digested slowly in the body, so you don’t end up in a “food coma,” and you feel satiated much faster.
Eggs are an excellent source of high-quality protein. However, this doesn’t mean you have to eat the whites only. Contrary to popular belief, while egg yolks do contain fat, they’re also rich in some fantastic nutrients, including good fats that improve brain function and health. One whole egg contains 5 grams of fat – of which, only 1.5 grams are saturated. Whole eggs are rich sources of choline, an essential B vitamin required for brain and nervous system health.
Not a fan of eggs? Try avocado toast, beans, tofu and spinach scramble or green smoothies with dark leafy greens, peanut butter and your choice of fruit. Not only are these delicious and satiating, but they’re also packed with iron, good fats and vitamin C that help elevate your mood, and give you long-lasting energy.
6) Update Your Playlist
According to a study published in Nature Neuroscience, participants who listened to music they genuinely enjoyed for 15 minutes showed that their brains were packed with dopamine. Dopamine is a neurochemical that is responsible for feelings of pleasure. When you listen to your favorite music, your mind instantly picks it up as a reward – kind of like when you have chocolate or cheese.
The feel-good chemicals released in your brain can give you a quick boost of positive energy that can help you fulfill your day’s tasks efficiently.
Listening to music you enjoy can also stimulate the release of other mood-boosting chemicals as well, such as oxytocin and serotonin. A 2013 study published in the journal, Sensors, discovered that music, especially when it is loud, can help sleepy drivers feel more alert.
However, not all playlists are created equal. The more varied your playlist is, the more stimulating it will be to your mind. Listening to the same tunes on repeat is not going to have the same impact on your mind, so be sure to include music you haven’t listened to in a while. What’s works better is to sing along. When you sing along to music, you feel more energetic, more positive and more creative than you did before you plugged in your earphones.
7) Have a Glass of Cold Water
If you’re looking for an instant boost, ice water is an excellent caffeine alternative to stay awake. This pushes your body to bring the water to your body’s natural temperature, thus helping you feel more awake. Cold water is also more refreshing than room temperature water. However, if you’re a person who doesn’t drink enough water, the chances are that your tiredness is a result of dehydration and upping your water intake alone can help bring your energy levels up.
Fatigue is one of the most common signs of dehydration. Drinking coffee multiple times a day can keep you from staying hydrated. The caffeine in coffee is a diuretic, which means it removes more water from your body. Drinking coffee also makes you reach for water less often.
Try starting your day with a tall glass of water instead of your cuppa choice and keep a reusable water bottle in hand throughout the day. Not only is your body more than 75% water, but it also relies on water to carry out numerous vital functions – including metabolism.
One mistake most people make is that they only drink water when they’re thirsty. If you feel thirsty, your body has already hit dehydration. To prevent this, aim to drink more than eight glasses of water per day. Note that upping your water intake will increase your bathroom breaks, which means you’ll be moving more as well. You should avoid drinking too much water before you go to bed.
8) Watch a Relaxing Video about Pets
With millions of funny videos being circulated on the internet, it doesn’t make sense not to use them to our advantage, especially when we are feeling drained. For a quick boost of energy, we recommend cat videos. You may feel that watching videos of cute animals may be a simple way of passing the time and getting some entertainment, but it’s much more than that.
Research shows that people report a quick mood boost and positive emotions, along with improved wakefulness, and productivity levels after watching these videos. Watching cute or funny videos also minimizes negative feelings that zap your energy.
When you interact with animals in person, your body releases more oxytocin, a neurotransmitter that elevates positive emotions, such as trust. It also decreases cortisol, a chemical released in the brain that is linked to stress. Some experts believe that watching cute animal videos may have similar effects on our bodies as well.
Another reason to watch cat videos is that they make you laugh. Humor is an effective way of boosting one’s mood. According to a University of Nebraska-Lincoln study, when college students watched 12 minutes of comedic clips, they felt more energetic afterward compared to people who didn’t watch those clips.
9) Take Your Eyes Away From the Screen
Looking at one point, such as a laptop screen, for several hours hurts your eyes, making it difficult to keep them open throughout the day.
It is estimated that as much as 95% of Americans may be at risk of computer vision syndrome. This is especially the case among those who have sedentary jobs and have to use the computer. Extended periods of screen time can cause eye strain, dryness of the eyes, eye irritation, blurred vision, neck and shoulder pain, headaches and mental fog.
To reduce your risk, try decreasing the glare on your screen or update to an LCD screen. Also, try correcting your posture while working, blinking frequently, and looking away from your screen and staring at a distant object every 20 minutes.
You can also try this easy eye exercise:
- Roll your eyes up and down, left and right and diagonally
- Next, rotate them clockwise and anticlockwise
- Squeeze your eyes shut and open them wide
- Repeat several times for 1-2 minutes
10) Chat with Your Colleagues
Every now and then, get up from your chair and walk to your colleagues if you want to talk to them, instead of sending them an email. Other than work-related matters, try discussing things that peak your interest and will stimulate your mind, such as philosophy. You can also trade funny stories or talk about something interesting you recently watched.
Humans are social creatures; therefore engaging in conversations we enjoy can be a powerful behavioral stimulator. Even introverts benefit mentally from some social interactions.
Increasing your in-person interactions will set your mind in motion, jump-starting you for your next task.
11) Splash Some Cold Water
Try washing your face with cold water first thing in the morning, during bathroom breaks and any other time you get the chance during work hours. In general, the human body maintains a temperature of 37 degrees Celsius. When you expose your skin to cold water, it pushes your body to regulate its internal temperature. This awakens your body and keeps you more alert.
If you’re wondering how you can stay up late without caffeine, a cold shower can be far more effective in increasing mood, alertness and energy levels, than a cup of coffee. However, we know this isn’t for everyone.
Therefore, every time you take a shower, try turning down the temperature towards the end and take a cold shower for at least 20 seconds before stepping out. If you’re in a time crunch, step directly into a cold shower and rinse yourself for a couple of minutes for an instant boost.
12) Swap Soda for Kombucha
There’s a wide variety of probiotic-rich foods available today, such as kimchi, miso, and kefir. However, kombucha tops our list of probiotic foods because not only is it incredibly good for you, it’s also a delicious alternative to sugar-laden sodas. Kombucha is prepared by fermenting tea, which is later flavored with a combination of natural ingredients such as fruit or herbs.
Probiotics are essential to counter imbalances in our gut flora. Numerous factors such as a diet high in processed food, too much sugar, smoking, alcohol consumption and antibiotics intake can disturb the natural balance of your friendly bacteria, thereby affecting your immune system, metabolism, and overall health. Imbalances in your gut bacteria can also make you feel tired more frequently.
Kombucha does not only help improve your gut flora, but it’s also incredibly refreshing when consumed cold. Therefore, instead of going for your regular order of cold coffee, try buying a bottle of kombucha. Sure, kombucha does contain some trace amounts of caffeine from the tea used during fermentation, but the caffeine isn’t enough to cause any side effects.
13) Try These Drinks Without Caffeine that Wake You Up
A hot drink, such as a coffee or a tea is a beloved aspect of many people’s work life. However, the effects of too much caffeine on the system can be counterproductive in our efforts to finish our work creatively and efficiently.
If you’re trying to figure out what you can drink that doesn’t have caffeine, we’ve got you covered.
Coconut water is a clear, refreshing liquid that comes from young coconuts. Coconut water is naturally sweet, is packed with rehydrating electrolytes and is rich in bioactive enzymes that can lift your energy levels for hours without causing a crash. Coconut water can also be used as a natural sports drink, instead of store-bought sugary energy drinks.
If you’re not a fan of kombucha, sparkling water can be a refreshing alternative to soda and even coffee. When flavored with sugar-free, natural fruit extracts, a bottle of cold sparkling water can make an amazingly delicious and hydrating drink.
Hot Apple Cider
The tanginess of hot apple cider is uniquely satisfying and offers a quick pick me up when you’re avoiding caffeine. When warm, it can be just as comforting as a cup of hot coffee on a cold winter morning.
Since apples are the main ingredient in apple cider, the drink is also naturally sweet. Furthermore, it offers a plethora of health benefits that cannot be found in coffee.
Gingko biloba is an herbal extract from the nut of the ginkgo biloba tree. It has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries as a vasodilator, which means it expands your blood vessels and increases blood flow to your brain and extremities. Also, gingko biloba is also popular for increasing focus, creativity, and overall wellbeing.
Consumed in a tea, capsule or tincture form, gingko biloba is also commonly used to treat asthma and circulatory diseases.
14) Have an Apple and Stretch
Stretching as you rise from your seat, increase oxygenation in your blood, sends more oxygen to your brain and muscles and boosts your metabolism. This increases alertness and focus.
Try combining your office stretch routine with a fresh apple. Simply the act of chewing an apple opens up muscle and neural pathways. The fructose in the apple kick starts your metabolism and your energy production.
15) Exercise in the Morning
From inhibiting emotional stress to improving your mood and sleep patterns, working out in the morning comes with a wide range of benefits that can help you feel awake. However, exercising before bed isn’t recommended.
When you workout in the morning, your body releases dopamine and endorphins, making you feel rejuvenated and energized. Plus starting your day with one accomplishment helps you carry out the rest of the day with more confidence and positivity.
If you’re want to keep yourself accountable, have a workout buddy or sign up for a morning exercise class.
If you rely on coffee for your daily energy, it will take your body some time to cope without caffeine. Caffeine withdrawal symptoms include fatigue, irritability, headache, drowsiness, and difficulty concentrating. However, these symptoms are temporary and may only last for a couple of days – especially if you incorporate healthier lifestyle choices, such as the ones mentioned above.
If you do experience discomfort, try slowly reducing your intake over the course of one week. Be sure to stay well hydrated and substitute lower caffeine sources such as green tea as needed, till you’re ready to go cold turkey.