Tips for Coping at School and Work

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2020

Daytime sleepiness, fatigue, poor mood, and problems concentrating are common in adults and children who have insomnia. These symptoms can lead to problems with school and work performance.

Studies show that high school and college students with sleep problems get lower grades and participate in fewer extracurricular activities. At work, people with insomnia tend to make more mistakes, perform less work, and miss more days of work than their coworkers.1,2

If insomnia makes it hard for you to stay awake while at school or work, try these tips for staying awake, that is, until you can get a good night’s sleep.

Sleepy in the classroom

If you find yourself falling asleep in class, try these tips to stay awake and concentrate better:3,4

  • Move your body. You may not be able to do jumping jacks in the classroom, but you can ask to go to the restroom, splash some water in your face, and jog there and back. Anything that gets your blood flowing can boost your ability to stay awake.
  • Breathe deeply. A few deep, slow breaths will get a little more oxygen into your system and help you concentrate. Even better, get outside for a little sunshine and fresh air between classes if you can.
  • Consider caffeine. A cup of coffee, tea, or soda can help keep you awake. But, you will need to stop drinking caffeine later in the day so that the caffeine does not keep you awake at night.
  • Participate. Being an active student in class can help keep you awake. Sit in the front of the class, sit up straight, ask questions, and take notes.

You may need to ask for some accommodations at school if your insomnia leaves you feeling sleepy the next day. Simple things you need include:3,4

  • Sitting at a desk near a window so you get more light
  • Sitting at the back of the room so you can get up and stand when you get sleepy
  • Keeping a bottle of water with you to sip on during class
  • Chewing gum or sucking on a peppermint to activate your brain
  • Permission to take a short nap in the nurse’s office during your lunch break

Sleepy at work

It can be hard to stay productive at work when you have not been getting enough sleep. If you find your concentration slipping while on the job, try these tips to stay alert:5

  • Drink plenty of water. Keeping your body hydrated helps your blood flow. Rather than reach for another cup of coffee, fill up your water bottle instead.
  • Splash cold water on your face. Cold water on your face draws the blood flow up to your head. This can temporarily make you feel more awake.
  • Eat less sugar. Those donuts your coworker brought may seem like a good idea, but sugar causes your energy levels to spike and then crash. The energy crash can leave you sleepy. Reach for some nuts or a piece of fruit instead.
  • Take regular breaks. Every half hour get up from your desk and move around for 5 minutes to get your blood flowing. This works especially well if you are working on a task you find boring.
  • Distract yourself. Music and talking wake up your senses. If you find yourself getting sleepy, put on your headphones and listen to music you find energizing. Or, get up and walk over to a coworker’s desk to talk for a few minutes.

Nothing will take the place of a good night’s sleep, but these tips can help you perform better at school and work despite your insomnia.

How do you manage insomnia at work or school? Share tips that you have found successful in this forum, here.

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