How to Stay Awake in Class – 9 Reasons and Fixing tips

How to Stay Awake in Class

Feeling drowsy and struggling to keep your eyes open during lectures is a common experience for many students. Heavy eyelids, frequent yawning, and zoning out during lessons can negatively impact your learning and grades.

This article will explore the main reasons students tend to feel sleepy during class time. It outlines the effects daytime drowsiness has on academic performance and overall wellbeing. Finally, you’ll find helpful strategies and tips to stay alert and engaged during your lessons and lectures so you can succeed.

Is Feeling Sleepy Normal?

Occasionally feeling a bit tired during certain classes, especially right after lunch or in a warm room, is perfectly normal. However, if you experience:

  • Strong urge to nap during most or all your classes
  • Repeatedly falling asleep at your desk
  • Inability to concentrate or retain information

This indicates an underlying issue is likely causing you to feel abnormally drowsy during the day. Determining the root causes of your fatigue allows you to make changes to stay awake in class.

Why Students Get Sleepy During Class

Before covering how to avoid drowsiness, it’s important to understand the key reasons you may get tired during lessons in the first place:

1. Inadequate Sleep

The #1 reason students get drowsy in class is not getting sufficient restful sleep at night. Teens require 8-10 hours per night for optimal functioning, but many average only 5-7 hours. Staying up late to finish assignments, binge watch shows, or scroll social media results in sleep deprivation. This builds up a “sleep debt” over consecutive days that’s difficult to recover from during the school week. Fighting fatigue becomes extremely challenging without adequate sleep.

2. Early School Start Times

Scientific research confirms most teens experience a natural delay in their circadian rhythm that shifts their ideal sleep-wake cycle later. But starting school early in the morning – usually between 7-8am – forces students to wake up much earlier than their internal body clocks dictate. Just a 30 minute-1 hour later start time results in significant reductions in daytime sleepiness. When start times are mismatched with teen sleep needs, drowsiness in class is inevitable.

3. Heavy Cognitive Workload

Expending mental energy for hours of intense concentration wears down the brain’s resources. The active thinking and focus required during back-to-back lessons tires out the mind. It’s understandable students hit an afternoon slump after a full morning of academic demands.

4. Physical Inactivity

Sitting for prolonged periods leads to reduced blood flow and oxygenation to the brain, resulting in mental fogginess. Most students sit nearly all day aside from passing periods, causing a largely sedentary lifestyle. Built-up physical inactivity inhibits cognitive arousal and energy levels.

5. Poor Nutrition

Eating a diet low in protein, fiber, and healthy fats but high in processed carbs and sugar destabilizes energy levels. Blood sugar crashes from poor nutrition contribute to mid-class sleepiness. Dehydration from inadequate water intake also worsens fatigue.

6. Medical Factors

Certain health issues like sleep disorders, anemia, thyroid problems, asthma, depression, and medications with sedating side effects can exacerbate daytime drowsiness for students. It’s wise to rule out any underlying medical contributors.

Understanding the science behind why you feel like constantly dozing off places you in a better position to combat it effectively.

Consequences of Sleeping in Class

Giving in to fatigue during lessons can negatively impact your student life in several ways:

  • Poorer retention and comprehension of class material
  • Missed or late assignments and lower quiz/test performance
  • Falling behind academically or lower overall course grades
  • Irritation from teachers resulting in reprimands or penalties
  • Missing important class announcements about assignments or events
  • Difficulty participating fully in collaborative group work or discussions
  • Embarrassment and damage to your reputation among peers
  • Increased safety risk if driving while drowsy after school

Rather than succumb to a nap, proactively taking steps to boost wakefulness will serve you better academically and socially. Here are the most helpful strategies:

Tips to Stay Alert in Class

Get Adequate Sleep

Make it your top priority to get sufficient sleep at night through good sleep habits:

  • Keep a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, even on weekends
  • Avoid screens and social media before bed to improve sleep quality
  • Limit caffeine, especially late in the day as it impairs sleep
  • Create an optimal sleep environment that’s cool, dark and quiet
  • Establish a relaxing pre-bedtime routine like reading fiction, taking a bath, or listening to calm music
  • Write down any worries or to-do lists to empty your mind for sleep
  • Go to bed when genuinely tired rather than staying up late engaged in tiring activities

Eat Nutritious Foods

Follow a healthy diet to stabilize energy:

  • Eat protein-rich breakfasts like eggs, Greek yogurt or nut butter on whole grain toast
  • Avoid sugary breakfasts like cereal, pancakes or pastries which cause crashes
  • Drink plenty of water during the day to stay hydrated
  • Limit sugary snacks and beverages
  • Consume fruits, veggies and whole grains for fiber
  • Eat small snacks every few hours to maintain blood sugar

Engage Your Senses

Use your senses to feel more alert:

  • Chew mint gum – menthol boosts alertness
  • Drink cold water
  • Sniff essential oils like peppermint, eucalyptus, or citrus
  • Suck on a hard candy like a sour Jolly Rancher
  • Use a scented hand sanitizer
  • Listen to upbeat music on headphones before or between classes

Move Around

Avoid sitting still for too long:

  • Take deep breaths which oxygenates your blood
  • Stretch your legs and flex your feet frequently
  • Clench and release muscles to improve circulation
  • Chewing gum engages your jaw muscles
  • Shift positions and posture every 10-15 minutes
  • Go for a short walk or get a drink of water when feeling foggy

Engage Your Brain

Keep your mind active:

  • Ask and answer the teacher’s questions
  • Make predictions about content as lessons progress
  • Take notes by hand rather than typing
  • Connect new material to prior knowledge
  • Draw visual representations of concepts
  • Teach what you’re learning to an imaginary audience

Be Strategic About Caffeine

Caffeine improves alertness but use it wisely:

  • Limit to one small coffee or energy drink per day
  • Avoid past late morning so it doesn’t disrupt sleep
  • Wait until fatigue hits rather than over-consuming all day
  • Combine with exercise for energy synergy

Talk to Your Doctor

See your physician if you struggle with:

  • Ongoing sleepiness despite proper sleep and lifestyle
  • Falling asleep unintentionally
  • Symptoms like snoring or stopping breathing at night
  • Excessive daytime fatigue accompanied by other issues like weight gain

Medical problems like sleep disorders, anemia or thyroid conditions may be responsible.

Don’t assume daily drowsiness in class is inevitable. Applying these tips can help boost your alertness, learning and success!

Helpful Class Habits

Additionally, certain classroom habits promote wakefulness:

  • Sit near the front so the teacher is in your direct line of sight
  • Interact with the teacher by asking and answering questions
  • Avoid sitting near sleep-inducing features like windows, cushy chairs or heaters
  • Sit up straight and avoid slouching, crossing arms on desks or other sleepy postures
  • Alternate between listening, writing, reading and hands-on activities
  • Take only very brief restroom breaks to splash water on your face or get a drink, not to nap!
  • Pair up with an energetic peer who can fill you in on things you miss

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is it bad to sleep in class?

Occasionally dozing off during a boring or warm classroom session is normal. But regularly sleeping during lessons can negatively impact comprehension, focus, participation, and social connections. Prioritize diagnosing the root cause of fatigue so you can make changes to stay awake.

2. How much sleep do high school students need?

Teenagers require 8-10 hours of high quality sleep every night to function optimally during the day. Getting sufficient restorative sleep is key to maintaining focus, concentration, memory, learning, and energy levels throughout the school day.

3. What’s the best food to eat to stay awake during class?

Focus on complex carbs like oatmeal, whole grains and fruits which provide steady energy. Lean proteins, nuts, Greek yogurt, and vegetables will help you stay alert without getting sleepy. Hydration is also key- sip water frequently. Limit heavy foods or excess sugar which cause fatigue.

4. Is cold water effective for staying awake?

Yes, drinking cold water or splashing it on your face and the back of your neck can provide an instant alertness boost by lowering body temperature briefly and activating the vagus nerve. The cold sensory input leads to temporary arousal.

5. Should I exercise in the morning to avoid feeling tired in class later?

Getting in some physical activity in the morning before school can definitely help you feel more awake and focused during later lessons. Exercise helps regulate sleep cycles, metabolism, focus and mood – all of which boost daytime alertness.


Feeling drowsy during lectures is frustrating but often avoidable. Ensure you get enough sleep, take care of your physical and mental health, employ alertness strategies during lessons, communicate with instructors, and address any underlying issues. Making your health and learning a priority will help you stay awake and engaged to maximize academic success.

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