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How to Stay Awake at Work Right About Now

by Hung Nguyen

You can also read this article in German, Spanish, French, Indonesian, Italian and Portuguese.

Whether you’re on the grind at home or in the office, here are 9 creative ways to keep you awake, attentive, and productive while on the clock.

Let’s cut to the chase: It’s a workday, and you’re probably feeling restless, drowsy, and maybe even agitated.

To keep you going for the next few hours, we’ve gathered a roundup of the 9 best tips to keep you alert, active, and productive for the rest of your day.

Don’t worry; we’ll skip the obvious that you probably have already adopted, such as taking more caffeine, going on a walk, or curating a music playlist.


Sleepy? Don't worry—we're here to help.

Photo by Liam Burnett-Blue on Unsplash

How to Stay Awake at Work in 2020

  1. Start chewing gum

  2. Make use of energizing scents

  3. Watch some cat videos

  4. Walk around when you can

  5. Take a midday shower

  6. Play video games

  7. Take a much-needed nap

  8. Workout with a kettlebell

  9. The Pinch Technique



Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

Chew Gum


Apparently—chewing gum has been an effective way for many to stay awake during their workdays.

Bryan Truong of Game Cows reveals: “Chewing gum to stay alert is something I picked up while in college. To be honest, I used to just smoke or snack to make it through finals or complete long drives home to visit family. But as I got older (and gained some weight), I went looking for healthier alternatives. That’s when a friend told me about several studies showing that chewing gum helped individuals stay awake and focused.

And it really does work! I guess the theory is that the voluntary motion of chewing keeps your neurons firing by giving your brain a job to do. It’s not foolproof, of course. If you chew gum nonstop for a few hours, you’re going to end up with a sore jaw and some drool on whatever you nod off against. But intermittently chewing gum, taking short breaks, and doing breathing exercises help me stay focused when it’s late at night, and I have a deadline swiftly approaching.”

And it’s true: A study back in the 90s by Sleep Research Online showed that chewing gum for 15 minutes aided in alertness in sleep-deprived individuals. Gum chewing is also more effective than walking for combating fatigue.

Time for a break to the local kiosk. What’s your favorite chewing gum flavor?


Fire off those neurons!

Photo by Jacob Rubich on Unsplash

Use Sharp/Energizing Scents


This tip involves stimulating your sense of smell.

David Morneau of inBeat suggests: “What helps me personally stay awake throughout my workday are sharp smells. Certain scents increase beta waves associated with alertness. Those are peppermint, jasmine, eucalyptus, and citrus.

My favorite is peppermint. I use peppermint essential oil in a diffuser in my office and drink peppermint tea throughout the day. Its refreshing scent makes me feel focused and alert. So I can sustain my attention longer on complex tasks.”

John Howard of Coupon Lawn chimes in on the use of diffusers: “Use a diffuser with peppermint or citrus scent to keep you awake and energized. Studies say that citrus scent is great for office set-up because it keeps people alert and shortens response time and can keep people engaged throughout the day.”

Watch Cat Videos


No lies—according to Khurram Suhrwardy from Caption Easy, cat videos will not only help you stay awake—you’ll also focus on the task at hand better.

Suhrwardy explains: “As someone whose gag reflex gets triggered by the smell of coffee, I’ve made it my life’s mission to find effective ways to stay awake through the workday. And even though I’ve tried all the many tips—walking around, throwing open the windows to let in light, jamming to my favorite songs—everything pales in comparison to my favorite tried-and-tested method: cat videos.

The American Chemical Society (ACS) says that not only can cat videos boost our mood, but they also improve concentration and attention to detail. How come? You know that fuzzy feeling you get in the pit of your stomach after you watch cute videos of cats? Cat videos boost oxytocin, the ‘happy hormone.’ and reduce cortisol—the ‘stress hormone’ levels in our bodies. The next time you’re feeling drowsy or tired at work, you know what to do!”


Here's a cat gif to keep things exciting!

Get Movin’


Whenever you can move around—do so. For instance, John Crossman from Crossman Career Builders recommends getting up and walking around when you’re on a call, if possible: “The key for me is to keep moving. When I am on my cell phone, I walk around the building. If the weather is an issue, I walk around the conference. The movement keeps me sharp and energized. My best days are when I get 10,000 steps in.”

Doing so will also help to calm your nerves while you’re on a call. If you find your heart beating faster, you can also try doodling while on the call—it’s a positive distraction.

Take a Second Shower


You read right: On top of your morning shower, it’s not a bad idea to go for a splash during the day.

David Cusick of House Method proposes: “If the midday slump typically hits you hard, go home and shower after lunch. I’ve used the local gym (with or without a workout) when my commute was longer; worst comes to worst, splashing your face with water every hour can greatly help.

We’ve all heard the research on how napping at work can make you more productive, but I don’t even know that many people who would want to nap during the workday if they even could. Hopping in for a brisk, quick shower gives your body the reset it needs to make it through the rest of the day.”

If you’re lucky enough to have access to a lake as we do here at the Smallpdf office in Zürich (or even better, the beach!)—go for a quick swim.

Play Video Games


No, you shouldn’t be hogging the game controller for hours. But, taking some time off for a few rounds of your favorite game can help to keep you awake during the rest of the workday.

Scot J Chrisman of The Media House explains: “I’ve discovered that playing video games on my phone can help me stay awake and even help me improve my focus. Some studies back them up, including one where it states that 1 hour of playing video games increased the brain’s ability to concentrate.”

You can also ask for a company’s Nintendo Switch—we use ours almost every day.

If you’re thinking: “But I don’t play games”—so did many people before Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds took off during the last decade. Open up your app store and go for the most popular gaming apps! You can also ask for a company’s Nintendo Switch—we use ours almost every day.


Just an hour will do!

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

Take a Nap


The most obvious tip of all: If you’re feeling drowsy, then you should doze off.

Henry OLoughlin of Buildremote explains: “NASA ran a study about naps and suggests taking power naps between 10 and 20 minutes long. You’ll get the most benefit from a sleep cycle without any of the grogginess associated with longer sleeping periods. I take a 20-minute nap every afternoon. It quickly helps me overcome that afternoon drag feeling.”

Napping is becoming a common practice. Large companies such as Uber, Google, Samsung, and Ben & Jerry’s also encourage napping on the job—to foster a healthy work environment.

Get a Kettlebell


Give yourself a quick, on-the-spot workout. Albert Lee of Home Living Lab explains: “I keep a kettlebell on the desk, and whenever I feel like I am dozing off, I do a quick kettlebell workout consisting of kettlebell shoulder lifts and bicep curls. This 3-minute short workout gets the blood going to the whole body and perks me up straight away. The routine is also not so vigorous that I will get sweaty or disturb my colleague nearby. Perfect for a quick wake-me-up before the postprandial somnolence starts.”

The Pinch Technique


The last tip takes the form of, well, self-infliction. Nothing too crazy, though. Yoann Bierling states: “Staying awake at work is no easy task, especially for someone that has insomnia. What I would do when I feel like there is no other good solution than closing my eyes is that I pinch myself, something that cannot be seen by other colleagues or clients, but that does help to stay awake. It has almost the same effect as a good and liberating yawn, but can be far more discreet as it can be done under the table with close to no external signs.”

Michael Alexis from teambuilding proposes taking it a step further by hiring external help. Alexis says: “This is going to sound a little absurd, but you can hire someone on Craigslist to come pinch you every time you fall asleep. This tactic isn’t hypothetical; I worked with an entrepreneur who did this to stay on task and saw positive results. The Pinch Technique is effective because it doesn’t rely on your willpower; you simply need to commit to hiring someone, and they can take care of the rest.”

And there you have it. We hope our eclectic collection of tips helps you stay awake this week—from chewing gum and watching cat videos to hiring a human pincher!

Now that you’ve solved the “How to stay awake at work” problem, let’s get onto another one: Do you need help compressing PDFs? Check our online tool out, for free. It won’t take more than a drag-and-drop, plus a few seconds.


A pinch a day keeps the doctor away.

Hung Nguyen
Hung Nguyen
Senior Growth Marketing Manager @Smallpdf