Tricks to keep from falling asleep?
June 13, 2010 3:27 PM   Subscribe

What are your tricks to keep from falling asleep in public situations such as meetings?
posted by estlin to Human Relations (45 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Get more sleep at night. If you're well-rested, this shouldn't be a problem. If you can't get enough sleep, either rearrange your schedule so that you have enough time to sleep, or see a doctor to determine how to ensure that you sleep restfully.
posted by decathecting at 3:29 PM on June 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm a dedicated doodler, it really helps me stay awake. I also drink a lot of water.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 3:30 PM on June 13, 2010

2nding the water recommendation, particularly ice-cold water.
posted by inigo2 at 3:32 PM on June 13, 2010

At these meetings, is it imperative to be paying attention or is it only important to just stay awake?
posted by MaryDellamorte at 3:38 PM on June 13, 2010

Take notes.

I had this issue when I worked for a job I greatly disliked. I now have a job that I enjoy and am engaged in, and I don't attend meetings unless I need to. That is: I don't go just because I've been invited; I only attend meetings where my input is specifically needed or I have a vested interest in the discussion. This has the effect of greatly increasing my engagement and decreasing wasted time and boredom.
posted by kdar at 3:43 PM on June 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Taking notes. I'm completely useless unless I'm writing, because it makes me pay close attention and notice myself starting to drift. Be warned that it does earn you a certain reputation.
posted by carbide at 3:44 PM on June 13, 2010

I suggest fewer meetings.
posted by ymendel at 3:47 PM on June 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

Caffeine does help. Iced coffee is my favorite for those situations.

Also, I find asking questions - if appropriate - and taking notes helps. Getting engaged in the discussion is the best way to keep me from zoning out and nodding off.
posted by darkstar at 3:48 PM on June 13, 2010

If you can use a paper and pencil, I play an ABC Scattergories type game. I list the alphabet down one side of my paper and then make columns with different headings like 'movies', 'tv shows'. 'bands', and then try to fill in the grid. So Q + bands = Queen and L + tv show = Lost.

I've also been known to practice writing with my left hand. Cus, you know that'd be cool and when else am I going to practice?
posted by NoraCharles at 3:49 PM on June 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

(Of course, asking questions and getting involved also earns you a certain reputation.)
posted by darkstar at 3:49 PM on June 13, 2010

Best answer: Even when I am legitimately interested in the subject, and in fact especially if I'm having to process big information, I will nod straight off in training or meetings. I have to take notes, and even if I don't ask them out loud I have to formulate questions about the material to ask; that seems to be what it takes to make the part of my brain engage that will keep me awake.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:53 PM on June 13, 2010

Seconding coffee and doodling and fewer meetings. And no sugary stuff before the meeting: you'd start brilliantly alert, but would crash and burn after 25 minutes.
posted by Namlit at 3:55 PM on June 13, 2010

Pinch your own arm.
posted by No New Diamonds Please at 3:56 PM on June 13, 2010

Best answer: I know a lot of third-shifters who stay awake by sitting at the edge of their chair, so it takes effort to not fall of, and if you -do- fall asleep, you end up in a pile on the floor. Might look a little strange in a meeting, though.
posted by Syllables at 3:58 PM on June 13, 2010

Best answer: Wiggle your toes for a few minutes. It pushes more blood up to your head. Dropping blood pressure and less blood going through your brain is what's putting you to sleep. Works if you're feeling drowsy while driving, too.
posted by beagle at 4:02 PM on June 13, 2010

Best answer: I take deep breaths.
posted by mnemonic at 4:09 PM on June 13, 2010

When drifting off at work, I chew gum or drink water. I guess you can't chew gum at your meetings, but it does tend to work for me. It's more or less the action and the concentration on the act so I don't swallow it.
posted by cmgonzalez at 4:10 PM on June 13, 2010

Best answer: Try to somehow get directly engaged by someone else. I remember in school, if a teacher suddenly called on me, or now, in meetings, if someone addresses me a question out of the blue, it's like a shot of caffeine directly into the bloodstream for a good 10-15 minutes.

Taking notes never worked for me, personally. I can literally fall asleep in the middle of writing a sentence-- my high school and college notebooks are full of phrases that start to wander and then suddenly trail off into an illegible line.
posted by threeants at 4:15 PM on June 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Sit in front (or near the primary speaker). Make eye contact. Knowing you're visible is a powerful stimulant.
posted by toodleydoodley at 4:28 PM on June 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I bring a snack if I think I'm tired because of low blood sugar or whatever.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 4:33 PM on June 13, 2010

Stand up if you can. If you fall asleep while standing up, you have bigger problems than just staying awake during the meeting.
posted by Brent Parker at 4:37 PM on June 13, 2010

I take notes. This has other benefits too, of course.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:47 PM on June 13, 2010

From Ms. Vegetable: I agree with the taking notes and writing with nondominant hand (I have been known to practice the alphabet for a while in long meetings). Best thing I've found is playing "buzzword bingo" with myself, though. I have a list of words (like "train" and "leverage" and "discuss") that I tick off if somebody says them. At one company-wide meeting, the CEO said "train" 15 times in the last 5 minutes - he must've been trying to hit his quota. This also works with equally bored coworkers as actual bingo, and coming up with the words can take a few meetings by itself.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:50 PM on June 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

+1 to standing up in the back of the room.
posted by Jambi at 4:58 PM on June 13, 2010

+1 to sitting right up at the front. I do this to be more engaged with the presenter and it does the trick.
posted by Jambi at 4:59 PM on June 13, 2010

Active listening: maintain eye contact with the speaker to help keep your mind from drifting off.
posted by kaudio at 5:04 PM on June 13, 2010

I second the suggestion of fewer meetings. If you're in a position in your company to suggest it, do so. There's mountains of evidence-both anecdotal and scientific-to prove that they reduce productivity and employee involvement by alarming degrees. You're falling asleep because you're bored. As for everything else, do hydrate and try moving your bedtime to be a little earlier each night.
posted by littlerobothead at 5:08 PM on June 13, 2010

Bright lights & cold temperature are used in offices to keep people awake.

You won't have a whole lot of control over the lights, but you can take your jacket off.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:42 PM on June 13, 2010

Stand. Walk around. If necessary, walk out of the room - even if it appears odd or rude. The alternative is much much worse for your career.
posted by klarck at 5:55 PM on June 13, 2010

Altoids, if it's the kind of thing your corporate culture would allow.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:03 PM on June 13, 2010

I write. If it's an interesting meeting or at least relevant to me and/or my colleagues, I'll take notes but otherwise, I'll write anything I can think of - to do lists, shopping lists, places where I want to go on vacation, notes to my husband, list of people I should get in touch with, reasons why this meeting is terrible, things the presenter said that could be hilarious if taken out of context, etc. If there's a particular buzzword or jargon being used, I'll keep track of how often the presenter says it because it cracks me up.

Sometimes though I just really need to get up and leave the room. That might not be helpful but if I'm really concerned that I am going to fall out of my chair because I cannot keep my eyes open, I'll just get up, go to the ladies room, walk around, and come back. Can't do it all the time but it really helps.

If you can, I also recommend going to the bathroom and jumping up and down a few times. That gets your blood going like little else.
posted by kat518 at 7:19 PM on June 13, 2010

My strategies for not nodding off in seminars in grad school include taking notes, sketching, a pot of hot tea... When I can get away with it, knitting a simple pattern occupies my hands and takes just enough concentration to keep me alert without distracting from the meeting. In the end, the most effective thing was moving in with my girlfriend who wanted to keep a more regular sleep schedule.
posted by JiBB at 7:21 PM on June 13, 2010

Best answer: If you can snack in the meeting, try something very innocuous like raisins or nuts. It's very hard to nod off with something in your mouth - part of the bodies natural defense to keep you from choking to death. Good for staying awake while driving as well.
posted by elendil71 at 7:26 PM on June 13, 2010

Water. You'll have to pee, but you can't fall asleep while eating or drinking (if you're sober.)
posted by filmgeek at 7:30 PM on June 13, 2010

Turn the thermostat down. Make the room cold. Meeting will go quicker too.
posted by gjc at 7:48 PM on June 13, 2010

I find that wearing a silly hat helps: you'll look even more stupid if you fall asleep while wearing it. This may not be appropriate for all meetings.
posted by caaaaaam at 8:23 PM on June 13, 2010

I wait to pee. The urge to go pee, if I can hold it, keeps me awake.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:31 PM on June 13, 2010

I pinch my earlobes as hard as I can, without breaking the skin, until I perk up.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:44 PM on June 13, 2010

In addition to caffeine, taking, notes, doodling and planning. I also do isometric desk exercises and pay attention to my breathing. Deep breathing will keep me awake.

Sometimes I work on biofeedback exercises and try to see if I can warm or cool my hands, change my pulse rate or use concentration to drop into altered states of consciousness.

If I disagree with the premise of the meeting, sometimes, I troll it. Meaning I try to create opportunities where one of more participants will have a chance to inject their pet project, complaint or philosophy into the meeting.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 12:06 AM on June 14, 2010

There's a Vitanin water that contains vitanin B - This will jolt you awake
posted by xammerboy at 7:24 AM on June 14, 2010

I take notes with my non-dominant hand. I have to concentrate to make every letter legible, so I end up concentrating on the notes that I am taking.

Also, look for opportunities to volunteer. Do they need someone to write on the board or click the mouse for the powerpoint presentation? Jump up and do that.
posted by CathyG at 7:43 AM on June 14, 2010

Kegels. Works for driving too.
posted by travertina at 7:53 AM on June 14, 2010

Best answer: My technique, developed while sitting at long tables during boring meetings, was to hunch forward with my elbows on my knees, like I was paying attention. Under the table, I'd hold a paper clip in my hands, by my fingertips. At the point when I fell asleep, my hands would relax and I'd drop the paper clip, which woke me up. Bending over to retrieve the paperclip brought me around to almost full consciousness. Repeat until meeting ends.
posted by Rash at 10:48 AM on June 14, 2010

Squeeze the nerve between your thumb and fore finger
posted by hworth at 2:33 PM on June 14, 2010

Dig your fingernail into the soft skin underneath another fingernail -- it can be done with a single hand under the table.
posted by monkeymonkey at 5:13 PM on June 15, 2010

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