January 24, 2006 2:03 PM   Subscribe

I am soooo tired. Please help me stay awake, alert, and focused while at work.

The basics: front desk receptionist at a painfully slow office. I frequently get so tired I start to nod off at my desk or feel like my eyeballs are going to pop out of my head. Also, I spend a lot of time working on the computer and flipping through large stacks of papers and my eyes get tired.

What I need: Ideas to keep me awake and energized while at work. Things along the line of little exercises or mind games, drinking tea, certain snacks that perk you up, slapping myself in the face, whatever. Anything I can do at work or on a ten minute break to snap myself out of sleepy mode.

I currently take vitamins and sleep pretty well. I only get super sleepy like this when I'm bored (work, class, driving). If I've missed a previous AskMe thread, please point it out. I wasn't able to find one, but that could be because I'm half asleep at the moment.
posted by booknerd to Grab Bag (27 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Get up from your desk and go brush your teeth. Not only will your oral hygiene benefit (not to imply that you need it!), but standing up and moving around will get the blood flowing back to your brain, and the minty-mouth feeling will stimulate you.
posted by tentacle at 2:28 PM on January 24, 2006

while you're in there, floss too!
posted by bilabial at 2:29 PM on January 24, 2006

and drink more water all through the day. The water will do two things, it will make you get up to pee very often, and it will help your body control it's energy, ie pep you up.
posted by bilabial at 2:29 PM on January 24, 2006

Drink lots of water. The frequent urge to pee does wonders for keeping you awake.
posted by zerokey at 2:30 PM on January 24, 2006

on(shouldhave)previewed - what bilabial said
posted by zerokey at 2:32 PM on January 24, 2006

As an ex-receptionist who used to put my head down on the desk when no one was looking, I feel your pain. Some things that might work:

-Drink lots of cold water, hot tea, anything you can focus on, that breaks up the time and is kind of stimulating. Eat things with sharp or spicy tastes and crunchy textures!
-Can you change the temperature in your work space? I used to feel the worst when it was stuffy and a little too warm. On the same note, can you get a breeze going?
-Can you get more daylight in? Or more light of any kind that isn't fluorescent.
-Change your seat? If you have something that is comfortable to sit in but makes you sit upright with good posture, it should help you stay awake. You want to be comfortable, but not cozy, if that makes sense.
-Do little exercises - butt squeezes, kegeles, flexing your legs, anything.

Good luck! When I got really bored, I would make little charts of how much of the day was left, and color them in in 15 minute increments! I still wanted to sleep.
posted by crabintheocean at 2:33 PM on January 24, 2006 [2 favorites]

What are you eating? Cut out the carbs and add in some protein and fat instead. I'm not one of those people who think carbs are bad, but lots of starch and sugar is just asking for that afternoon crash.

Is there something you enjoy doing that you can do while sitting? Read a novel, do some sketches? Crossword puzzles? Suduko?
posted by duck at 2:36 PM on January 24, 2006

Coffee, of course. 1/4 cup does as much good as a full cup and lets you do it 4 times as often.

In between coffee shots, hold your hands above your head and shake them hard for 10 seconds. This shifts the circulation balance and gets the blood flowing.

Go to your doctor for a checkup. Check your blood sugar level. Ask about Modafinil (Provigil, Cephalon).
posted by KRS at 2:46 PM on January 24, 2006

Having just shaken my hands above my head for 10 seconds (thanks KRS), I am awake enough to follow up the suggestion for crossword puzzles. There are many online free versions available - you would look hard-working while xwd-ing.
posted by Cranberry at 3:23 PM on January 24, 2006

A refrigerated fresh orange seems to perk me up better than coffee or soda.
posted by sublivious at 3:25 PM on January 24, 2006

If you're looking for online games, crossword puzzles etc, then I'm sure everyone has their favorites, but I can get very addicted to Weboggle very easily -- I've played before and found that an hour has passed without my even noticing.
posted by littleme at 3:52 PM on January 24, 2006

Seriously examine your sleep. You'll probably need a drs. help to do so. Make an Appt w/ your GP and tell them you're unacceptably sleepy at work, and would like to do a sleep study to find out why, or at least talk to the Neurologist about whether one is appropriate (sleep docs are usually neurologists in my experience).

There are a number of sleep disorders which will cause you to be tired during the day without waking you up at night. Sleep apnea is one of them, and there are others. There was a nature magazine special recently that covered many of them.

It's probably not what's happening for you, but sleep apnea has been showing up in people you wouldn't necessarily guess (fit 35 year olds, etc). If you do have it, much, much better to find out early than to let it rot your brain for 10 more years.

You could also try a home study (there are some home tests on the market these days I think), or the cheap thrill of video recording yourself while you sleep and looking for some choking although I think that's a bit dodgy.
posted by daver at 4:33 PM on January 24, 2006

do homework/work on something else/take up programming/write.
posted by devilsbrigade at 4:57 PM on January 24, 2006

Water and a healthy mix of carbs and protein snacks. If I drink lots of water and have a 10:00 and 2:30 snack of a banana and almonds, or a apple and some cheese, etc., I never get tired. If I don't, I want to go night night under my desk all the time.
posted by jasondigitized at 6:53 PM on January 24, 2006

Modafinil, aka Provigil.
posted by nicwolff at 7:09 PM on January 24, 2006

If you're allowed any time away from your desk during the day (lunch break, perhaps?), go for a brisk walk, even if you just do a quick tour around the parking lot, or a few trips up and down the stairs.

Read an engaging book (not a dry textbook).
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:33 PM on January 24, 2006

Go into the restroom, run the water so that it is *cold*, and then slosh some of it on your face.
posted by davidmsc at 7:45 PM on January 24, 2006

Dehydration: I read that a study (I think) found that dehydration is one of the #1 causes of tiredness in the afternoon. Very few people I encounter tell me they drink enough water through the day. Aim for water, not juice or soda, for true hydration, and anything with caffeine in it offsets the water you drink so you need to make up for it if you consume a caffeinated beverage.

Caffeine sucks: for the same reason sugar sucks. It's an "instafix" that gives you no genuine usable energy but just sends your blood sugar levels for a roller coaster ride, leaving you feeling worse after the high is over. They say an apple is more efficient at waking you up than caffeine, perhaps because it provides usable energy. If you need caffeine though, I think green tea is the best choice; it has roughly 25% the caffeine that coffee does (following that 1/4cup logic) and has powerful antioxidants.

EAT BREAKFAST. My breakfast every morning for the last 1.5yrs has been a smoothie consisting of 1-2cups frozen fruit, 1-2 bananas, juice or soymilk of choice, ~1tbsp protein powder, ~1tbsp ground golden flax seeds, ~1tbsp. aloe vera juice (optional), and maybe some powdered greens like spirulina, and if it needs sweetening I use honey or agave nectar or stevia. Trust me, you don't taste all that "healthy" stuff - just sweet fruity goodness. The protein is an essential ingredient b/c it helps keep your blood sugar very stable (it has a low glycemic index). These smoothies keep me feeling full for a good 4+ hours and if I *don't* have a smoothie for breakfast (and especially if I eat something crappy/overly processed/sugary), I really feel off and very crappy for the rest of the day. It is recommended to eat smaller meals every 4 hours.

Massage your eyeballs. Gently of course! Also the surrounding area to your eyeballs, increasing the bloodflow and giving them a "pampered" rest. (This is best if no one is around; not sure what environment you're in). Also, done daily, this could probably reduce bags under eyes or puffiness. Several sites out there claim this improves vision.

Create an account on Pogo. Heh, not sure if this will work for you, but I've spent way too many hours in a row on here without realizing it. Mahjong, Tumble Bees, Bookworm, whatever.

Do something enriching. Hasn't there been something you've been meaning to get into or study or learn about like maybe be able to speak Swahili or something?? Maybe you can read a book about how to ____ (cross-stitch??) to pass the time. Or research your ancestors & family tree?

Get a new job? Is this not an option? Are you sure it's not an option? Seems to me life has something better to offer....
posted by mojabunni at 7:59 PM on January 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

If you want to sleep, put a paperclip or something down on the floor, rest your arm on the desk, your head on you arm, and let the other arm hang down towards the paper clip. When someone walks in, act as though you were just picking up the paper clip.

(Taken from dilbert book)
posted by phrontist at 8:31 PM on January 24, 2006

Definitely drink lots of water--I keep a large Nalgene bottle at work and I try to drink 2 full bottles every day. It keeps me hydrated given how stuffy the office can get with re-circulated air and you're forced to get up throughout the day to visit the WC. I also have a late afternoon snack, usually some fruit and take a walk around the office while I'm eating it as a break--it's nice to get up off your butt and get the blood flowing for even 5 minutes.

Oh, and when I worked at a routine/boring job, I resorted to crosswords or online games as a pick-me-up whenever I had down-time. I liked the "mind games" on Shockwave.com: Bookworm was a favourite, as was Alchemy.
posted by phoenixc at 8:33 PM on January 24, 2006

I've had similar problems in similar jobs and concur with most of the good advice above (especially about drinking water).

My tip is to find something interesting to research, preferably that can be digested in small chunks (in case of interruption). Something pertaining to a hobby, interest or passion (or even just a lingering curiosity). Just shove relevant words into Google, and follow the chain of links and see what you can learn. This game has kept me awake and largely sane through many dull jobs.

If you don't have interent, maybe try doodling? Pictures, shapes, patterns whatever, just something that you can focus on. I once worked doing interviews over the phone, and literally spent all day every day working on doodles that could take weeks to complete.
posted by MetaMonkey at 12:49 AM on January 25, 2006

sit on an exercise ball instead of an office chair. the motion involved will help your circulation and keep you awake.
posted by mirileh at 2:11 AM on January 25, 2006

I'll second the sleep investigation from daver. GO to see a doctor and explain the situation. It could be that you're not sleeping well. It could also be that you have some other condition that makes you prone to sleepiness under certain conditions. An extreme form of this would be narcolepsy, which I'm not saying you have.

However it's more likely that you just need to get your body working. Get creative, search the web or your local library for books and tips. Isometrics will help a little. More importantly, take a break every 15 minutes and just walk around. Since your eyes ache, make sure you look out of the window and focus on something far away, like clouds in the sky. Also, how about going jogging or just for a long walk during your lunchbreak?

As for mental stimulation, get a book of sudoku puzzles.
posted by ajp at 4:10 AM on January 25, 2006

I got fired once for having my head on my desk. It was a temp job, but still kind of stressful.

I've had a sleep study done, but my sleep wasn't bad enough to qualify for a CPAP machine.

Yesterday the office manager looked at me and said, "You look like you missed your oxycontin this morning or something."

I probably have five non-drowsy days a month. I strongly recommend pursuing your sleep problems, if they exist, vigorously.
posted by craniac at 5:34 AM on January 25, 2006

As a sleep-disordered person myself, I join those urging you to invest the time in seeing a doctor about possible sleep problems. I was tired as hell in a monotonous desk job for many months before talking to my doctor about my excessive snoring (which was keeping my wife awake). Imagine my immense surprise when I was diagnosed with Apnea (which I had thought an old fat guy's disease). I now rarely feel like passing out at my desk, and never while driving. This is a huge improvement in my life.
You may think you are sleeping well, but if you're that tired (no matter how boring the job) it's obvious your sleep is not what it should be.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 7:16 AM on January 25, 2006

Response by poster: craniac, that sounds like me. Ii got fired from a temp job for the same thing, but in my case the office manager had given me a severely sleep-inducing allergy medicine an hour or so before. Bitch.

I'll definitely force myself to drink more water. Unfortunately:
I have no window
I'm under florescent lights all day
I only get 2 ten minute breaks and one hour lunch break per day
I'm also a production assistant, so I can't be internetting, crosswordng, or reading during the day. I'm supposed to be working, but the work is boring. I'm also evaluated based on how much i accomplish each day, so this sleepiness is really affecting my work. All of the other suggestions are duly noted, and I think I'll make a list now to post by my keyboard.

Oh, and for those who were wondering, this isn't a permanent job. I'm doing my MLIS right now (probably contributing to my sleepiness), so in a year or two I'll have a much better job. This is just to pay the bills while I'm in school.
posted by booknerd at 11:29 AM on January 25, 2006

Getting drowsy in the day, even in boring situations, is a very strong sign of a sleep debt. Read the chapter on sleep debt in William C. Dement's revered The Promise of Sleep in a bookstore. Please. If your alarm wakes you up, you're accruing a sleep debt. The average person has about 35 hours, if I recall. The healthy state of a person is to feel perfectly awake during the day; drowsiness is one of the last stages before sleep, not the first. What you do is pay it back by getting more sleep than the eight hours or so that you normally need in small amounts (say, go to bed early enough to get eight and a half). Which is to say, by the way, that "a good night's sleep" doesn't make up for any sleep deprivation, just doesn't increase it. It's very likely that doing that would greatly alleviate your sleepiness. It would also likely make you more alert and feeling better overall.
posted by abcde at 12:07 AM on February 15, 2006

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