Why can't I stay awake in class?
Originally Published: April 16, 2004 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: October 2, 2009
Lately, I've come to realize that I have a very powerful tendency to fall asleep in class. It seems that I can't stay awake in any lecture style class where I have to listen to the professor and take down notes — where there is minimal engagement on my part. I've pretty much fallen asleep in all of my lecture classes, during one part or another for the whole semester. I think I'm getting regular sleep — 6 hours at a minimum. I don't like to drink coffee or anything.
Even if your professor has the charisma of a potted plant, your regularly scheduled class-time naps probably mean that you're not getting enough Zzzzs in general. And it makes sense that you'd notice yourself dozing specifically in big lectures. People don't usually feel sleepy when they're active — talking it up in smaller, discussion-based seminars, for example. It's in relaxed situations, such as a warm auditorium with comfy chairs, where the underlying fatigue makes an appearance. Boredom also can bring out evidence of a sleep deficit. While a mind-numbing two-hours of your least-favorite lecturer might bore you to tears, it won't knock you out unless your body is already aching for rest.
You mentioned that you snooze for at least six hours each night. While six solid hours can be enough for some people, others, especially people in their late teens and early 20s, need as many as nine or ten to be completely rested and alert. The amount of sleep you need is genetically determined. It might be helpful to find out how many hours your body prefers or needs. As an experiment, sleep alarm clock and distraction-free for a few days so that you can notice when you normally wake up on your own.
Another possibility is that the sleep you are getting is troubled, or not as satisfying as it could be. Here are some tips that might help improve your quality of rest:
- Don't use caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine close to your bedtime.
- Exercise regularly, but finish up at least three hours before you plan to hit the sack.
- Avoid eating right before you go to sleep.
- Keep a regular bedtime schedule, even on weekends (perhaps unrealistic, we know...).
- Avoid exposing yourself to bright lights right before going to bed.
- Make your bed the staging ground for only two activities: sleep and sex.
- Meditate, masturbate, read, listen to music, take a bath, give/receive a massage, or do some other relaxing activity that will help take your mind off of the day's stresses and excitements and allow you to ease into slumber land.
Getting enough sleep is often easier said than done — classes, jobs, social commitments, activities, and homework can easily make a good night's slumber something only to dream of. If you do find yourself operating on a sleep deficit, here are some tips to help stay alert through a daunting day:
- Eat a substantial breakfast.
- Avoid eating candy and other high-sugar foods.
- Vary your activities.
- Stay physically and/or mentally active.
It might also be a good idea to think about how you're using your time each day — perhaps you can drop certain commitments or do some things more efficiently and give yourself a bit more time to rest at the end of the day. For advice on time management, take a look at the Related Q&As listed below.
Also, different people learn better in different ways. Maybe large lectures just aren't your style and more active, participation-oriented classes could perk you up in no time — this could be something to consider the next time you register for courses. Or, if you are stuck with large lectures in larger halls, choose a seat in the front, close to the blackboard, projector, screen, and the lecturer, to help you pay better attention and be more engaged in the material being taught. (If you are still falling asleep after those changes, then you have additional information to help you figure out what you need.) As a side-note, check out the All Kinds of Minds web site for more information on different styles of learning.
While chances are small, it's possible that your fatigue could be due to Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS), a condition that causes people to fall asleep even if they regularly get adequate rest. EDS doesn't happen on its own — it's a sign of some other condition, usually a sleeping disorder. A key question to ask yourself, do you only feel sleepy in lecture classes, or do you have other bouts of sleepiness during activities outside of class? If you feel as though you're getting plenty of rest and still regularly doze off during the day, a discussion with your health care provider might be a good idea. Columbia students can make an appointment through Open Communicator or by calling x4-2284.
For more information on sleep, visit the National Sleep Foundation web site.
January 17, 2013521858
October 2, 200921597
To the reader:
I had this problem, though I exercised, ate wisely, and slept well at night. In the end, I participated in a sleep study and was diagnosed with somnophilia. Ha-ha! The...
To the reader:
I had this problem, though I exercised, ate wisely, and slept well at night. In the end, I participated in a sleep study and was diagnosed with somnophilia. Ha-ha! The suggestion that worked best for me: DON'T read just before bed. Also, I read my textbooks during my 30 minutes each day on a bike or elliptical machine at the gym. Finally, I learned to carefully dress: if there was a large temperature difference between outdoor temps and the classroom's, add or subtract layers to keep your body's temperature stable.
October 3, 200821276
This is by no means a long term solution, but if you're exhausted from an all nighter and confronted by an early morning lecture, just bring along some menthol cough drops to...
This is by no means a long term solution, but if you're exhausted from an all nighter and confronted by an early morning lecture, just bring along some menthol cough drops to suck on. It isn't food so no professor will be snootily snubbing you like he would if you were armed with an extra-extra mocha latte or crumbly blueberry muffin. I find the menthol soothes my tired head, the sugar acts as a mini-energy boost, and there's that whole "if I fall asleep, I might choke on this" aspect at play too. And, an extra bonus, if you're at all like me and wake up WHEN class STARTS, sucking a cough drop will help to get rid of that awful morning breath.
Just an idea.
Good luck! Happy napping!