photo of tired man in front of computer who can’t stay awake in an online meeting

How to stay awake in an online meeting

By Jason Wooden, PhD | October 5, 2021

The reasons people struggle to stay awake in online meetings include poor sleep, monotonous topics, long work hours, and excessive time in front of the computer screen.

Your options to stay more alert include better sleep, caffeine, natural daylight, staying hydrated, energy boosting snacks, adjusting your meeting schedule, and a variety of practical remedies.

If online meetings have become an ongoing issue for you, it’s worth seeing a doctor to check for underlying health issues linked to daytime fatigue and poor sleep.

You’re not the only one struggling to stay awake in an online meeting..

Does this sound familiar?

You’re sitting in front a computer screen and your focus slowly starts to drift as a voice drones on.

You can feel yourself loosing the battle as you struggle to stay awake during an online meeting that’s far from over.

We’ve all been there.

While it’s great to be able connect with co-workers from the convenience of your home, meeting online brings with it new challenges.

Staying focused and awake has to be near the top of the list.

Between COVID lockdowns and business cost cutting, video conferencing has grown in popularity.

In past surveys, two thirds of workers were found to experience fatigue according to a National Safety Council survey.  An Amerisleep survey found that as many 70% admitted to snoozing on the job.

Now, with more people than ever before working remotely, I’m guessing millions of people battle fatigue every day and struggle to stay awake during online meetings.

Houston, we’ve got a problem…

It should be obvious by now you’re not the only one dealing with this issue.

The reasons people struggle are varied but include issues like poor sleep, monotonous topics, long work hours, and one too many meetings.

Regardless of why it’s happening to you, it’s all the same to your workday.

There’s the risk of embarrassment and missing out on important details that can come back to bite you.

The risk to your job performance and reputation…

And long grueling meetings…

Whether it’s an occasional or an everyday issue for you, we’re going to look at what you can do to stay more awake and make the most of your online meetings.

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20 Remedies worth a try to help you stay awake in an online meeting

If you’re struggling to stay awake while meeting online with your coworkers, the good news is that there’s plenty you can do to ward off fatigue, stay more alert, and make the best of things.

Some of the remedies are obvious and simple.  Others may take an investment of time and or money.

And you’ll likely have to mix and match to come with something that works best for you.

cartoon of man asleep in bed

1) Get more sleep

It’s hard to stay awake if you start out the day behind the eight ball on sleep.  Sooner or later, your body is going to crash.

photo of person taking notes which can help them stay awake in an online meeting

2) Take notes

It’ll keep your mind active, engaged, and help pass the time.

photo of employee in online meeting who may be struggling to stay awake

3) Stay engaged

Another way to keep your mind active.  Join in on the discussion, ask and answer questions.

photo of a cup of coffee

4) Caffeine

Whether it’s tea, coffee, or an energy, it’s a popular remedy to fight fatigue and promote mental alertness.

Like anything, it’s important not to overdo it.  Too much coffee can dehydrate you, make it harder to sleep at night, and lead to coffee addiction.

photo of natural daylight which can help if people stay awake in an online meeting

5) Get natural daylight

Since our bodies are in tune with day and night, a dim low-light room can lull you to sleep. 

Try brightening things up with a lamp or natural daylight through the windows.

 photo of person taking a break by the window to stay awake in an online meeting

6) Make the most of your breaks

Use the time to get up, stretch, and move around to help clear your mind.

7) Change your position

Sitting still or standing for long periods can make you feel tired.  It’s also not best for you ergonomically.

Try working in a stretch or adjusting your body positing periodically.

photo of class of water which may help if you can’t stay awake during an online meeting

8) Stay hydrated

Fatigue can be a symptom of dehydration and dehydration can make it more difficult to concentrate.

As a healthier alternative to caffeine, try a glass of water.

photo of trail mix , a healthy snack to keep up the energy levels

9) Keep a stash of healthy snacks

Healthy snacks can help keep your blood sugar and energy levels steady.  Avoid over sugary snacks that lead an energy crash hours later.

Instead, look for foods with a mix of protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats such as:

  • trail mix
  • hard boiled eggs
  • fruit and nuts
  • seeds
  • raisins and peanuts
  • fruit and peanut butter
  • veggies and humus
  • Greek yogurt
  • beef jerky (without the added sugar)
  • popcorn
photo of hamburger and fries which is the type of meal to avoid if you struggle to stay awake in an online meeting

10) Avoid large meals

Heavy meals can slow down your metabolism and make you feel sluggish.  Try eating a lighter breakfast and lunch.

photo of packs of gum

11) Chewing gum

Studies have shown chewing gum can help improve alertness.

12) Peppermint

Essential oils like peppermint can help with fatigue and promote alertness.

13) Take a shower

If you can steak it in during a break, nothing is like a quick shower which can refresh and recharge you.

photo of person taking a walk

14) Get moving

Getting your heart rate up and the blood flowing can raise your energy.   If pressed for time, try a 10 minute walk.

photo of thermostat

15) Keep it on the cool side

A warm room can lull you to sleep, especially after lunch. Try a cooler room temperature.

16) Open a window

Sometimes a little fresh air may do the trick…

photo of person taking a quick nap to help him stay awake in his next online meeting

17) Take a power nap

A quick snoozer during a work break or over lunch can do wonders.

Sleep experts say it’s best to keep your naps under 15-20 minutes so you don’t wake up in a brain fog.  Also, set an alarm so you’re not late for anything.

Tips for power naps (Sleep.org)

18) Avoid computer fatigue

Staring at a computer screen for hours on end can strain your eyes and be tiring.  Be sure to take regular breaks.

Learn more

19) Meet when you’re naturally more alert

If possible, morning larks may want to schedule most of their meetings earlier in the day.  Likewise, night owls might want to stick the afternoon.

Another idea is to schedule your most monotonous class for when you’re most alert.

photo of lady of couch with laptop computer

20) Try a change of scenery

Mixing things up a bit with a change of scenery can help.

Things you didn’t think of could be why you can’t stay awake in online meetings

There’s along list of things that can cause daytime fatigue including poor sleep.

Some things to think about are:

1) Underlying health issues

One of the reasons you could be struggling to stay awake at work is because something going on with your body.

Some health issues directly linked to day time fatigue are:

  • anemia (iron deficiency)
  • under active thyroid
  • coeliac disease
  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • diabetes
  • too much calcium in your blood (hypercalcemia)
  • infections

2) Mental health challenges

Stress, anxiety, and depression can leave you feeling drained.  They’re also linked to poor sleep.

And it turns out that people who sleep poorly are more at risk for stress, anxiety, and depression.  If you’re not careful, you can get in a vicious cycle where more of one leads to more of the other.

A type of counseling known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been found to be effective for both anxiety and depression.  It focuses on changing thinking and behavioral patterns.

Learn more

3) Medications

Did you know some commonly used meds can make it harder to stay awake?

The list includes:

  • antihistamines
  • allergy meds
  • anti-psychotics
  • anti-depressants
  • anxiety meds
  • muscle relaxants
  • antidepressants
  • heart meds
  • prescription pain meds

Other things you should be doing

If you’ve tried everything you can think of and you’re still struggling to stay awake for online meetings, there’s still hope.

Ditto, if you struggle with poor sleep and it’s become an ongoing issue.

It’s just time get more serious.

 

Depending on your situation, you should:

Watch your sleep hygiene

There’s a long list of things that can cause problems for sleep.  This makes it important to practice good sleep hygiene, the everyday habits that set the stage for deep restful sleep.

For better sleep hygiene, you should:

  • keep consistent wake up & sleep times
  • avoid naps
  • exercise during the day
  • avoid large meals, alcohol, or stimulants such as caffeine before bedtime
  • maintain a regular bedtime routine
  • avoid using TVs, laptops, or other electronics before sleep
  • keep your bedroom dark, cool, quiet, & relaxing

Get a checkup

I’ve already mentioned the health issues that can cause daytime fatigue.

Too many people are unaware how many other medical issues can cause problems or worsen sleep.  The list includes things like asthma, allergies, acid reflux and heartburn, heart issues, chronic pain, and diabetes can keep you up at night.

You may also be living with an undiagnosed sleep disorder such as sleep apnea.

And even prescription drugs can cause or worsen sleep issues.

A doctor can help you work through any underlying issues that may be making it harder to sleep at night and stay awake when you’re online for meetings.

Talk to someone

If you’ve been feeling down a lot lately, it’s worth having a chat with a therapist.

Stress, anxiety, and depression can leave you feeling drained.  They can also lead to poor sleep.

Altogether, that will make it even harder to stay awake for online meetings.

Learn more:
CBT counseling for stress, anxiety, and depression

Caffeine alternatives to help you stay more alert

Looking for something else besides coffee to help you stay awake in online meetings?

Caffeinated beverages may help, but too much of anything can become a bad thing.

As you load up on double espressos and high octane energy drinks, it can come back to bite you later at night and wreck your sleep.

Caffeine can also cause more trips to the bathroom.

Also, there’s the very real risk of caffeine addiction which can lead to withdrawal symptoms.

 

The good news is that there are plenty of caffeine-free alternatives worth a try:

1) Sparkling water:

It gives you pop and fizz without the caffeine or sugar.

can of flavored carbonated water

2) Flavored sparking water:

You can find fizzy water flavored with lime, strawberry, and many other flavors.  You can also just add slices of your favorite fruit to a glass of fizzy water.

photo of sliced coconuts which has nutrients which can help you stay more alert

3) Coconut water:

A popular drink with natural vitamins and electrolytes.

photo of cup of ginger root tea which can help you stay awake in an online meeting

4) Ginger root tea:

Ginger root has been linked to many health benefits.  It’s believed to fight fatigue by improving blood circulation and blood sugar levels.

photo of cup of chicory coffee which is a caffeine free alterantive to help avoid falling asleep while in a Zoom online class

5) Chicory Coffee:

Available online and made from roasted roots of the chicory plant, it tastes similar to coffee but is caffeine free.

photo of cup of rooibos tea for alertness and to keep from falling asleep during a zoom class

6) Rooibos Tea:

Slightly sweet and caffeine free, Rooibos tea is made from leaves of a shrub native to South Africa.

photo of protein shakes

7) Protein shakes

Did you know that too little protein can cause fatigue?  The body needs it for fuel to help repair and build tissues.

photo of hot turmeric tea to drink to stay awake in an online meeting

8) Golden Milk (Turmeric Tea):

Golden milk is a traditional Indian drink made with warm milk, ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper.   Vanilla and honey is often added for a little extra flavor.

Learn more:
Golden milk recipe (easy)
Golden milk recipe (fresh turmeric root)

Sources:

1. “Workplace Fatigue Statistics and its Staggering Costs”, 2020, Ergonomic Trends

2. “Sleeping at Work”, 2021, Amerisleep.com

3. “18 Essential Oils You Can Use to Boost Your Energy”, Healthline

4. “10 medical reasons for feeling tired”, NHS website

5. “What to do when medication makes you sleepy”, Harvard Health Publishing

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