cartoon drawing of a church

15 Things worth a try to help you stay awake at church

By Jason Wooden, PhD | November 22, 2021

The reasons people struggle to stay awake at church include staying up too late, poor sleep, sitting too long, boredom, heavy meals, dehydration, medications, and health issues linked to daytime sleepiness.

To stay more alert, you can try improving your sleep, dietary changes, lighter meals, short naps, staying engaged, smart breaks, switching to a different service, and various other remedies.

If it’s become an problem, a doctor can check for health issues and medications linked to daytime sleepiness.

The many reasons we struggle to stay awake at church

We’ve all been there, even the most pious among us.

You’re comfortably seated listening to the sermon and before you know it you bump your on the person next to you.

Or maybe you find yourself slowly loosing the battle and bobbing for apples, only to get a sharp elbow from a spouse.

If this sounds familiar, you’re certainly not the only one who has struggled to stay awake at church.

I’m not sure how many people this happens to on any given Sunday.  No one officially tracks it.

However, we do know that daytime sleepiness is a common issue.  In a study in the US, as many as 18% of adults were found to be affected.

So, why is it so hard for some people to stay awake at church?

Unsurprisingly, poor sleep is one of the biggest issues.  After all, every night one in three adults struggle with sleep.

Among the more common reasons people may nod off at church are:

  • staying up too late the night before
  • sitting too long
  • sitting in a space that gets too warm and stuffy
  • boredom
  • ate too heavily
  • dehydration
  • health issues linked to fatigue
  • medications that affect sleep or cause drowsiness

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

You may miss out on meaningful parts of the service and become a distraction for those around you. There’s also the risk of embarrassment especially if you’re snoring.

And of course a sharp elbow nudge from a family member or friend sitting next to you.

Let’s take a look at some practical things you can do to stay more awake and make the most of your time at church.

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15 Things worth a try to help you stay awake at church

It should be clear by now that on any given Sunday millions of people may be struggling to stay awake at church.  Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do to ward off daytime sleepiness.

Some of the remedies are obvious and simple. Others may take some time or require a bit of preparation.

 

And you’ll likely have to mix and match to fit the unique challenges of pregnancy to help you stay awake at work:

cartoon drawing of person sleeping more to help them stay awake at church

1) Get adequate sleep

Yes, this may be easier said than done.  However, it’s one of the biggest things that will help you stay more awake at church.

The thing to keep in mind about sleep is that how WELL you sleep is just as important as how LONG you sleep.

To wake up feeling rested and ready for the new day, it’s important to get DEEP RESTFUL SLEEP.

Sleep experts say that adults need at least four to five sleep cycles to feel rested.  That works out to about 6 to 9 total hours of sleep for an adult.

So, you may want to start with pushing up your bed time and sticking to it.  If 6 hours is your usual night, you may want to up it to 7 or 8 hours.

It’s also important to practice good sleep hygiene, the everyday habits that set the stage for quality 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
photo of medications which can make it harder to stay awake at church

2) Check your meds

Unfortunately, some commonly used medications can make it harder to stay awake, including:

  • antihistamines
  • allergy meds
  • anti-psychotics
  • antidepressants
  • anxiety meds
  • muscle relaxants
  • antidepressants
  • heart meds
  • prescription pain meds
photo of coffee which may help some people to stay awake at church

3) 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 peppermint plant

4) Peppermint

Essential oils like peppermint can help with fatigue and promote alertness.  So, how about a cup of peppermint tea?

Learn more

photo of a bowl of oat meal which is a healthy breakfast for people who struggle to stay awake at church

5) Eat light

Heavy meals can slow down your metabolism and make you feel sluggish.  Try eating lighter meals before you head off to church.

photo of glass of water which may help people who struggle to stay awake at church because of dehydration

6) Hydrate

Fatigue is a common symptom of dehydration.  It’s generally recommended to drink around eight 8-ounce glasses each day.

photo of pack of gum

7) Chewing gum

Studies have shown chewing gum can help improve alertness.

photo of person taking a quick nap to help them stay awake at church

8) Grab a quick nap

A quick snoozer can do wonders.

You can try sneaking in a nap before you leave for church.  Even a quick nap on the way to church while riding in the car with someone else can help.

Sleep experts recommend you keep your naps under 15-20 minutes so you don’t wake up in a brain fog.

photo of open window in church

9) Avoid getting too warm

A warm room can lull you to sleep, especially after a heavy meal.

You can try:

  • moving to a cooler spot
  • dress in layers so you can remove a jacket or sweater as needed
  • wearing lighter weight clothing
photo of person in bathroom for a cold water splash to help them stay awake at church

10) Wash your face

If you feel yourself losing the battle, head to the restroom and wash your face with cold water.

photo of people following along in bible which can help you stay awake at church

11) Stay engaged

Try taking notes, looking up scriptures being referred to, and singing along.  Ask yourself questions about what is being said and relate it to your own life.

It’ll help you stay awake and you’re likely to get more out of the service.

photo of church door

12) Take a break

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

Depending on how long your service is, you may want to get up and move around whenever you can.

photo of man standing to stretch his legs to help him stay awake at church

13) Stand at the back for a while

Try taking a quick break in the foyer to stretch your legs.

photo of pews in church

14) Relocate to another spot

Mixing things up a bit with a change of scenery can help.  Also, some people find it easier to stay alert if in the back or the front.

photo of clock

15) Try a different service time

If mornings are tough for you, maybe the early bird service isn’t for you. Ditto, if you work swing shift.

Try switching to a service later in the day.

Caffeine alternatives worth a try to help you stay more awake at church

Caffeine is great but it comes with definite downsides.  While it may help you stay awake during church, it can send you to the bathroom at inconvenient times.

There’s also the risk of caffeine addiction.

 

While I’ve already mentioned hydrating with plain water, you may want to try:

Coconut water:

A popular drink with natural vitamins and electrolytes.

photo of ginger root tea

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.

Rooibos Tea:

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

If staying awake at church has become an ongoing issue for you, there may be something more serious going on

The biggest thing by far that can help you stay more awake at church is to be as well rested as you can.

Unfortunately, there’s a long list underlying issues that can affect how sleepy your feel during the day.  If you ignore them, you may just be sticking a band aid on things.

 

So, besides improving your sleeping hygiene, there are a couple of other important things you should really consider staying awake has become an ongoing issue for you:

Get a checkout:

Most people don’t realize how many different things are linked to poor sleep.  The list includes chronic pain, heartburn, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, dementia, and asthma.

And then there’s the list of health issues that can cause daytime fatigue:

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

You may also be living with an undiagnosed sleeping disorder such as obstructive sleep apnea.  It’s very common and can leave you feeling in the morning as if you didn’t sleep at all.

I already mentioned medications – some can wreck your sleep and others can make you feel drowsy.

A doctor can check for these underlying issues.

Chat with someone:

Stress, anxiety, and depression can leave you feeling drained.  They are 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.

If you find you’re feeling down or anxious on an ongoing basis, there may be something more serious you’re up against.

You may want to reach out to someone in your faith community whether it’s a pastor, counselor, support group, or other resources.

Depending on how serious things are, you may want to get help from a professional therapist.

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

Sources:

1. Excessive Daytime Sleepiness and Cardiovascular Mortality in US Adults: A NHANES 2005–2008 Follow-Up Study. Nat Sci Sleep. 2021 Jul 6;13:1049-1059.

2. “Talking Points”, World Sleep Society website

3. “Enhance Your Sleep Cycles”, 2016, Alaska Sleep Clinic website

4. Effects and after-effects of chewing gum on vigilance, heart rate, EEG and mood. Physiology & Behavior, Volume 133, 22 June 2014, Pages 244-251

5. “8 Caffeine-Free Foods That Give You Energy”, Nuts.com

6. “What to do when medication makes you sleepy, 2019, Harvard Health Publishing

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