Being a modern-day student, school life can be very tiring. With many commitments after classes such as Co-Curricular Activities, consultations with teachers and a large amount of homework, your hours of sleep might be frequently cut short. The lost hours of sleep will affect your productivity at school, forming a vicious cycle that makes it difficult to successfully balance between sleep and productivity. To combat this, here are some tips you can follow before and during lessons to stay awake and remain productive if you are sleep deprived.

Before school tips

1. Drink something caffeine-infused!

Drink some coffee! | Designed by Freepik

Some people are simply unable to start their day without their daily dose of caffeine! Caffeine keeps you awake by blocking the adenosine receptors in the brain, stopping adenosine from making you sleepy. Moreover, caffeine is also safe when consumed in adequate doses (specifically 400mg).[1] However, adolescents (people who are aged 10 to 19) should limit their daily caffeine intake to 100mg, roughly equivalent to one cup of coffee, one to two cups of tea, or two to three cans of soda.[2] Please read the nutrition label and do the calculation as a measure to prevent overdose.

Note: it may seem more convenient and reliable to have consume energy drinks in place of beverages mentioned above, or even drink enough of them to exceed the recommended intake, however do take note that they are unhealthy if taken daily. Energy drinks have been associated with heart problems, as they increase heart rate and blood pressure and can even cause death in some cases.[3] If you find yourself frequently partaking in any of the activities mentioned above, do consult a doctor for advice.


Where you can get your daily dose of caffeine:

If your school provides hot water, you can make your own coffee or tea.

If it is not convenient for you to prepare your own coffee or tea, and the school sells packaged coffee or tea, you can consider purchasing.

Otherwise, you can prepare them at home, and transport it to school in a thermal flask.


2. Have an energy-rich breakfast!

Have some good breakfast too! | Designed by Freepik

As the common saying goes, “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Having an energy-dense breakfast can kickstart your day by providing all the important vitamins and nutrients your body needs, preventing you from falling asleep. Skipping breakfast may also be not good for your body, too. Although the fact skipping breakfast may contribute to weight gain” is debatable [4], skipping breakfast might be diminishing for mental performance [5]­,something you do not want if you would like to be productive until your next meal.

If you are considering to have breakfast, here are some food that are not only cheap, but nutritious too [6]:

  • Eggs: eggs are not only delicious; they are rich in many different types of essential nutrients too. They can reduce calorie intake for the next meal and help maintain steady blood sugar and insulin levels. Moreover, they promote feeling of fullness, discouraging you from overeating.
  • Yoghurt: Yoghurt, especially Greek yoghurt, are great source of probiotics and proteins, which also promotes feeling of fullness,
  • Oats: contains oat beta-glucan, antioxidants.
  • Fruits and leafy green vegetables: fruits and vegetables are high in fibre and rich in vitamins and mineral salts that are essential to your body.

However, there exists food on the opposite end of the spectrum that are so horrendously unhealthy for you, that in fact it is more advisable for you to skip breakfast as opposed to consuming it. Food in this list includes:

  • Processed cereals. Your store-bought generic cereals are extremely unhealthy. Because of the fact that they are processed, essential nutrients and vitamins are stripped away in the process, leaving with high amounts of fats and sugars. Don’t believe the fortified vitamins and minerals, too. Some cereals pack so much sugar that it is equivalent of a can of soda. Sugar can not only lead to obesity, and it can also cause diabetes too.
  • Granola bars. Granola bars too pack a lot of sugar, it might as well be renamed to “candy bars”. Do refer to the nutritional label if needed.
  • Fast food. The doughnuts, pizzas, burgers, rolls, waffles and whatnots served by your fast food joints are simply loaded with carbohydrates and sugar, and are absent in necessary nutrients found in food such as fruits and vegetables.


3. Chew onto something!

Chewing onto something helps, it doesn’t have to be sweets! | Designed by Freepik

If your teacher allows it, chewing on gum or sucking on sweets can prevent you from falling asleep. As opposed to reflexes such as blinking, chewing is a voluntary action that needs the help of the brain to be successfully carried out, forcing it to stay active.

However, if your school or teacher has a very strict “no food consumption during class” rule, here’s how you can discreetly eat a piece of gum or have a drop of sweet during class:

  1. Pop a sweet from under your desk, onto your palm. Try to minimise your actions as to not attract too much unwanted attention.
  2. Concentrate and try and fake a cough. You can mink your eyes forcefully, and simultaneously bring your hand with the sweet to your mouth.
  3. Cough. Be gentle with it, do not be overly dramatic about it. While your mouth opens when you are coughing, swiftly empty the sweet into your mouth.
  4. Once the sweet is in your mouth, do not move your jaws! Suck on the sweet and let the flavour fill your mouth.

I usually recommend having sour sweets, such as citrus or lemon sweet! The taste is overpowering enough to keep you awake. However, do take note that they are slightly corrosive, and can damage your teeth.

If you are health conscious too, you can opt for sugar-free mints.

4. Eat something during your break!

Do consider eating during breaks/recesses too! | Designed by pressfoto / Freepik

If you have yet to have your breakfast, it is a good time to have your breakfast! This wouldn’t be so helpful if your break is close to the afternoons.

Try your best to eat something mentioned in Point 2. Avoid junk food as much as possible, as they are simply unhealthy for you.

5. Take a power nap

Power naps help too! Take one if conditions allow! | Designed by yanalya / Freepik

This might sound very contradictive to what the article aims to provide with, taking a power nap can actually make you more awake. You can try taking a power nap during your break, or during classes.

How long should you nap? Experts recommend napping between 10 to 20 minutes [7]. If you are planning on napping during your break, you can go to somewhere dark, wear a sleep mask if you are unable to. You should silence your phone if you have to, and you can get a friend to wake you up or set an alarm if you have to.

Do also take note that long naps can also decrease your life expectancy.

6. Stand up!

Standing up is really up to personal preference! | Designed by Freepik

Standing up may seem like a silly choice, as you will literally stand out from the rest of your peers. However, this often-overlooked method can actually be beneficial! Studies [8] have shown that standing up can actually improve energy levels and productivity, and decrease stress too. Please seek permission from your teacher before standing up, and do stand up at the back of the classroom so as not obstruct other student’s view!

7. Talk to your friends!

Talking does work great too, however not all conditions allow it! | Designed by yanalya / Freepik

Talking engages your mind, which keeps it awake. If possible, try not to talk excessively. Also, friends are there for you to remind you to not fall asleep when you are about to dose off!

8. Take a break!

If you really feel like sleeping, it is good advice to occasionally to have a timeout! Seek permission from the teacher, and walk to the washroom and freshen up. You can wash your face or do some simple stretches.

Alright, that’s all! Hopefully these tips have helped you stay awake during classes! 🙂

This article is written by Wang Zizhao, an intern at Singapore National Co-operative Federation from 7 January to 29 January 2020. He likes to walk around to capture beautiful photos.