How to Stay Awake While Reading

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How do you stay awake while reading a book—particularly when it's a difficult academic book?

Consider this likely scenario: you've been attending classes all day, then you went to work. You finally get home, and then you work on other homework. It's now after 10 pm. You're tired—exhausted even. Now, you sit down at your desk to read the essays of literary criticism for your English Literature course.

Even if you're not a student, your day of work and other responsibilities probably makes your eyelids heavy. Slumber sneaks up on you, even if the book is entertaining and you really want to read it!

Here are a few tips for how to stave off sleep while you study or read.

Listen & Read Aloud

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Each of us reads and learns in a different way. If you're having a hard time staying awake while you read and study, perhaps you're an auditory or verbal learner. In other words, you may benefit from breaking up your silent reading by reading it out loud or, alternatively, subvocalizing.

If that's the case, try reading with a friend or classmate. As we were learning to read, a parent or teacher often read aloud--with rapt attention. But, as we get older, reading aloud falls out of common practice, even though some of us learn much more quickly when they are able to speak and/or hear the material read aloud.

For personal use only, an audiobook can be an excellent way to enjoy literature. This is particularly the case if your lifestyle lends itself to long stretches of time with an audio stream to entertain you, such as exercise sessions, long commutes, long walks, or hikes.

However, if you use the reading aloud method (or audio books) for a literature class, it is recommended that you only use the audio in addition to reading the text. You'll find that reading the text lends itself much more seamlessly to finding full and authoritative textual quotations for study. You'll need the quotes (and other details of textual reference) for essays, tests, and (often) for classroom discussions.


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Ingesting caffeine is a common way to stay awake when feeling tired. Caffeine is a psychoactive drug that blocks the effects of adenosine, thus stopping the onset of sleepiness that adenosine causes. 

Natural sources of caffeine can be found in coffee, chocolate, and certain teas like green tea, black teas, and yerba mate. Caffeinated sodas, energy drinks, and caffeine pills also have caffeine. However, sodas and energy drinks also have a lot of sugar, making it unhealthy for your body and more likely to give you the jitters. 

It is important to note that caffeine is a mildly addictive substance. So be aware of taking caffeine in moderation or else you will experience migraines and trembling hands when you stop taking caffeine.


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Perk yourself up by bringing down the temperature. The cold will make you more alert and awake so that you can finish that essay or novel. Stimulate your senses by studying in a room that is cold, washing your face with cold water, or drinking a glass of ice water. 

Reading Spot

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 Another tip ​is associating a place with studying and productivity. For some people, when they study in a place that is also associated with sleep or relaxation, like the bedroom, they are more likely to get drowsy. 

But if you separate where you work from where you rest, your mind can start to adjust too. Choose a study spot, like a particular library, cafe, or classroom, to go back to again and again while you read. 


Timing for Reading

When it comes to staying awake, a lot of it comes down to timing. When are you most wide-awake?

Some readers are alert in the middle of the night. Night-owls have lots of energy and their brains are fully aware of what they are reading. 

Other readers are most awake in the early morning. The "early morning" riser may not maintain a long period of super awareness; but for whatever reason, he or she awakes at 4 or 5 am, well before it is required that they start preparing for work or school.

If you know the time of day when you are most alert and awake, that's great! If you don't know, consider your regular schedule and what time periods you're most able to remember what you study or read.

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Your Citation
Lombardi, Esther. "How to Stay Awake While Reading." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Lombardi, Esther. (2020, August 27). How to Stay Awake While Reading. Retrieved from Lombardi, Esther. "How to Stay Awake While Reading." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 8, 2023).