How to Stay Awake in Lecture

Let’s face it; going to lecture is not always the most exciting thing you’ve experienced, nor will anyone ever tell you that lecture was a highlight while reflecting back on their college experience. And with everything from boring class material to monotonous professors, lecture can be a trap just luring you to go to sleep in the middle of class.

I’ll be the first to admit that I tend to doze off quite a bit in class. I definitely fall asleep many more times than I should while I’m supposed to be learning and absorbing course material. With decently comfortable, padded seats and a room so large that it is probably difficult for the professor to do anything to punish any students who do fall asleep, catching up on some sleep is almost too irresistible to pass up. And when teachers dim or turn off the lights to show slides or play a documentary, it almost seems like an invitation to go ahead and sleep.

People will usually advise that I should just stay home and sleep, and just review the lecture notes later, but I feel much more accomplished if I am physically present for lecture. But in truth, physical presence doesn’t automatically equate to mental presence, and you will not learn as much if you spend most of the class block napping. In the last academic year, I feel like I have made a conscious attempt to revise my ways and improve on staying awake in class, especially in lectures.

So if coffee just isn’t doing it for you, here are my seven tips for staying awake:

1). Come with the Intention of Learning

I find that I sleep the most in classes where I feel I can understand the material on my own if I just read the textbook later or review the PowerPoint slides afterwards. Coming to class with this type of mindset will just give you an excuse to not pay attention and snooze instead.

Instead, come to class intent on actually hearing and learning what the professor says. I never fall asleep in math courses because I know I need to pay attention to the problems or I could seriously risk failing the class. Most people will sleep if they let themselves, so if you pump yourself up for truly understanding the material, you stand more of a chance at staying awake.

2). Get Engaged with the Material

I have also noticed that I can stay awake in classes where constant writing and note taking is required. As I mentioned above, math classes are especially good for keeping me from sleeping because they are generally fast-paced. If I let myself wander for more than a second, I’ll miss a step and fall behind, losing crucial instruction on how to solve a type of problem.

While classes that are heavy in note-taking can be helpful for combating sleep since the constant scribbling keeps people engaged in the material, be aware that too much scribbling can be exhausting. If you keep yourself busy, you might stay awake for a longer period of time.  But if the professor is moving too quickly, you might just end up giving up and losing all motivation for taking notes. If you are jotting down notes non-stop from PowerPoint slides, there is a good chance that you are blindly writing down what you see without really taking anything in, which is fine since you can always read your notes later, but it may induce what I refer to as “sleep writing”, where you drift off while writing and later find unreadable random lines and marks all over your paper and notebook.

3). Find a Friend

Aside from being truly determined to learn the class material, having friends in your lectures is probably the next best addition for keeping you awake. Having somebody you know well sitting next to you will allow you to talk before and after the professor starts talking, and you might even be able to exchange whispers during the class. And if you do manage to fall asleep with friends in your classes with you, they can always prod you to wake up. If you tell them to just let you continue sleeping in class, the worst case is that you can just copy their lecture notes later!

4). Bring Water and Gum

Water and gum are two key essentials that I always take to my classes. If you start to get drowsy, just reach for your bottle and take a few sips of water. The simple motions might rock you back to alertness for a bit. Gum is even better because it keeps your mouth moving and keeps you busy in a sense.

5). Use Your Phone

I would generally not advocate going on your smart phone or surfing the internet during lecture on a regular basis, but I do see the necessity for this when you are really drowsy in class and need a quick jolt of entertainment to pick you up. When you start to feel that urge to rest your eyes, take your phone out and read or send a few text messages, or tend to your social media sites for a few minutes until you are alert again.

Make sure that you remember to put away your phone or laptop once you are fully wide awake again, because you wouldn’t want to waste your tuition, be rude to the professor, or disrupt the people sitting around you.

6). Shake It Off

When I start to venture into that sleepy time territory when the boredom really hits, I will sometimes move my legs around to keep me preoccupied for a few moments. Bobbing your legs up and down rapidly does a lot to keep you conscious and awake, and you might even notice that quite a few people do the same thing in lecture.

Be careful about how often or long you do this, though, because the seats in your lecture hall might be connected to one another. The people sitting near you will feel your movement and may get annoyed.

7). Physically Hold Your Eyes Open (Last Resort)

If all else fails, I have heard of people actually prying their eyes open in a last ditch effort to stay awake for during lecture. When they start to notice themselves beginning to nod off or feel their eyelids growing heavier, they will literally use their hands to keep their eyes open.

While this seems like an uncomfortable and not particularly successful method, there’s no harm in giving it a try as a last resort. If anything, the discomfort may jolt you awake again, similar to the way people pinch themselves in dreams in order to wake up.

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Ashley Yang

Ashley Yang

Ashley Yang will be entering her junior year at the University of California, Davis in the fall, where she is pursuing a double major in Economics and Communication. Outside of class, she loves to see her friends and family, jam out to T-Swift, make smoothies, and curl up and unwind with a relaxing book. Other interests of hers include ballet and gymnastics, skiing, travel, volunteer work, chick-flick movies, animals, and Christmas.
Ashley Yang

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