Feeling sleepy at work? Doctors suggest hacks to fix it

13 November,2023 06:30 PM IST |  Mumbai  |  Aakanksha Ahire

Drowsiness, a common woe of all office-goers, can severely affect one`s productivity. But why do we feel sleepy at work and how do we fix it? Doctors dish out hacks to stay fresh during the day

Image for representational purposes only. Photo Courtesy: iStock

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Yawning or even feeling sleepy at work is considered unprofessional in most work cultures across the world. Yet, when drowsiness hits you at work, there is not much you can do to stop it. While feeling sleepy at work once in a while can be understandable if you have slept late the previous night, a regular occurrence of this indicates a lifestyle issue.

Sadly, drooping eyelids and constant yawning are common occurrences among most office-goers. Feeling sleepy at work each day can lead to irritation and disappointment.

From wondering what makes us feel so sleepy during the day to battling drowsiness each day, this is a spiral we just can't seem to get out of. Feeling sleepy at work can severely impact one's productivity and performance.

To help you prevent this from happening, Mid-day Online only spoke to sleep experts who share hacks and lifestyle modifications necessary to tackle drowsiness at work.

"One major cause of feeling sleepy at work is hampered sleep quality and poor sleep hygiene. This coupled with an unhealthy diet high in sugar, consumption of processed food, sedentary lifestyle, and lack of physical activity can result in decreased energy levels and increased feelings of fatigue during working hours. These factors combined can cause one to feel drowsy," says Dr Harish Chafle, pulmonology and critical care, Global Hospitals Parel Mumbai.

Dr Lancelot Mark Pinto, consultant pulmonologist and epidemiologist, P D Hinduja Hospital, Mumbai, further adds, "Eight hours of uninterrupted sleep is considered the bare minimum to feel adequately rested and refreshed. Most individuals fail to get a good eight hours of sound sleep. As a result, the restorative function of sleep is not served, and people feel sleepy during the day."

Chronic stress and anxiety arising from both work-related pressures and personal life challenges can significantly impact one's energy levels. Prolonged exposure to high levels of stress hormones like cortisol can disrupt the body's natural rhythm, affecting overall alertness. Poor air quality and inadequate lighting in the workplace too, can contribute to drowsiness, as they affect the body's circadian rhythms and overall well-being.

Additionally, one of the sleep-related diseases called Obstructive Sleep Apnea Hypopnea Syndrome(OSAHS) is another major reason why people feel sleepy at work. This condition is often triggered due to obesity and high body mass index. Sleep apnea causes obstruction to breathing due to excessive fat deposited around the neck. This disturbs one sleep and leads to people feeling drowsy the next day. Such individuals tend to doze off very easily in meetings or at their work desks.

How does feeling sleepy at work affect one's health and performance?

Chafle: Sleep deprivation causes heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. Furthermore, chronic lack of sleep can weaken the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to illness and infections. It also takes a toll on cognitive function and mental health. Insufficient sleep can impair decision-making abilities, memory retention, and emotional regulation. This can lead to decreased productivity and heightened feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.

Further, drowsiness impairs cognitive function, making it difficult to focus, concentrate, and make sound decisions. This can lead to errors, inefficiency, and rework, ultimately affecting the quality of work produced. Drowsiness often results in slower reaction times and decreased attention to detail, increasing the risk of accidents and workplace injuries.

Pinto: Besides other common health risks associated with sleep deprivation, the incidence of cancers has also been linked to chronic sleep deprivation. Sleep also has a role in the regulation of immunity. With regards to productivity at work, there is a growing realisation that productivity can vary based on factors such as attention span, reaction times, ability to perform deep work and other cognitive factors that are all adversely impacted by the lack of sleep. This is especially of serious concern in fields in which public safety is at stake like the airline industry, teaching profession, medical industry, etc.

What are some healthy ways to avoid feeling sleepy at work?

Chafle: One healthy way to avoid feeling sleepy at work is to prioritise getting a good night's sleep. Creating a consistent bedtime routine, reducing screen time before sleeping, and setting up a comfortable sleep environment can all contribute to better quality sleep.

Staying hydrated throughout the day by drinking plenty of water is a good idea. Dehydration can lead to fatigue and a lack of focus, so keeping a water bottle at your desk as a reminder to sip regularly can help combat this.

Eating fruits and nuts, can provide sustained energy levels and prevent the mid-afternoon slump that often leads to drowsiness.


Nothing can serve as a substitute for a good night's sleep. Sleep hygiene entails a few common measures:

1. Having a fixed sleep/wake time.
2. Limiting exposure to devices before bedtime
3. Avoid caffeinated beverages six to eight hours before bedtime, this includes tea, coffee and sodas.
4. Avoid vigorous exercise in the evening.
5. Having a light dinner and limiting the consumption of alcohol. While alcohol may help people fall asleep more easily, it interferes with the quality of sleep and leaves people feeling lethargic in the morning. Those who smoke cigarettes also tend to have a poorer quality of sleep.

If one starts to feel sleepy or drowsy at work, what can they do to fight it?

As quick fixes, both Chafle and Pinto suggest doing the following:

1. Take a brisk walk outside or even around the office. This can help to get your blood flowing and increase alertness.
2. Incorporate short bursts of physical activity, such as stretching exercises or quick desk yoga sessions. This can re-energise both your body and mind.
3. Stay hydrated by drinking water regularly throughout the day as dehydration can contribute to feelings of fatigue.
4. Consider increasing natural light exposure or using a daylight lamp, as this is believed to improve mood and productivity.
5. It's also important to practice good posture while seated at your desk to prevent slouching-induced fatigue. Consider using an ergonomic chair if possible.
6. In case you are someone who feels sleepy post-lunch, try to do small bursts of activity such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or doing some desk exercises, which can also combat drowsiness. Taking a few minutes to meditate, focus on deep breathing, or simply relax and clear the mind can rejuvenate energy levels and improve mental clarity.

What role does workplace ergonomics play in helping fight drowsiness?

Chafle: Poorly designed workstations, uncomfortable chairs, and improper lighting can contribute to feelings of drowsiness and fatigue. A poorly positioned computer screen can strain the eyes and lead to headaches, while an uncomfortable chair can cause discomfort and decrease productivity. To improve workplace ergonomics and combat drowsiness, consider implementing adjustable desks and chairs to support proper posture and reduce physical discomfort. Incorporating natural lighting or installing lighting that mimics natural daylight can help regulate employees' circadian rhythms.

Pinto: Encouraging the use of stairs, using devices such as pedometers or smart watches that encourage people to have more steps a day, having flexible workstations, considering the use of standing desks, and having gyms at work can all encourage individuals to fight sleepiness at the workplace.

Is the consumption of sugar and caffeine the right way to fight off drowsiness?

Chafle: Having sugar or excess caffeine to combat drowsiness is a common strategy for many people, but it may not be the most effective approach. While sugar and caffeine can provide a temporary energy boost, they often lead to a subsequent crash, leaving individuals feeling even more tired than before. Relying on these substances as a solution for drowsiness can contribute to long-term health issues such as weight gain, insulin resistance, and disrupted sleep patterns.

High sugar intake is linked to an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. It can also lead to tooth decay, inflammation, and impaired immune function. Caffeine, when consumed in large quantities, can cause anxiety, insomnia, and high blood pressure. It may contribute to digestive issues such as acid reflux and stomach ulcers. Both substances can also disrupt hormone balance and contribute to mood swings and irritability.

An infusion of fresh mint leaves and ginger steeped in hot water can provide a revitalising boost without the caffeine jitters. Herbal teas like Tulsi (holy basil) release stress and have cognitive enhancement properties that help to rejuvenate the mind. A cup of golden milk made with turmeric, warm milk, and honey not only provides calming effects but also contributes to overall brain health.

Have protein-rich snacks like nuts, Greek yoghurt, or hummus with vegetables to avoid energy crashes. Incorporating small amounts of caffeine strategically, like a cup of green tea or black coffee mid-morning, can also help stay awake without leading to a post-caffeine crash.

Making mindful food choices at work can have a significant impact on productivity and overall well-being throughout the day. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and chia seeds, can provide sustained energy and improve cognitive function.

Pinto: Caffeine in moderate quantities is not harmful. Caution needs to be exercised if one suffers from hypertension or cardiac disease. Consuming sugar is not advisable as it has consistent and long-term adverse effects that cannot be justified. Caffeine when taken in excessive amounts can cause tremulousness, and irritability and can cause an increase in the heart rate and blood pressure. It can interfere with sleep, perpetuating the cycle of sleepiness leading to more consumption. One also tends to get resistant to the effects of caffeine, making individuals consume more over time, leading to more adverse effects.

Disclaimer: This information does not replace professional medical advice. Consult a qualified specialist or your physician for personalised guidance.

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