Medical Questions > Mental Health > Sleep Disorders Forum

Can't stay awake at work

I am a 28 year old female. I have a job that I love. I usually get 5-6 hours of sleep at night. I wake up feeling fine. I don’t feel tired or groggy. As soon as the alarm goes off, I get out of bed do the usual morning routine of going to the restroom, brushing my teeth, getting a glass of tea to drink and I feel good. Not tired at all. But as soon as I sit at my desk at work, I feel as if I had stayed up all night studying for a test. And I don’t go to school any more. But I am all the sudden very exhausted and can’t keep my eyes open. I start doing the ‘nod’ thing where my head jerks because I start to fall asleep and can’t hold my head up. I do this for a good 4-5 hours during the work day. I have no clue as to why. I have tried to chew gum, sucked on the hard candies, small snacks, coffee, soda, tried to occupy my mind with training, drawing, reading emails, and I can’t figure out why I still feel tired after trying to do all of this. And when the work day is coming to a close and 5:00 is around the corner, it is like I have gotten a “second wind” and I am no longer tired. I am fully awake as I was in the morning. And this is only on the work days. I do not have this problem on the weekends. Does anyone have any idea what the problem is here? I can’t figure it out. I would appreciate any suggestions or advice. Please and thank you…
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First Helper Hypnos
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replied August 4th, 2009
Extremely eHealthy
I know you feel rested when you wake up, but have you tried sleeping for longer than 6 hours? Some people can function on that little sleep, but a lot of people can't.

You said it doesn't happen on the weekends. Do you sleep more on the weekends? Do you eat differently? Like do you eat cereal during the week and eggs on the weekends? Do you drink more caffeine when you are at home?

Do you like your job? Maybe you are bored? Are the lights at your work station bright? Is there any sunlight from a window? If not, try a bright light at your desk to signal to your body that it's daytime. Do you have a long commute? Have you tried small snacks throughout the day? Maybe it's a blood sugar thing?

Since it doesn't happen on the weekends, it's probably not medical. There is something in your routine or the environment that is making a difference. Try changing one thing that you do on the weekends to the weekday. Try it for a couple of days, if that doesn't work, try something else. That way, you can figure out what it is. If nothing works, try going to the doctor for a check-up and see if maybe it's a blood sugar thing or a hormone imbalance.
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replied August 6th, 2009
Thank you MyrahU, for your suggestions and comments.

I really don’t sleep more on the weekends than I do during the week. I think I’ll try sleeping later this weekend though and see if it helps. I am a little more active on the weekends than in the week. But I think that is normal for most people. I usually don’t have the time to sleep in on the weekend plus I hate the feeling like I slept the day away so I try not to over sleep to much.

Other than that, I really do love my job and am very thankful that I have it. It’s about a 45 minute drive but it’s a scenic drive. And the traffic always seems to be a little different each day. So that helps to keep me awake. When I get to my desk I sit by a wall of windows with the sun beaming in. There is plenty of other lighting too. So it is pretty bright throughout the day. It’s usually pretty quite and right now there is not much to do so I do get bored. Which I could see would make me tired, but that’s when I will try to do some training or reading or something like that hoping that it might help to keep me awake. But it usually doesn’t. And I start to nod off. I never really fall asleep at work but I do start doing the ‘nodding thing’ and it makes me feel miserable throughout the day. And I can’t stand feeling that way. But I seem to do it and end up feeling like crap because of it.

There isn’t much difference between the weekend and the week as far as what I eat and drink. At least not that I know of. There are a few things I will try differently though. Thank you for your comments and suggestions.
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replied August 21st, 2009
'Nodding' off at work even with proper amount of sleep...
Blueway1980...I have the EXACT same problem. I get sooo tired during the morning hours at work. And I do the 'nod' thing too! I always wonder if it's the stale air in the office or the lighting in the office. There isn't much circulation where I work. Actually, when I think about it, the air in the office is absolutely disgusting! Breathing in everyone else's breathe...gross! Anyways...you're not alone. I was thinking that some days I eat a bowl of healthy cereal before work and some days I don't. I will see if that works. Get the body's blood pumping and get the metabolism going in the morning, ya know? Good luck to you though. I hope you find something that helps you.
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replied August 21st, 2009
Extremely eHealthy
Try also getting some protein in the morning, like eggs. That may help, too.
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replied August 21st, 2009
Experienced User
Blueway1980:

Your first problem is you sleep for only 5-6 hours. That's not enough. May be you should try sleeping for 8-9 hours. That's not wasting time in sleeping because the body needs rest.

The second thing is I doubt if you are really enjoying your work because you don't usually feel sleepy in doing something that you enjoy. When you are doing something boring you feel like nodding.

The third thing is it could merely be a psychological thing. Many people have the problem of feeling sleepy in work. I am not doing any job but I guess I can still relate to your problem. When I attend my classes I feel like I am crushed with sleepiness but as soon as it's over I'm fully refreshed! I have been trying to figure out why this happens but with no success.

Hope that helps.
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replied November 5th, 2009
Yup. I couldn't have written it better myself. I have the same problem. Sometimes when I discovered I nodded off, I wonder how long I was out. I'm sick of it. Once in a while, I have a day where I'm not sleepy at all. Coffee makes no difference for me. But like you, I sleep only 5-6 hours a day and I can't seem to sleep any longer. However, even though I feel refreshed upon leaving work, I discovered that if I just sit down and watch some TV after coming home, I'll find myself catching a great 20-45 minute nap. I never do this because it means a late supper or I feel like I'm wasting away my precious evenings with my family. If I do, it's by accident. If you have the chance, try it for a week. Take that nap right after you get home. I suggest watching something that's mildly intersting like the news, not sitcoms if that's your bag.
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replied December 12th, 2011
Can't Stay Awake At Work
I'm concerned that people who are not medically trained are dispensing medical opinions. People are suggesting that, because these drowsy spells occur at a desk job but not on weekends, this cannot be a physiological problem and must therefore be psychological. Seriously?? BlueWay1980 states that she is more "active" on the weekend. I assume she means PHYSICALLY active. Increased physical activity involves increased heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen intake, and blood flow and neurotransmitters in the brain. When a person is still, as when seated at a desk, the opposite is true. Sedentary hypersomnolence can be caused by a number of medical conditions, including hypotension (esp. neurally-mediated hypotension), bradycardia, narcolepsy, and sleep apnea.
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replied April 13th, 2012
Blue Way 1980 trying not to nod out at work.
Exactamento my friend! It would help to just stand up and walk around for a minute at work to get the blood flowing once in awhile too. Eating some protein snacks like nuts or mozzarella cheese helps and doesn't key the insulin response that sugar does. Water, water, water...coffee and tea make you urinate. However, probably the big problem is being overweight. When you sit at a desk job you lean forward and compress all the visceral fat which presses on vital organs like lungs and you don't get enough air...and your brain gets short of oxygen so you nod out. bingo! So, sitting up straight, losing weight, eating protein and moving around periodically at work will do the trick. Take my word for it I just lost 75 lbs. and the problem went away.
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replied December 12th, 2011
Stay off the sugar as it can cause sleepiness. Savoury snacks are better. Get some probiotics or live yogurt (must be live). Yakult contains 6.5 billion friendly bacteria. These can kick-start brain activity. Try it, you may be surprised.
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replied January 11th, 2012
Sounds like you might benefit from a biphasic sleep pattern. It was the norm in pre-industrial societies, and still is in societies today without universal electric lighting, for sleep to be divided into two phases: "first" and "second" sleeps. It would be normal to be fully alert and awake in between sleeps. I don't know how long the period between sleeps is supposed to be typically, but maybe you could allot 9 hours for sleep, expect to wake up after 5-6 hours, spend some time being productive, and then shoot for another 2-3 hours of sleep?

I read about this in a magazine a while back: Time or Newseek; the article suggested that the time between sleeps was a favorite for having sex in the Medieval period.

Also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Segmented_sle ep
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replied December 13th, 2012
Hi Blueway1980, not sure if you're still following this but I to have the exact same problem, and I'm quite depressed about it. I think I've had this problem for years, but it's intensified in the past few. I think it does happen to me in the mornings but a lot less, the afternoon are where I get killed.

I've angered my bosses before when they saw me nodding off, thinking I've been moonlighting, or just indisciplined with sleep, or just plain disinterested or demotivated at the job. As a consequence I lost favour, and it eventually counted against me when I was evaluated and subsequently fired.

Don't know if this helps, but I'm a Malaysian, of Chinese descent, and a 35 years old male. I am overweight (5 feet 11 and 102 kilos) and I tend to sleep too little (ok I must admit I've had jobs where I was disinterested and therefore stayed late as some kind of escapism).

A few jobs back, I was working as a sales consultant doing property seminars, sometimes as often as 10 a week, sometimes in different cities. It was a busy job, and the setting up of each seminar was exacting, precise, and required speed and some leg work - meaning it was a workout each and every time. We had 2 fixed slots, 2:30pm and 7:30pm in the same day. The problem usually appeared in the 2:30pm session.

Here's a brief run-through:
- travel (usually rush) to seminar destination (usually carrying fairly heavy stuff
- set up (takes about 1-2 hours
- get a pep talk on selling strategies (this is where the stress kicks in)
- everything geared up frantically to start off the seminar (the last 10 minutes there's a lot of walking ad running getting things done).
- Seminar starts at a high tempo
- After 20-30 minutes settling in, I will take a seat at the back area while the seminar is going on
- I sit down, and then within 10mins - 30 mins usually, my body just shuts down
- I shed loads of tears, my eyes can'y stay open I start sweating heavily, I feel very groggy, and then I start the back and front motion of nodding and occasionally waking

Usually, if I seem to get enough of that nodding, I will wake up drenched with sweat, very groggy, but after a few minutes - refreshed!! That's followed by that second wind, and then I'm active again closing out the seminar.

Fast forward to now, I'm in a good job and I also enjoy what I do. But for the first time in years I'm kinda stuck in a windowless office, pretty much desk bound. It's scaring me because I'm having the same problem and I don't know what to do about it. Don't know how anyone could help me here but it feels better letting it out somehow.

Just so you know, just 30 minutes before writing this I awoke from one of those nodding sessions. Ironic.


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replied December 13th, 2012
Experienced User
cuffedbloke, you should definitely get a check up and mention this to your doc. What you are describing sounds like it could be obstructive sleep apnea. But rest assured this is a very treatable condition.
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replied December 17th, 2012
Thanks Hypnos, I certainly will.
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replied December 19th, 2012
You should have an adequate sleep of 8 hours. And keep following things in your mind:
* Regular Sleep & Wake Schedule
* Say 'NO' to Nicotine!
* Hold Off on the Alcohol
* Manage stress
* Include physical activity in your daily routine
* Limit daytime naps
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