We have all been in that situation at some point in our professional lives. The voice of the presenter turns into a dull monotonous drone from some faraway place. A wave of darkness starts flowing towards you.

Try as you might, you cannot fight it off.

Eventually, you give in and the wave engulfs you. Your breathing becomes heavy and your eyelids close. It takes a colleague poking you on the side with a pen for you to get back into the boardroom.

This is a common occurrence at the workplace, especially in today’s world where people have an endless list of obligations and responsibilities.

The busy schedules translate to extended working hours and very little rest.

When this is combined with red-eye flights and endless meetings, it is not surprising that we find ourselves dozing off during a meeting. Especially if the meeting is taking place in the afternoon, one of the two natural sleep periods.

According to this infographic, 39% of meeting attendees report falling asleep during a meeting. This clearly shows that dozing off during meetings is a serious problem.

Before we get into some sneaky secrets you can use to keep your eyes open during a meeting, it is good to understand things that might cause us to fall asleep during a meeting.


If you find yourself falling asleep during a meeting, one of the following reasons may be to blame:

You Are Warm and Your Stomach Is Full

The heavy lunch you ate before the meeting might be the reason you find yourself falling asleep during the meeting.

After eating, the parasympathetic nervous system instructs your body to slow down other functions and focus on digesting the food you have just eaten.

Other systems in your body – including your brain – start experiencing a slowdown. After eating, insulin is also produced to help regulate the amount of sugar within your blood. Insulin in turn triggers the release of serotonin and melatonin in your brain.

These chemicals cause your brain to become drowsy. The amount of insulin produced depends on the type and amount of food you eat.

When you consume large helpings of foods that are rich in fats, sugars and carbs, more insulin will be produced, leading to higher levels of drowsiness.

This effect is more pronounced when your body is feeling warm. This explains why more people are more likely to fall asleep during an afternoon meeting – the combination of just coming from lunch and the warm afternoon temperatures.

You Are Overloaded

In today’s world, our work demands so much of us.

Sometimes you find yourself with so much to do.

This means that you have to work very early, leave way past the official closing time, take numerous trips, and so on.

With such crazy schedules, sometimes you do not get enough time to sleep and rest.

According to a poll by Gallup, about 40% of Americans get less than seven hours of sleep a night, despite a recommended sleep time of 8 hours.

If you are among this 40%, there is a likelihood that you might find yourself dozing off the middle of a meeting.

Boring Presenters

One of the top reasons why people fall asleep in meetings is due to a boring and unengaging presenter.

Some presenters do not make any attempt to make their presentation engaging.

According to a study conducted by the University of Tsukuba in Japan and published in the Nature Communications journal, the sleep we experience when bored is induced by a part of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens.

The nucleus accumbens triggers the release of dopamine (the feel good hormone) when you are doing something exciting, or when we are involved in activities that are important for your survival, such as eating or having sex.

However, in the absence of motivational stimuli, the nucleus accumbens triggers feelings of tiredness.

When you are bored, there is no motivational stimuli getting into your brain, no dopamine is being released and you therefore tend to feel tired and sleepy.

This explains why you are a lot more likely to fall asleep during a presentation by a boring colleague who drones on and on in a monotonous voice.

Not only is falling asleep during a meeting deeply embarrassing, it can also lead to you not being taken seriously by your colleagues and supervisors.

If it becomes a frequent occurrence, it can even result in you getting fired.

To avoid putting your career at risk, below are some strategies you can use to ensure you stay awake in meetings.


Ensure You Are Well Rested

We already noted earlier that almost 40% of Americans do not get adequate sleep. This lack of adequate sleep can lead to someone falling asleep during a meeting.

Therefore, a good way of minimizing the chances of falling asleep during a meeting is to ensure that you always get a good night’s sleep.

Make it a point of getting over seven hours of sleep each night. Without getting enough sleep consistently, no amount of caffeine will keep you awake when sleep comes knocking during the day.

Getting enough sleep also increases your energy levels and motivation and boosts your ability to communicate and socialize with others.

Therefore, if you had a poor night’s sleep on the day before the meeting, you will be walking into the meeting with lower energy levels and lower motivation, making it harder for you to concentrate and stay awake during the meeting.

Below are some practical steps you can take to ensure you get enough rest each night:

  • You should have a regular sleeping schedule. Have a specific time when you go to bed and wake up each day.
  • Spend the hour just before bed in relative quietness and relaxation. Do not exercise just before bed. Instead, relax yourself by taking a hot shower or meditating.
  • Avoid thinking about the worries of the day while in bed.
  • Keep TVs and computers away from your bedroom. Avoid using your smartphone or tablet while in bed.
  • Do not take heavy meals right before bedtime.
  • Do not drink alcohol right before bedtime.
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine, since they can interfere with your sleep. Caffeine will remain active in your body for up to 8 hours, so avoid caffeine in the late afternoon/early evening.
  • Make your bedroom conducive for sleep by keeping it cool, quiet and dark.
  • Do not drink too many liquids in the evening since they might lead to frequent bathroom trips at night, thereby disrupting your sleep.

Avoid Heavy Meals before Meetings

We already saw that eating a heavy lunch that is full of carbohydrates is likely to leave you in a near comatose state for much of your afternoon.

This is bad news if you have a meeting in the afternoon.

Therefore, if you have a meeting scheduled for the afternoon, it is wise to avoid having a heavy lunch.

Do not eat multiple pieces of pizza, potato chips or a meal that would be perfect for Thanksgiving Day.

Avoid foods that are greasy or full of carbohydrates. Instead, keep your lunch light. Eat some vegetables, raw nuts or a few fruits.

These will give you the energy you need to keep you powered throughout the meeting without inducing the dreaded drowsiness.

You should also go for foods with a high amount of protein. Protein-rich foods lead to absorption of lots of amino acids into the brain, giving you a stimulating effect that will help keep you awake during the meeting.

Keep Yourself Hydrated

Your level of hydration keeps affects your performance, productivity and how you feel throughout the day. Without enough fluids in your body, you tend to feel tired, sluggish and irritable.

Hydration also plays a huge role on your ability to sleep at night.

Having enough fluids in your body keeps your brain hydrated and increases blood flow to the brain, thereby calming your brain and keeping it well oxygenated.

This makes it easier for you to sleep. On the other hand, being dehydrated can keep you from sleeping properly at night, which in turn affects your energy and alertness levels the following day.

Therefore, to ensure that you are always alert and well rested, you should make a habit of drinking plenty of water and non-caffeinated drinks throughout the day.

While caffeinated drinks like coffee might give you a stimulating boost, they will also dehydrate your body.

Understand Agenda of the Meeting

Imagine being asked to attend a meeting at the last minute because your boss couldn’t make it to the meeting. You don’t know what the meeting is about.

Once the meeting kicks off, you have nothing to contribute since you were not prepared.

You start wondering why it had to be you who had to attend the meeting. Your mind drifts off, and before you know it, you have let out a huge yawn and your mind is on the verge of shutting down.

If you attend a meeting without the faintest idea of the agenda of the meeting, you won’t have much to contribute. You might not even be very hands-on with the issue being discussed.

This can quickly lead to boredom, which in turn escalates to drowsiness. To prevent this, it is good to prepare yourself before the meeting. Understand the issues that will be discussed during the meeting and prepare some points that you will share during the meeting, as well as questions that you might want answers to.

If you are well prepared before the meeting, it will be easier for you to actively participate in the meeting, and therefore you are less likely to feel sleepy.


Participate In The Meeting

Once you get to the meeting, the top strategy to ensure drowsiness does not creep in is to actively get involved in the meeting.

When you actively participate in the meeting, you will be more focused, your thoughts are less likely to wander, and you are less likely to feel bored during the meeting.

For you to be able to be actively involved in the meeting, you need to have prepared for the meeting beforehand. Below are some practical tips you can use to keep yourself involved in the meeting:

  • Listen carefully to whoever is speaking and make eye contact with them. This will help you to concentrate and keep your mind from wandering.
  • Take notes of whatever is being said. This makes it easier for you to stay engaged and ensures you will not forget the issues raised during the meeting.
  • If you have something to contribute to the issue being discussed, speak up and share your thoughts. After all, what’s the essence of attending a meeting if you do not make any contribution?
  • If you disagree with someone and feel that your objection will help the outcome of the meeting, raise your objection. However, do this politely, without trying to belittle the other person.
  • If something is unclear to you, raise your hand and ask for clarification.

Watch Your Posture

The sitting posture you assume during a meeting has a direct impact on the likelihood of falling asleep during the meeting.

According to a study conducted by the University of Auckland, your posture has a direct effect on your emotional state. According to the research, maintaining an upright posture leads to feelings of enthusiasm, excitement and strength.

On the other hand, a slouched or slumped posture leads to feelings of dullness, passiveness, sluggishness and sleepiness.

Therefore, you are more likely to stay alert during a meeting by maintaining an upright posture during a meeting.

Instead of a comfortable chair that allows you to recline, opt for a more straight backed chair that ensures that you are always seated in the correct posture.

Place both of your feet flat on the floor and sit upright, without having to lean on the back of your chair for support.

Sometimes, it becomes difficult to remain awake even when seated with an upright posture.

If you feel that sleepiness is creeping in despite all your efforts to ward it off, you can simply get off your chair and stand at the back of the meeting room. You are less likely to fall asleep while standing.

Additionally, it is unlikely that anyone will have a problem with you for standing during the meeting.

Open a Window/Adjust the AC

Sometimes, the sleepiness and drowsiness you experience in a meeting occurs because the room is a little too warm.

When you are in a room where the temperatures are a bit high, several things happen. First, your body makes several adjustments to maintain its optimum temperature.

The process of cooling down your body down needs energy, and therefore, you soon start feeling tired. Second, an increase in temperature within your body causes your blood pressure to decrease.

This means that there will be less blood reaching your brain.

Your brain will be less oxygenated and will therefore feel more tired.

Finally, a warm room feels cozy, so your brain associates it with sleeping time, inducing feelings of sleepiness.

If the meeting is taking place in a room that is a little too warm and you are starting to feel sleepy, simply get up and open a window or adjust the AC to regulate the temperature in the room. The fresh air and street noises from the open window will also help your mind to stay alert.

In addition, the act of actually getting up and walking to the window will make you more alert and reduce the drowsiness.

Use Acupressure

According to a study conducted by the University Of Michigan, people who feel drowsy during meetings can improve their alertness by applying self-acupressure to certain stimulation points on their bodies. The most common stimulation point is at your temples, just behind your eyebrows.

You can stimulate this pressure point by pressing this point on both sides of your head using your fingertips and making small circular motions.

The second pressure point is found at the base of the skull at the back of your neck.

To stimulate this point, wrap your fingers over your head and use your thumbs to massage this point using small circular motions.

The area between your wrist and your palm is another stimulation point that can induce alertness when you are feeling drowsy. You can stimulate this point by pressing your thumb here, with your index finger placed on the back of your wrist.

Finally, you can increase your alertness by rubbing the web of soft flesh between your thumb and index finger.

All these are exercises that you can use to increase your alertness during a meeting without anyone else realizing what you are doing.

Take Off Some Extra Clothing

This might seem like common sense.

However, when your head is cloggy with drowsiness, it is easy to forget something so basic.

Being warmly dressed in the meeting wrong will increase your body temperature, causing you to feel tired and sleepy.

If you have several layers of clothing, you can take off some layers. For instance, if you have a shirt and a blazer, you can take off the blazer.

This will lower your body temperature significantly and reduce your drowsiness.

Find Something To Interrupt Your Day Dreams

In most cases, the precursor to falling asleep in a meeting is daydreaming.

Your mind drifts off, you start remembering some happy memory from the past, and before you know it, you are woken up by the voice of the CEO calling out your name.

To avoid drifting off to sleep, you need to find something that will keep your mind from wandering. Below are three exercises you can do to keep your mind alert during your meeting:

Exercise 1: Hold Your Pen in Your Non-Writing Hand

Holding your pen in your non-writing hand will create sensations that foreign to your brain. Your brain will focus on these new sensations, helping it remain alert.

To make this exercise more effective, you should try to focus on the following sensations:

  • Take note of the parts of your fingers that are in contact with the pen.
  • Try to sense if there is any tension in your hand.
  • Switch the pen to your wiring hand and compare the feelings.
  • Try to write a few words with your non-writing hand.

After a few moments of doing this, you mind should feel more alert.

Exercise 2: Move Your Shoulders Up and Down

Slowly move your left shoulder up and down. The movement should be large enough that you can feel your shoulder moving, but small enough that no one else will notice the movement.

Keep increasing the pace to the point where any further increase in speed will cause others to notice the movements. Slow down the movement and start involving your right shoulder.

The shoulders should move in opposite directions, such that when the left shoulder moves up, the right shoulder moves down, and vice versa.

Again, keep increasing the pace to the point where any further increase in speed will cause others to notice the movements. After a few moments of doing this, your mind should feel more alert.

Exercise 3: Make Circles with Your Shoulders

This is quite similar to the previous exercise.

However, instead of moving your shoulders up and down, move your shoulders in small circles, starting with your left shoulder. Try to keep the movement as circular as possible.

Once you can do that perfectly, reverse the direction of the movement. Keep increasing the pace of your movements while keeping the movements imperceptible to the others in the room.

Slow down again and switch to the right shoulder and repeat the process. Once you can make the movements perfectly with both shoulders, try and see if you can simultaneously move both shoulders in circular motions.

Once you are able to do this perfectly, check how you feel. Your mind should be feeling more alert now.

Take a Bathroom Break

Sometimes, try as you might, it becomes impossible to keep the sleepiness at bay.

If you have tried all the strategies discussed above and nothing seems to work, excuse yourself from the meeting and take a bathroom break.

Even if you don’t feel like using the bathroom, excuse yourself and walk out of the meeting. Walk to the bathroom farthest from you, or take the stairs to a bathroom on another floor. Splash your face with cold water.

This will get rid of your drowsiness and you can go back to the meeting. However, if you still feel sleepy after splashing cold water on your face, get back to your office or take a walk outside the building. Send an email apology to the meeting organizer and ask for a copy of the minutes of the meeting.

It is a lot better to leave the meeting than get woken up by the CEO with a pool of drool around your face.


Feeling sleepy in a meeting is quite a commonplace experience, especially when crazy schedules are coupled with afternoon meetings and boring presenters.

However, the fact that it is a common experience does not mean that you should allow your drowsiness to take the better of your in the boardroom.

Allowing yourself to fall asleep in a meeting can have dire consequences for your reputation and your career.

To prevent the urge to fall asleep in a meeting, make a habit of getting enough rest, always keep yourself hydrated, avoid heavy meals before meetings and always understand the agenda of the meeting before walking into the boardroom.

Once in the meeting, keep yourself actively involved in the meeting and sit with an upright posture, or even stand. If the room feels too hot, open a window, adjust the AAC or shed off a layer of clothing.

If the sleepiness persists, use self-acupressure to increase your alertness or find something to interrupt your daydreams.

However, if you find that none of these works, it is more prudent to excuse yourself from the meeting than to let yourself fall asleep.

Sneaky Secrets for Staying Awake in a Meeting

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