How to Stay Awake at Work by Eating Right
Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis

Though you might not admit it to your boss, staying awake and alert throughout the workweek (sometimes even just through Monday) can be a challenge. In this nonstop society, it’s nearly impossible to be energized all day. Work hours are no longer limited to a strict 9-to-5 schedule, and you’d be lucky to get a reasonable amount of sleep in between trying to exercise, get dressed for work, spend time with family, and keep up with a social life when you’re not busy at the office (the whole work/life balance thing is no easy feat).

While your first instinct may be to fill up on coffee when your eyelids grow heavy at work, there are other ways to perk up when you hit a midday slump. “Caffeine is a great way to wake up your body. However, consuming too much caffeine or drinking it too late in the afternoon can cause you to have trouble sleeping at night,” explains holistic health counselor and Kitchen Matters author Pamela Salzman. Instead, it’s best to focus on healthy lifestyle habits like getting a full night’s sleep, exercising, optimal work/life balance, and eating balanced meals when it comes to maintaining energy and focus throughout the day. For natural energy, take note of Salzman’s tips on how to stay awake at work sans the office coffee machine.

Eat a Balanced Breakfast

It’s no secret that breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day, but it’s not enough to just run out the door with a piece of toast. “Having a balanced meal that includes wholesome carbs, healthy fats, and a lean protein is ideal for keeping you satisfied until your next meal,” Salzman says. A balanced meal will also provide you with the energy you need to stay awake at work all day.

  • Eat unsweetened oatmeal with nuts and fruit.
  • Make a fruit smoothie with nuts, nut butter, tofu, coconut butter, or avocado.
  • Add protein powder to oatmeal or a smoothie for extra protein and creaminess.

Sleep Well

If you spend your nights tossing and turning, making it through a day at the office can feel like a constant battle. According to Salzman, getting a good night’s rest is more in your control than you may think. Here’s how she suggests improving your habits.

  • Exercise in the morning to get the most out of the energizing endorphins you’ll get from physical activity.
  • Put down electronic devices an hour before bed so you won’t be overstimulated when trying to fall asleep.
  • Clear an overactive mind by writing down your thoughts in a journal.
  • Limit your caffeine intake and cut off your coffee supply by 2 p.m. so the effects won’t deter your sleep.
  • Consult your physician about possibly taking a natural supplement like melatonin or magnesium.

Make Healthy Snacks

Instead of turning to vending machine snacks or ignoring a growling stomach between meals, Salzman recommends bringing healthy snacks with you to work for a boost of healthy, natural energy when you need it most. “Consuming a midmorning or midafternoon snack is a great way to keep your body fueled throughout the day. I recommend a snack that combines complex carbs, healthy fats, and lean proteins that will keep you satisfied for longer,” she says.

  • Bring whole-grain crackers, peanut butter, and a banana.
  • Add chopped almonds and sliced strawberries to a cup of plain Greek yogurt.
  • Avoid refined grains and sugars.
  • Eat just enough to satisfy your hunger (eating too much can make you feel sleepy).

Pack a Nutritious Lunch

“Eating too little or too much at lunch can cause you to feel sluggish and tired. Eat slowly to give your body time to register that it’s full,” says Salzman. She recommends going for foods with a “slow burn” to keep you full and energized longer. That means lunch should include complex carbs, lean protein, and healthy fats.

  • Make a vegetable salad with chickpeas or grilled chicken, avocado, and olive oil-based dressing.
  • Pack grilled fish with roasted sweet potato and sautéed vegetables.
  • Steer clear of sugary, refined foods that could lead to a crash-and-burn situation.
  • Drink water (your office fatigue could be a symptom of dehydration).

Move Your Body

Aside from food and sleep, physical activity is another factor linked to your energy level throughout the day. Most office jobs are quite sedentary, but there’s always room for small physical activities throughout the day to keep your mind and body energized and focused.

  • Take a walk around the office to move your body.
  • Do a seated yoga pose at your desk by bringing your ankle to your knee or twisting on each side.
  • Go outside for some fresh air.
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