We’ve all been there: The moment you let yourself believe that if you just close your eyes for five minutes, you’ll wake up feeling refreshed and ready to tackle your assignments. Chances are, though, that once you let yourself “rest your eyes,” they’re going to stay that way for much longer than five minutes. Something about reading academic textbooks, journal articles, and other written material can be infuriatingly dull, especially if you’re not interested in the material in the first place. And even if you are, textbooks sometimes feel like they’re written specifically to be boring. So how do you stay awake while reading textbooks?
Read the text out loud. While this is especially important if you’re an auditory learner and you can benefit from hearing the material, reading aloud also makes you more conscious of what you’re reading. Not to mention that it’s hard to fall asleep when you’re in the middle of a sentence. If you have a study buddy, read together; have your partner read one section aloud while you listen, then switch. You can discuss the material once you’ve finished the reading to make sure you’ve understood all the main points.
Wake yourself up with something cold. Whether you decide to splash water on your face, take a cool shower, or drink ice water, a little bit of cold can be refreshing and help keep you awake. A cold beverage might be easiest (that way you don’t have to wash your face twelve times in one afternoon). Sip on it regularly and you may start to feel a little more awake, especially if it’s a caffeinated beverage. Plus, if you keep taking in fluids, you’ll have to keep getting rid of them too. It’s hard to fall asleep when you really need to use the bathroom.
Make yourself a little bit uncomfortable. In particular, don’t study in your bed. Your brain and body both consciously and unconsciously associate your bed with sleeping. Even if you’re awake when you start an assigned reading, you’re not going to feel that way for long. Your bed is warm, cozy, and sitting in it will make you long for a nap. Instead of holing up in your bedroom, find a place to study where you have to sit up straight or can’t get quite as comfortable as you’d like. It may not keep you as alert as you’d like to be, but it’ll definitely prevent you from spontaneously falling asleep.
Go out in public. It’s much less socially acceptable to fall asleep in a coffee shop than it is to fall asleep in your dorm. Put yourself in a situation where you’d be embarrassed to be caught sleeping and you’re much more likely to actually focus on your reading.
Pay attention to the time. You know your body best, and you know when you’re most productive. It wouldn’t be helpful for me to say that you should try to get your hardest work done between 3:00 pm and 5:00 pm, because while that works for me, it might not work for you. Some people are incredibly productive at 8:00 am or 10:00 pm. Pay attention to your body and when you feel awake, stop whatever else you’re doing and focus on your most intensive work. Once you know when you’re most productive, you can plan your days and your studying around that chunk of time.
Get your eight hours. It may not be exactly eight hours, but getting a full night of sleep every night is going to help your health and productivity in the long run. Yes, there will be some nights when you only manage to get five solid hours of sleep (the next morning will not be fun), but if you can help it, choose sleep. Your grades will thank you.
Don’t expect to do it all in one go. You can’t sit down and read an entire textbook without getting bored, missing out on important material, or falling asleep. Don’t be too hard on yourself when your body and brain just won’t cooperate. Instead, take breaks. Set yourself small goals (read a chapter, read for 15 minutes) and then reward yourself with a five-minute break, a snack, or extra Netflix time after you finish your assignment. Breaking down the material into chunks will help prevent you from getting too tired (since you’ll be moving about between chunks) and it’ll ultimately feel like the reading goes faster.
Read actively. Take notes, highlight important text, or underline main ideas while you’re reading. This will keep your brain more active (rather than just reading word after word and not taking anything in). You’ll retain more information if you’re jotting down the important ideas or scanning each paragraph for the main idea after reading through the section. Again, it’s harder to fall asleep when you’re doing something a little more involved than staring at words on a page.
Drink something. Whether it’s the cold water trick mentioned above or you go for the heavily caffeinated beverages, keeping your body physically busy can help keep you alert. Do be wary about drinking too many caffeinated beverages or drinking them in the evening or at night; you could end up hurting your sleep schedule.
Actively try not to be bored. Yes, I’m fully advocating for “fake it ‘til you make it.” I have actually read a book called Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Universe. Despite being a geology major, I’m not actually super interested in dirt. You can imagine how hard it must’ve been for the nonmajors in the class. When faced with what seems like an insurmountable reading assignment, pretend that you’re interested. Tell yourself that the subject is fun and useful, and that it’ll be good to know down the line in other classes. You may still not end up liking dirt, but it might trick your brain into staying alert and at least vaguely interested for the duration of the reading.
Check your environment. If you’re trying to study in a room that’s filled with the sounds of a babbling brook and is dimly lit, you’re probably going to fall asleep. Make sure your lights are on, window shades are open (natural light does wonders), and music isn’t too calming.
Get moving. If you can walk and read at the same time, bring your textbook or reading assignment to the gym and hop on the treadmill. Don’t plan on getting an intense workout in while you’re reading, but stay moving throughout and you may find your focus improved. Plus, it’s probably next to impossible to fall asleep on the treadmill. If you don’t want to haul yourself over to the gym, break up your reading with some physical activity. After every section do 25 jumping jacks or 10 push ups. An elevated heart rate will wake you up too.
Munch on a snack. Some energy-boosting foods include fruit, nuts, yogurt, and eggs. If it’s mid-afternoon and you’re feeling peckish, make yourself a parfait, grab an apple, or dig into a jar of pecans. Stay away from the candy and chocolate though. That’s a habit that’ll be hard to break and it certainly isn’t a healthy one.
How do you manage to stay awake and engaged each time you have to do a reading assignment?