13 Best ways to Study when Tired (2019)

how to study when you're tired

It might be late at night and you really want to get the most out of this study session. Or, the stuff you’re studying might be boring as heck and it’s making your eyes glaze over just looking at it!

Either way, sometimes studying while tired is unavoidable.

So, let’s look at some strategies to force yourself to study even when you’re falling asleep!

Before we jump into each step in-depth, feel free to navigate around the page using these links to each of the 13 steps:

  1. Set the Temperature to 72F / 22C
  2. Ditch your seat!
  3. Seek Natural Lighting
  4. Skype a Study Buddy
  5. Do a HasFIT Routine on YouTube
  6. Hydrate
  7. Don’t Over Study
  8. Chew Gum
  9. Study using your Learning Style
  10. Study the Easiest thing when you’re Most Tired
  11. Just do it in the Morning
  12. Use the Premack Principle
  13. Use a Website Blocker

Now let’s zoom-in! Here’s my easy, actionable and scientifically proven techniques to help you to stay awake to study longer:

1. Set the Temperature to 72F / 22C

How to study when you're tired

Do you remember how HOT classrooms were in summer?

Okay, I’m Australian, so I had it worse than most. But really, I’m sure most people can remember the classroom temperature being really uncomfortable most of the year around.

This not only distracting, it’s also proven to dramatically decrease your grades!

In other words, you’ll  struggle to learn when it’s so hot! You’ll get fatigued, tired, and want to stop studying.

If you’re falling asleep while studying you really need to check the temperature in your study space.

Here’s proof:

A study from Westview High School regulated classroom temperatures and tested students following their lessons to determine the impact of temperature on tests scores.

The results were remarkable!

Students do better at 72 Fahrenheit:

  • 61 Fahrenheit / 16 Celsius: Average student score was 76%
  • 72 Fahrenheit / 22 Celsius: Average student score was 90%
  • 81 Fahrenheit / 27 Celsius: Average student score was 72%

The key takeaway here is this: you need to make sure your room temperature is comfortably around 72F / 22C if you want to make your studying more efficient. If you do this, you’ll find you’re less likely to get tired when studying.

2. Ditch your seat!

Stand-Up workstations are all the rage right now – and they’re a great top tip for how to wake yourself up when studying. This is because standing up actually wakes you up!

Many of my colleagues in my office are super excited about using them for both physical and mental benefits – one of which being tiredness!

I would recommend alternating between seated and standing positions when you are feeling tired.

Personally, both sitting and standing lead to fatigue, but jumping from one to the other seems worthwhile: at the very least, it gets your blood moving around your body!

Here’s proof of the benefits of standing desks:

A study published on the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention website found remarkable benefits of standing while studying.

At the end of a 7 week trial where people in a workplace alternated between seated and standing workstations at will, the authors found:

  • 87% of people felt increased energy levels!
  • 87% of people felt increased comfort
  • 66% of people felt more productive
  • 33% of people felt less stressed

So, give it a try!

You don’t need to buy a fancy desk. In fact, I’ve made a makeshift standing workstation in the spare bedroom of my house by stacking some bookshelves to the perfect height for me to comfortably type away while standing. Standing up might just give you that extra boost of energy you need when you feel too tired to study!

3. Seek Natural Lighting

How to study when you're tired

Look at your study space and think about the light source. Is there a nearby window? Do you rely too heavily on the desk lamp? Is your light a soft white light or a harsh fluorescent light?

Natural lighting helps regulate your body rhythms so you don’t get tired during the day.

Here’s what you need to know about natural lighting:

  • Ensure windows are nearby. The benefits of natural lighting decrease the further you are from the window. Marla Paul from Northwestern University reports that daylight from windows almost entirely loses its positive benefits if your study space is more than 25 feet away from the window. So keep in mind if you’re studying in your library: find a seat near the window!
  • Natural lighting is good for keeping you awake, particularly in the morning. Furthermore, morning-time natural light also improves your mood. So if you want to be one of those annoyingly chirpy, alert and overly enthusiastic students, get some natural light as soon as you wake up.
  • Improved Sleep. Erik Hinds reports that natural light is central to sustaining positive sleep. Our bodies run off circadian rhythms that are tuned into a 24 hour cycle of sleep time at night, awake time during the day. Natural light helps keep your circadian rhythms in balance and shows your body when to be awake and alert, and when to head to bed. By contrast, if you live in an unnatural lighting environment, you’re more likely to feel depressed, get obese and even develop diabetes!
  • Improved Grades. Nicklas and Bailey conducted a study on the impacts of natural lighting in schools and came up with some impressive results. They studied over 1200 students in schools in North Carolina that were both daylit and non-daylit. They found that students who attend daylit schools are statistically likely to obtain 5% – 14% higher test scores than students who attend non-daylit schools!
  • You need to know this about Computer Screens. Computer screens shine light directly into your retina. If this light is too bright or harsh, your retina has to work harder to adjust to the lighting. Not only does this light mess with your circadian rhythms, the extra strain placed on your retina causes it to fatigue. This can lead to headaches, migraines and – crazily enough – increased risk of breast cancer! Right now, have a play around with the lighting on your computer and see if you can lower it to the lowest lighting level that’s still comfortable.

The key takeaway is this: the more natural lighting in the study space the better – not only for staying awake and getting higher grades, but also for your long-term mental and physical health.

4. Skype a Study Buddy

Social interaction can help you to kick-in that second wind when you start feeling tired. Have you ever felt super drained until you got to the bar, restaurant or other social event and then – suddenly – that energy kicked in?

That’s your body’s internal engine getting fired up! Plus, social learning happens to be one of the best ways to learn!

Let’s start with the benefits of social interaction for reducing fatigue.

I know social interaction can sometimes feel exhausting all by itself – especially for introverts – but it also has scientific benefits for helping your mental and physical health.

Zoe Perkins from the blog Zoe Goes Running argues that:

“Studies have shown that lack of social interaction can cause fatigue and a decrease in energy levels.”

Personally, I can completely attest to that. It’s why elderly people with a lack of social interaction are more prone to depression.

Similarly, Maria Cohut of Medical News Today highlights that social interaction can release oxytocin which acts as a stress and anxiety reliver.

She cites Psychologist Susan Pinker who says:

“[Social interaction can] release oxytocin, which increases your level of trust, and it lowers your cortisol levels, so it lowers your stress.”

So, interacting with others might just give you that oxytocin boost to get you through that study session and can pump that energy through your body.

Secondly, that social interaction during your study session will help you learn! In the 1930s famous developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky hypothesized that social interaction helps improve your learning. Simply put:

  • You get to learn someone else’s perspective when learning together;
  • Your friends pick up bits of information from class you may have missed;
  • Through talking things out rather than learning solo, you’re forcing yourself to articulate ideas coherently, which helps you process them in your mind; and
  • When discussing ideas with friends, you’re acting as a peer teacher. We all know that the best way of learning is teaching! As Joe Toscano from designgood.tech summarizes: “Teaching will make you think differently”

5. Do a HasFIT Routine on YouTube

How to study when you're tired

Exercise kick-starts your body. I know, sometimes exercising when you’re tired is the last thing you want to do. But it works: here’s the proof.

A study by the University of Georgia gathered 36 people who felt persistent fatigue. The study grouped people into three groups:

  • The first group did no exercise
  • The second group did light exercise 3 times a week
  • The third group did heavy exercise 3 times a week

The two groups that did exercise both experienced a 20 percent boost in energy levels!

But here’s the interesting part: the low intensity group reduced their fatigue levels more than the moderate intensity group! Here’s the results:

  • Light exercise: 65% decrease in fatigue
  • Moderate exercise: 49% decrease in fatigue

So, sometimes light exercise is all it takes!

The study’s authors noted:

“It could be that moderate-intensity exercise is too much for people who are already fatigued.”

That’s why I love the YouTube videos created by HasFIT.

Coach Kozak and Claudia host short exercise sessions that you can adjust for your fitness level. T

They offer you the chance to do a modified exercise to exercise a little more lightly by following Claudia, or when you’re up to it, go full-on by following Coach Kozak.

Furthermore, you can do it in the privacy of your own bedroom which is great for people who want to exercise on demand: you don’t need to go to the gym!

I often don’t feel up to exercising, so I just do this 10 minute workout and by the end I’m actually super pumped, proud of myself, and ready to get back to studying!

Here’s a simple intro to HasFIT – a 10 minute routine:

6. Hydrate

Dehydration leads to fatigue. It’s as simple as that.

Even mild dehydration has pretty bad effects on the body. Here’s a few courtesy of studies reported by University Health News:

  • Tiredness while at rest
  • Fatigue while exercising
  • Lack of stamina
  • Bad mood
  • Anxiety
  • Decreased alertness
  • Decreased concentration
  • Decreased memory retention

Damn, that’s a lot to go wrong just due to mild dehydration.

So, what should you do?

Here’s some hydration strategies:

  1. Leave bottles of water around the house. Wherever you’ve got hallway tables, coffee tables or bedside tables, place a bottle of fresh water there at the start of the day. Then, every time you enter a new room, pick up that strategically placed water and take a swig;
  2. Aim for 1.5 – 2 Liters of water per day to keep your hydration up;
  3. Set a timer while studying and take a small drink of water every 10 minutes.

7. Don’t Over Study

A problem you might be facing that’s causing your tiredness is that you’re studying too much in one sitting.

This isn’t just a problem of tiredness, it’s also not great for your memory.

A famous study by Ebbinghaus in the late 1800s (reported here) found that smaller amounts of study spaced over a week are better for your memory than lots of cramming in one session. In fact, it’s more efficient. Here’s what he did:

  • Crammed for 8 hours in 1 day
  • Crammed for half that time spaced over 3 days

He found that he did half the amount of studying in the 3-day trial and still got the same results.

The upshot of this is that you don’t need to work as hard.

Instead of doing 8 hours in 1 day, try doing less studying per day but make it more consistent.

Here’s one way you can split up your studying:

  1. In your first study session, create flashcards. Write on one side of the cards the question and the other side the answer. If you’re reading this post right now and you’re super tired, this might be an activity you can do now because it doesn’t take too much mental work;
  2. Set your second and third study sessions for days 2 and 3. Practice the flashcards for a set amount of time during these study sessions. Simply set a timer to keep yourself on task for the amount of time you set for yourself;
  3. At the end of your third study session separate out the flash cards that are the ones you found ‘easy’ and the ones you found ‘hard’.
  4. For your 4th and 5th study sessions, take a day’s break between sessions. Increasing the time between study sessions is good for your brain.
  5. When you study in your 4th and 5th sessions, spend twice as much time on the ‘hard’ stack and half as much time on the ‘easy’ stack.

8. Chew gum

How to study when you're tired

Chewing gum can wake you up. So, chewing gum is one great tip on how to study when tired!

Crazy!

Scientists aren’t quite sure why this is the case, but randomized controlled trials have shown that people tend to be more alert and even better at processing information when they are chewing gum.

Here’s how Gary Wenk, PhD puts it:

“Overall gum chewing significantly increased alertness, quickened reaction time and increased the speed of encoding new information. Also good news: gum chewing does not impair your ability to pay attention by distracting you from your current task.”

Personally, I think it might be because chewing gum prevents you from getting distracted.

For a long time teachers have been using blu-tac and stress balls to help children with autism focus. I wouldn’t be surprised if chewing gum is similar: it gives you something to do while studying.

The bad news is, the benefits of chewing gum fade when you stop chewing it.

So, if you’ve got gum lying around your house, now’s the time to rip it out and start chewing. This is how to study when you’re tired!

Plus, next time you’re at the store, get some packets of gum and store them in the top drawer of your study desk.

9. Study using your Learning Style

People learn in different ways. Learn in the way you prefer. This is a great tip on how to not fall asleep while studying.

Here’s Howard Gardner’s 7 Learning Styles:

  • Visual-Spatial. Visual-Spatial learners like to learn best through imagery and graphs. If you’re a visual-spatial learner, try to take notes using visual methods like mind maps that represent ideas through imagery.
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic. These people learn by doing. They need to touch things, act them out and use their limbs. If you’re like this, you might learn best while walking around and listening to a podcast. Or, if you have to read, read while pacing your room.
  • Musical. Musical learners learn through rhythm. Consider stopping all that reading and instead trying to make a song out of the things you need to remember. This website also suggests that musical learners might benefit from having soft music on in the background while studying.
  • Intrapersonal. Intrapersonal learners are introverts. They usually like reading books and actually get energy out of it! These people are rare, but if you’re one: crack on and read that book!
  • Interpersonal. Interpersonal learners need to learn through talking. Set up a study group or skype a friend, like I suggested earlier.
  • Linguistic. Linguistic learners are great with words. They also like reading books, but might benefit from reading the words on the book out loud to help them comprehend all the concepts.
  • Logical-Mathematical. These people are reasonable, logical and like to solve puzzles that have an exact answer. If you’re like this, focus on the ‘logical’ things: for example, have a go at trying to think about how the things you’re studying have value in real life.

10. Study the Easiest Things when you’re Most Tired

How to study when you're tired

Okay, so you’re tired but need to study.

Have you considered that you could just focus on the easy things right now? Leave the hard stuff for when you’re awake!

Easier things you can do include:

  • Create flashcards that you can work on in the morning;
  • Watch assigned videos and leave the readings when you’re more awake;
  • Review notes that you’re more familiar with

When you’re tired your mind can’t handle new information.

We call this ‘cognitive overload’.

To avoid cognitive overload, just focus on the things that are easy for now, then get to bed and wake up in the morning ready to learn when you’re fresh.

11. Just do it in the Morning

If you’re overwhelmingly tired, maybe you do just need to go to sleep? If you don’t go to sleep you’ll mess with those circadian rhythms I mentioned earlier.

You need to ask yourself: will I learn more:

  • If I spend the next hour of studying; or
  • If I wake up an hour early and spend an hour studying in the morning?

The problem here is that you need to stick to your promise to yourself.

Set an alarm.

No, set three alarms. All around the house so you have to get out of bed.

Make sure you do actually do it in the morning, or this tip is totally wasted!

12. Use the Premack Principle

How to study when you're tired

The Premack Principle is a tough love strategy we all know about all too well.

Do you ever remember your mother saying “Eat your vegetables or you won’t get your desert”?

Well, that’s the Premack Principle!

It’s actually called the relativity theory of reinforcement. But, it was invented by David Premack.

The principle was actually used on Monkeys and then Children – and the effects came out the same! If you promise a reward for a reasonable period of hard work, you’re more likely to dig in and do the hard work.

Here’s how to use the Premack Principle:

  1. Come up with a reward for yourself. It can be chocolate, a glass of wine, or maybe just some sleep!
  2. Set yourself a study period that you think reasonable. You could either set a time period or set yourself a certain number of pages to read.
  3. Refuse to distract yourself during this big push.
  4. Once you’re done, redeem your reward!

13. Use a Website Blocker

Website blockers will help you when you’re using the Premack principle I discussed above.

A website blocker lets you choose which websites to block that you find distracting.

I usually block these websites when studying:

  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest

Of course, I still need Google and Google Scholar so I don’t block them!

The point isn’t to make these sites unavailable.

In fact, most website blockers just pop up a warning for you. You can still get around them by going into the settings and manually turning them off.

So, the point is to set a reminder to yourself that – oops! – you’re getting distracted.

Here’s a few good website blockers:

Here’s a promo video for the one I use, BlockSite:

The blocker you use depends whether you’re on a PC, Mac, Android or iPhone.

But, you can simply go to your app store and search for “website blocker” and a while bunch will come up.

There’s plenty of free ones, and they’re all you really need to download. Install them on your computer and stay awake and focused while studying!

Summing Up

infographic studying when bored and tired

If you liked these suggestions, you might also like our related posts:

To sum up, here’s my top 13 tips for how to stay awake when studying:

  1. Set the Temperature to 72F / 22C
  2. Ditch your seat!
  3. Seek Natural Lighting
  4. Skype a Study Buddy
  5. Do a HasFIT Routine on YouTube
  6. Hydrate
  7. Don’t Over Study
  8. Chew Gum
  9. Study using your Learning Style
  10. Study the Easiest thing when you’re Most Tired
  11. Just do it in the Morning
  12. Use the Premack Principle
  13. Use a Website Blocker
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Chris Drew, PhD (aka The Helpful Professor)

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