Five ways to stay awake when you’re burning the midnight oil

My six-month-old baby is fast asleep in the bedroom. So is my husband. I’m sitting here listening to their little sleep noises and looking at the clock: it’s 03:22. I’m working, and I won’t be stopping for some time.

sleepybabyOne of the questions I’m most often asked as a new mum is “does he sleep well?” Yes, yes he does. Infinitely better than I do, as it turns out. I’m not just a new mum; I’m also a (relatively) new business owner with an ever-growing amount of work. It’s a luxury problem, of course, and I relish the challenge. I also have the good fortune to be working with some fantastic freelance writers. But often I find myself sitting here burning the midnight oil because I’m in a flow or on a deadline.

As a result, I’ve mastered the art of staying awake and maintaining concentration – even in the absence of caffeine. Here are my top tips for staying focused if you’re facing an all-nighter.

  1. Drink cold water. It sounds simple but it really works. It does the trick in several ways: the cold literally wakes you up, it keeps you hydrated so your brain has enough water to work on, and it makes you take regular toilet breaks, which involve standing up and walking a bit (see point 3).
  1. Be uncomfortable. Within reason, of course. I often sit on an exercise ball, which requires continuous small movements to stay balanced. It’s better than slouching on the sofa (tried that, fell asleep with my finger on the kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk).
  1. Get up and move. I could fall asleep leaning against a wall if I stayed in one position for long enough, so moving regularly is really important for me. Every half hour I consciously move a bit – I stand up and get a fresh glass of water, bend over and touch my toes, shake my hands out (my fingers get sleepy when I’m typing a lot) or jog on the spot for a minute.
  1. Work in short bursts. I use the Pomodoro technique, which involves working full-throttle for 25 minutes, then taking a five-minute break and starting a new 25-minute burst on something else. It keeps me focused and interested and makes sure I have five minutes every half hour to move.
  1. Listen to music. Noise keeps me alert, as long as it’s disruptive. My choice of genre depends on the task at hand: for writing I prefer something without lyrics (I tend to sing – and write – along otherwise). Energising classical music works pretty well. For other, less concentrated tasks, such as admin or emails, I might go for some rock or metal. I rarely fall asleep listening to Metallica.

*Needless to say, my tips come with a few warnings and caveats. Firstly, we all know it’s bad to work through the night. It’s much better to be organised enough to get all your work done during the day. Don’t be like me. Secondly, be careful on the ball. I nearly fell off it when I started to drift off the other day. And lastly, sometimes I do fall asleep listening to Metallica.

Now go to bed. I’ve got work to do.

2 responses to “Five ways to stay awake when you’re burning the midnight oil

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