It happens all the time and it happens to everyone, at least now and then: falling asleep in inappropriate places or at inopportune times. If you’re with friends, it can be funny. But sleeping in a meeting or in the middle of an important lecture can be mortifying.
The problem is more widespread than you might imagine. When you fall asleep in any situation you don’t want to, it’s a sure sign that you’re significantly sleep-deprived. More problematically, nodding off outside the bedroom could be a sign of a serious sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, or narcolepsy. If you suspect you have a sleep disorder, see a doctor. Falling asleep inappropriately could have serious consequences — for instance, if it happens when you’re behind the wheel. And if you’re chronically sleep-deprived, you’re also more susceptible to chronic conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, cancer, and obesity.
Most adults need seven to nine hours of quality sleep every night.
What Makes People Fall Asleep Easily
- You’re warm and you’ve just eaten. A high temperature and a full belly are stimuli that make you relaxed, setting the stage for falling asleep.
- You’re overloaded. If you have too much to do, you may not be making enough time for sleep. It’s better to scale back and do a few things well than be chronically sleep deprived.
- You’re in a moving car or train. Think how easily babies fall asleep in cars. Adults often respond the same way. Swaying motion promotes brain wave patterns that foster sleep.
How Not to Nod Off
- Go to bed earlier. It’s better to go to bed earlier than to sleep later. That’s because the hormones that regulate sleep are highest between midnight and 7 a.m. Also, it’s lighter in the morning, signaling your body to wake up. Move your bedtime up in 15-minute increments.
- Stand up. If you’re falling asleep in the bus or in a lecture hall, get up and go to the back where you can stand. It’s harder to fall asleep while standing.
- Take a nap. A 20-minute power nap can help you stay awake during the day. Just don’t take a nap too late in the day because it will disrupt your nighttime sleep and set you back to being sleep-deprived.
- Drink some caffeine. Just remember that it can take eight hours for the caffeine to wear off, so you could be lying awake in bed at night. Also remember that too much caffeine can have its own side effects, such as anxiety and a fast heartbeat.