How to Stay Awake, Alert, & Focused During Online Classes

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6 Tips on How to *Not* Fall Asleep in Class

female student sleeping during zoom class on couch with laptop

Having officially surpassed the mark that symbolizes one year of online classes and virtual learning, it’s safe to say that many students have adapted routines for navigating the waters of COVID’s impact on the world of education. From logging on and off of Zoom, to participating in breakout rooms, to working collaboratively with peers solely through digital means to complete assignments, students have seen and done it all.

One area, however, which I have personally witnessed students struggling in, is overcoming the challenge of staying focused during online classes, internalizing the information, and avoiding overall burnout.

And I mean, who can blame them?!

Sitting through hours of lectures and discussions each day, only to then “log off” of class to sit in front of the computer even longer (for who knows how many more hours) to complete homework, work on assignments, and study, seems like the equivalent of waiting at the corner to hop on the struggle bus.

Although many high school and college students are beginning to phase back into in-person learning where it’s safe to do so (yay!), these issues deserve to be addressed.

So, without further ado, here are my top tips on not only how to stay awake in class, but also achieve alertness AND ultimately avoid academic burnout.


How to Stay Awake in Class

college girl on couch alert and awake with laptop for online class

Tip #1: Go to sleep earlier, and focus on getting quality sleep.

Lots of students have gotten into a routine of staying up late (or later than usual) because waking up for class in the morning really only involves rolling out of bed (or staying in) and opening the computer. However, days, weeks, or even months of going to bed late and waking up in this manner can be detrimental to your ability to actually get a quality night’s sleep and to ultimately be able to function during class. 

By going to sleep earlier, you are giving your body more time to go through REM sleep, which is essential to stimulating your brain and maintaining high levels of cognition, and ultimately helps to make you more productive during the day. 

Another thing I want to mention is technology use before bed. Most of us tend to be on our phones, our computers, or both, right up until we fall asleep. This is something that can have a negative impact on our quality of sleep, which, as you probably guessed, can definitely impact your ability to stay awake, take in information, and be productive during class.

So, if you can, try powering down your devices at least 30 minutes before you plan to sleep (and put your phone in nighttime mode so the screen isn’t as harsh on your eyes in the evening!).    

Although this first tip might seem like a “duh!”–try it for a few nights and I promise you’ll see it makes a difference.


Tip #2: Choose your workspace wisely.

When I first started virtual classes last spring, I found myself attending class mostly from the comfort of my bed. However, I quickly discovered that this was a recipe for disaster, because I would either not be able to focus during lectures, or I would straight up falling asleep in class (woops).

So, if you can, try to get used to attending class the same way you would if you were physically in the classroom: sitting either at a desk or at a table.

I find that this is one of the easiest ways to help me get my focus on, because I am definitely at a lower risk of falling asleep if I’m sitting in a chair!

Also, I highly recommend finding space to sit that is close to natural light or honestly, any light source. If your room or the area that you are working in isn’t very bright, this can very easily make your eyes more tired as you struggle to follow along and/or read the information on your screen.

If only limited natural light is available to you and indoor lighting just isn’t cutting it, you may want to get a light box.

Also known as happy lights, light therapy lamps blast out 10,000 lumens (that’s over 20x stronger than a 60w light bulb) which you can bask in throughout the day to increase alertness. It can even help you reset reset your circadian rhythm and improve your sleep.  


Tip #3: Keep your phone out of reach.

My phone is, hands down, the number one thing that prevents me from achieving max productivity when I’m working on assignments. And I know I’m not alone on this!

It can, as you know or can expect, be very difficult to stay focused during a lecture when your phone is sitting right there next to you. Try to approach this the same way that you would if you were actually in the classroom.

Since most professors don’t approve of having phones out during class, bring that rule home and apply it here now (yes, even if your camera is off!).

Personally, I found that even having my phone in the room was a problem when I was in all online classes. If this sounds like you too, to do what you need to do to stay focused, I suggest keeping it fully out of reach and sight.


Tip #4: Block distracting websites.

You may be thinking, “Okay so my phone is out of sight, but I’m still sitting in front of my computer. How is THAT not going to distract me?!” 

Luckily, I have an answer! It’s a Chrome extension called Self Control.

Once you download it (for free!) it gives you the opportunity to add websites to your “block list”, and then prompts you to choose an amount of time that you want to block those websites for. Then, once you click the magic button, you won’t be able to access the websites on your block list until the time is up! 

This extension is perfect for both class time and study time because it prevents you from getting distracted and will keep you more focused and alert on the topic at hand.


Tip #5: Take breaks when you feel yourself losing steam.

One of the biggest reasons that I’ve heard from students as to why they feel burnt out and aren’t able to properly stay awake during class is that they don’t take enough breaks when they need them. 

This is something that definitely resonates with me, too. I feel like when I was a student, there was so much societal pressure to always be studying and “on the grind” that taking even a short break felt like I was doing something wrong or putting myself behind. This could not be more backwards, because by not taking breaks when my brain needed them, that was what was causing me to be behind. 

So, my tip here is to not wait until you are already burnt out to decide to take a break.

Instead, try to be proactive with it. If you take the break when you feel like you’re just starting to need it (and use the break wisely as time to eat, hydrate extra, move your body), you will be in a prime position to get back to class and be on your A-game.


Tip #6: Avoid copious amounts of caffeine.

Last, but certainly not least, is to avoid excessive amounts of caffeine. You may be thinking that I said that wrong, but I promise, I didn’t.

It’s no secret that caffeine can boost your productivity. However, there are multiple caveats to this.

As a non-coffee drinker who has spent hundreds of hours studying around avid coffee-drinkers, I can say with certainty that more coffee (or caffeine/sugar in general) does not always equate to higher levels of productivity or focus.

Drinking copious amounts of coffee can cause you to stay up late and can even increase anxiety. So, one cup in the morning definitely won’t hurt, but I highly recommend avoiding caffeine as a throughout-the-day means to stay focused. Instead, concentrate your efforts on the other tips mentioned above!


grey and white cat taking a nap with head resting on open laptop

Wrapping up with how to stay awake during class…

I’m not going to lie: at the end of the day, virtual learning is a tough environment to navigate and manage. It’s not always going to be easy, and like anything, it will have its ups and downs.

However, if you can identify the areas that you’re struggling with in terms of productivity and level of focus and pinpoint the possible solutions, you’re already one step of the way there to making necessary improvements!

I hope these tips on how to stay awake during online class help you avoid falling asleep in future classes. Leave a comment below to share other tricks that work for you.




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  1. Avoiding copious amounts of caffeine is great advice, bc I’ve certainly relied too heavily on caffeine before, trying to stay on top of my homework, and yeah, I just ended up being really anxious, which then caused me to procrastinate even more, bc I was too anxious to actually do any studying! Lol, the irony