Maybe you're on a conference call with your boss after staying up until 4 am playing LA Noire. Maybe it's pitch black and you're driving a car full of sleeping friends down a hypnotic Nebraska highway on leg four of a multi-day road trip to Coachella. Maybe it's finals week and you have two papers due at 8 am tomorrow, and it's 10 pm. Maybe you're a sexy teenager in the next reboot of the Freddy Kruger franchise. No matter what the cause or context, there will be a time in your life when it is of dire importance that you do not fall asleep, no matter how tired you are. Here's how to MacGyver your mind away from the sweet meadow of gentle, potentially deadly slumber.
Your body cannot lapse into sleep if it's too stimulated, and nothing stimulates the body quite like chemical stimulants. You can try coffee, tea, or another caffeinated beverage, but if you've already built up quite a caffeine tolerance, you may just end up making yourself jittery (I drink so much coffee that midday espresso has become nap-inducing). Red Bull works if you can stand drinking something that smells like the skin of someone oxidizing about a gallon of alcohol. If you require a nearly unstoppable tide of vivacious vitality, though, I've heard great and terrible things about Five Hour Energy. One Jezebel staffer was provided with some during a grueling wedding weekend and was unable to sleep that night. Another cohort who used it reported feeling like Superman for a full 12 hours before the stuff wore off. Its power is great and its potency is mighty. If you choose Five Hour Energy, proceed knowing that you are not in Sleep Kansas anymore; you're about to be swept up in a Technicolor tornado of high energy chattiness.
It would be dishonest to discuss chemical stimulants without at least mentioning your illegal options. Lots of people are big fans of cocaine, but cocaine isn't recommended — not only because I've heard it's horribly awesome, but cocaine users run the risk that the yayo might render them completely insufferable to everyone you encounter who is not on cocaine, in addition to the fact that if you were caught buying it or with it on your person, you could go to jail for a long, long time. Other side effects of cocaine use include having weird boogers, not being able to feel your face, wanting to listen to speed metal, and trying to hook up with a guy named Gary. Don't do cocaine. Some unofficial narcoleptics and 80-hour-workweek attorneys I know swear by a healthy serving of Adderall, but you shouldn't take a prescription that wasn't prescribed to you. Methamphetamines offer short term alertness, but they also rapidly age you. Buying meth would require you to hang out in a place where there are meth dealers (not recommended) or spend the time, resources, and energy making your own in your house (explodey, and time consuming). Also, have you ever seen that episode of Intervention when that naked meth-addicted woman runs down the street after scribbling all over her drywall with crayons? Don't do meth.
Sometimes it's not possible to chemically induce alertness, and that's just fine. There are plenty of ways to keep yourself awake using only your ability to annoy the shit out of yourself. Try inducing anxiety or unpleasant feelings. If you're alone, listen to a genre of music that you hate or turn on some far right talk radio. Think about how much you owe in student loans or remember the time you found out that your boyfriend was still exchanging sexy texts with his high school girlfriend. Worry about the future. Consider the global economy and the state of American health care.
If you control the temperature of your environment, make yourself cold. There's a reason that many office buildings keep the temperature inside at around the same temperature as is recommended by the FDA for meat storage; it's not only to placate the silly and unnecessary male business dress code or waste a ton of precious electricity because fuck nature. Offices are over-cooled mostly because slightly chilly corporate drones are more alert and fully aware of just how much they hate Microsoft Excel than warm snuggly ones. Cool than necessary temperatures stop people from falling asleep at their desks. So if you can, open a window, take off your cardigan, put an ice cube in your bra. It's impossible for me to sleep when my feet are cold, so when I used to have to drive 10 hours to get from my college town to my hometown, I'd drive with my socks off. Get creative!
Don't let yourself get too relaxed. Every 30 minutes or so, get up and move around. Do 10 jumping jacks, run up and down a flight of stairs three times, get in a random street brawl — anything to get your blood pumping.
There are other ways to send your body a message that it isn't time to sleep; a friend of mine swears by running the tip of her tongue along the top of her mouth every few minutes (which is great for situations where it's not convenient to get up and do 10 jumping jacks, like you're at someone's wedding or involved in a compliance webinar at work). Try digging your fingernails into the palms of your hands. It's impossible to sleep while you feel the vague urge to urinate, so keep filling that bladder with pee. Drink all of the cold, non-alcoholic, non-Purple Drank beverages you can get your hands on. Avoid milk or dairy because milk makes many people both farty and tired. If you can, keep the lights on. Darkness tells your body that it's time to sleep, which is unfortunate because darkness sometimes means that it's time to watch a PowerPoint presentation containing many different fonts. If you wear contacts, swap them for glasses. Dry contacts are an energy suck, and squinting your face to compensate for the fact that your eyeballs are smarting will also wear you out.
Keep yourself from crashing by keeping your blood sugar stable. Snack with regularity, and don't eat a ton of sugars. Avoid, avoid, avoid eating a large meal; you'll doom yourself to food coma that will join forces with your fatigue and put you in a regular coma. Don't drink alcohol, either; no matter what Charles Bukowski's prolific catalog may indicate, alcohol prevents the finishing of work. Try chewing peppermint gum; according to Science, the smell of peppermint promotes alertness.
Finally, remind yourself that your non-sleep torture is only temporary. You don't have to stay awake forever. And once you're done with the task at hand, take the nap you've worked so hard to earn. Take it like a Viking would take the grain from the silos of a plundered English hamlet.
Image by Daniel Goodchild/Shutterstock.