Why do I fall asleep when I’m bored?

You’re in the middle of a really boring Powerpoint presentation. Your eyes start to droop. You tap your foot, you chew gum, you pinch yourself, but it’s a serious battle stay awake. It’s hell.

Why do we fall asleep when bored? We had a great night’s sleep, we shouldn’t be tired.

New research has discovered that even though having had enough sleep is important, falling asleep can also be emotional and cognitive. If you’re bored, researchers found it taps into a part of your brain also involved with sleep.

Why is a bored brain a sleepy brain?

It’s all because of a tiny part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, which is involved with motivation and pleasure, but also sleep. Chinese and Japanese scientists from the University of Tsukuba found that when you’re bored (the opposite of stimulated and excited) the nucleus accumbens will not be receiving much dopamine. This means the nucleus accumbens will induce a sleep that is identical to natural, slow wave sleep – brain waves that are slow and high-voltage.

This is pretty interesting because even sleeping pills can’t induce this slow wave, restorative sleep. The scientists want to use this information to make better sleep meds.

Help, I’m bored in a presentation, what to do?

But if you’re nodding off in a lecture, sleeping meds are the last thing you care about! Here are 5 ways to beat the brain at its own game:

  1. Coffee or chocolate can help (or even better, chocolate-covered coffee beans?). Turns out, caffeine targets the nucleus accumbens, blocking the adenosine receptors there that, if unblocked, would start the sleepiness cascade.
  2. Sit in the front row, near the speaker – you’ll be too self-conscious to drift off.
  3. Use pressure points – rub your ear lobe between your thumb and forefinger, to get your blood flow going and stimulate the supposed acupoints.
  4. Drink chilled water, and eat some fruit (if appropriate). The cooling effect and the natural sugar spike should keep those eyes open a little longer.
  5. Ask questions at appropriate times. Not only will the speaker appreciate it, but you’ll keep your brain stimulated enough to stay awake.

Bad sleep and boredom: Double the trouble

Of course, above all you need proper sleep the night before – yes, boredom will make you sleepy but if you’re tired already, the sleepy factor will be double!

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