How To Focus When Studying, Even When You’re Tired

Feeling tired, hard to concentrate, or just simply sleepy when it comes to studying? You’re definitely not alone.

​We all have had those days where our brains feels numb and drained, only to remember that we still have more studying to do. Joy.

So here are 14 tried-and-tested, practical yet sustainable ways on how to focus when studying, no matter how tired you feel.

1. Study in a brightly lit room

Study in a well-lit room - How to focus when studying

Setting up the right environment is your first step to effective study sessions.

The type of light matters. Studying in a room with natural light sources (e.g. near a window) does wonders on keeping you focused and alert, even in the afternoon. Studies have shown that people that had exposure to day light (vs. artificial light) in the day tend to stay alert for longer in the evening. 

For night time studying, make sure your environment is sufficiently bright, and don’t just rely on one lone light source, if possible.   

2. Don’t get too comfortable

Getting too comfortable is a recipe for drowsiness, not something you want when learning new concepts!

Here are a couple of easy ways to minimize that:

  • Wear “work clothes”, not pajamas for studying: Dressing for success matters. While it isn’t necessary to wear suits or office clothing, it is harder to fall asleep in them vs. your comfy sleeping attires. 
  • Try standing occasionally while studying: In a 2011 study conducted over 7 weeks on participants who alternated between sitting and standing during work:
    • 87% of them reported higher energy levels, 
    • 87% of them felt more energized,
    • 75% felt healthier,
    • 71% felt more focused,
    • 66% felt more productive,
    • 62% felt happier, and
    • 33% felt less stressed
  • Study in an ideal room temperature of 22C (72F): A 2017 study shown that excessive heat negatively impacts exam performances and likely to disrupt the learning process in the long term. Make sure you factor this in when setting up your ideal study environment for maximum efficiency.

3. Remove all distractions before studying

study focus listening to music

Eliminate digital distractions:

  • Switch your phone to silent, especially with no social media notifications. 
  • If you need to study with a computer, make sure you close all your tabs relating to other websites and social media. The only web browser you are allowed to open is the one related to chapter you’re learning about now.

Remove yourself from potential family-related distractions, if you can:

  • This may entail putting a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your (closed) door, and/or wearing headphones (music is optional). Anecdotally, I’ve found that wearing headphones without any music on has the effect of forcing me to focus better, while at the same time allows me to hear some (loud) noise, which could be crucial if it is an emergency.

4. Study with other like-minded people

Studying in a group can be a double-edged sword, as it can quickly descend into a chatting session with zero productivity. 

That said, studying with another person with the same goal could be useful for motivation and keeping each other going, just like a gym buddy. 

It can be tough to find the right study partner, but if you do find one, it can work wonders on your concentration to see someone else working as hard to achieve their goals. Make sure you continue to evaluate your ability to focus if you decide to join a group.

5. Drink enough water

Drink water

A common mistake people make is to think that drinking coffee helps perk them up to keep working. It doesn’t. 

It gives you that very short term one-off boost and sends your productivity crashing later: not a great long term solution. Water is what your body really needs when you’re tired, as dehydration forces your body to work harder, gives you pounding headaches and increases your mental exhaustion. 

So drink up! You’d be surprised how little you drink only when you try to match up to the daily 1.5-2 litre recommendation. I find the easiest way to implement this is to have a large bottle near me full of water that I sip as the day goes along whenever I feel like a break for a minute or two.

While you’re at it, washing your face, brushing your teeth or having a quick shower will work wonders in refreshing you from your sleepy state, so you can keep going. Plus they are completely natural and good for you too!

6. Have a balanced diet and avoid heavy meals

a man practicing healthy eating

By now you’d have known that we’re huge proponents of eating proper food for best performance.

Avoid highly processed food such as sugary cereals, sodas and instant noodles. Remember not to have heavy meals before studying, it’s a recipe for sleepiness!

Fuel your body and mind with natural, nutritious food balanced with protein, carbohydrates, vegetables and healthy fats for sustained energy throughout the day. You are what you eat.

Pro tip: remember to bring along revision friendly healthy snacks (e.g. apple, granola bar, unsalted nuts, water etc) so you can keep your brain energy levels steady and maintain focus. 

7. Study consistently and keep optimizing your routine

Study when you’re most alert: Our bodies run on roughly a 24-hour internal clock called circadian rhythm, which regulates feelings of sleepiness and wakefulness over a 24-hour period. On average, most of us show the following pattern in energy levels (with a few exceptions):

  • Mid morning – peak alertness and energy, 
  • A “post lunch slump” up to 3pm,
  • An increase in alertness up to around 6pm,
  • A gradual decline in alertness for the rest of the evening and up to the early hours of 330AM
  • Then a gradual increase in energy levels up to mid morning, and the cycle repeats.

Therefore, for most of us, if you’re studying in weekdays with a full time job, it may makes sense to get up earlier to get 1-2 hours of studying done before heading to work. 

For night time study, exercise moderately for 10 min beforehand: This refreshes the body and mind so you can stay focused for the next few hours. Yet, it doesn’t over stimulate you such that it affects your night time sleep. Time to whip out those dusty kettle bells, perhaps? Or simple jumping jacks will do. Not a 30 min run though. 

Remember to take regular study breaks: Specifically a 10-15 min break after a 45-50 min study cycle. Many studies have shown that productivity increases when students take frequent breaks. It keeps you motivated and have something to look forward to, while giving your brain a quick rest. Go for a walk (see #8), do some chores, have a snack, or just to chill out and listen to music for a bit – take your pick.

8. Go for a walk (or just get up and move)

Exercise or take a break to go for a walk

Getting some fresh air and sunlight outside will make you feel more energetic and less moody.

The benefits of a walk goes beyond simply being more effective at studying. Walking for 30 minutes a day is equivalent to taking a “magic pill” that combats ageing, relieves depression and prevents early death.

It also improves the ability to think and reason, increases energy levels and reduces fatigue.

​It sounds counterintuitive, but exercising actually boosts energy and focus. Instead of sitting there forcing yourself to work/study more when you know your focus isn’t there, take a little break by during some stretching and light exercises by your desk for 10 minutes – it’s all about studying efficiently anyway. A great plus about exercise is that they help you sleep better too.

9. Chew some gum

Studies have shown that chewing gum while studying or during exam improves your memory and concentration

Now that’s way better than using stimulants like coffee, with no negative impact on your sleep quality and keeps your internal body clock in check (see #7). And mind you, I’m saying this as someone who enjoys coffee, a lot (see #8). 

10. Limit caffeine beverages. Avoid energy drinks and alcohol


Coffee (or any other caffeinated drinks) can be extremely effective if used sporadically, not a daily habit.

Too much caffeine has long term negative impacts: More than 400mg, or 4 cups of brewed coffee a day is likely to cause insomnia, inability to focus, increased anxiety, headaches and fatigue that can disrupt your body’s natural circadian rhythm (see #7).

Limit caffeine to mornings only, if you must have them daily: This ensures that the caffeine has sufficient time to go through your body and not impact your sleep quality at night.

Avoid energy drinks (and alcohol) for studying: Energy drinks have increasingly become a source of caffeine overdoses. Too much of these stimulants and chemicals can cause dependence, dehydration, insomnia, heart palpitations and/or an increased heart rate. I think the reasons for alcohol are more obvious 🙂

11. Still tired? Try switching topics or tasks (temporarily)

When you’re feeling tired, and nothing has been entering your brain for the last 15 minutes, it may be worth switching to an easier task or topic to keep the studying momentum going.

With an easier topic to absorb, this maintain your productivity and keeps you on track with your study plan. Save the trickier chapter for next morning, when you should naturally be at your peak level of concentration. 

12. Take a 20-30 minute power nap

Have enough sleep to focus

I am a big advocate of power napping, specifically 20-30 minutes at maximum. It is my secret productivity weapon. I used this technique frequently after lunch when studying for the CFA exams on the weekend, in addition to a full time job. I feel completely refreshed and ready to go for a minimum time investment – much better than caffeine, in my view.

This observation is supported by many studies that have found that power naps boost memory, cognitive skills, creativity, and energy level. You’ll need to practice this, as you may find yourself a little groggy and wanting more sleep the first few times.

13. Don’t ever do an all nighter

It’s not worth it. No matter what.

Studies have shown that the effects of lack of sleep have been compared to being as dangerous as drinking alcohol. Sleep deprivation is just bad for you and definitely not sustainable.

Nor is it effective in the long run, as it will take you at least more than 1 day to feel normal again (messing up your internal body clock, remember?). That math alone tells you it’s a bad decision. 

14. Finally, do you have enough sleep?

falling asleep tired sofa

The amount of sleep each of us needs varies, but age is a big factor. As a general guide, adults aged 18-64 generally need 7-9 hours according to National Sleep Foundation.

​If you’ve tried out all the previous 13 tips and strategies in vain to improve your study focus and stay awake, it may be time to question whether you have had enough sleep in the first place. If you do have 7 hours sleep and still feel exhausted, it’s time to audit your sleep quality and how you can sleep better.

Like good diet and exercise (see #6 and #8), sleep is a critical component to overall health. It’s worth evaluating the bigger picture and craft a sustainable long term approach to your studies to improve your chances of success. 

And that starts by taking care of yourself. 

Which strategy do you find most effective in increasing your study focus? Do you have more tips to add? Share with us in the comments below! 

Meanwhile, you may find these related articles useful:


36 thoughts on “How To Focus When Studying, Even When You’re Tired”

  1. Thank you so much for the informative article. I’ve always had issues with studying when I feel cold, I won’t concentrate when my toes are frozen. That optimum 22° seems reasonable for studying.

  2. Well I have an exam tomorrow and am having headaches am trying to read but it’s not entering please what can I do

    • What I do is I get a blanket and I sit down on my couch. Then I grab my book and start reading, if I feel like I am going to fall asleep when I should not because I need to keep reading I will walk around and eat something so I am more pumped up. I sometimes fall asleep when I am reading and it is because I get too comfortable on my couch. You need to sit up straight under a bright light so you will not lie down and fall asleep.

      Hope this could help!!!

  3. I am tired
    Tired of myself
    Tired of this life
    I hate my life
    I don’t know what to do
    I just want to close my eyes

    • I don’t know what is going on in your life. However, I am sorry the way you are feeling and I am sorry that things are tough right now. I hope things get better soon. 🙂 Remember, there is always hope (even if it may not feel like it) and there are those willing to help if you need it.
      You are loved, always. 🙂 (Pslm 17 & 139).
      I really do hope things get better soon. 🙂

    • You should never say that because it will make you think worse. Even when I think that way I just ignore it and move on. I do not tell anyone what I was thinking and I will hate it now if I think that way.

      Mabey have some candy or sweets, maybe it will boost your happiness

  4. Huh!feeling demotivated all the time tried focusing on the goal but again on the same path of demotivation lack of confidence.

  5. I make planner for my studies but I follow for one or two days only I am not consistent I work hard but nothing effective and efficient things are happening. Please give me some suggestions for consistency to my studyies .

    • We help however we can, but it is on you to be disciplined and consistent. No tips on the internet can help if you’re not willing to see it through yourself. Good luck!

    • Try sheduling a less intense planning that you will actually stick to. It’ll eventually be better to study just for half or 2 thirds of what your “ideal” study time would be, but do it everyday, than to alternate between slumps and cramming. For that I suggest methods like flowmodoro or animedoro, that you can search up on google, to try and devote at least some time to studying even though you have fun on the side.

  6. I don’t remember anything I learn and I feel tired and sleepy after studying for an hour or 2,can I please get any help… Cause I have a pending exam to write and that’s my last chance..

    • Take some deep breaths Florence, I think you’re feeling a little overwhelmed and need some rest. Come back to your studies after sufficient rest or else it is not effective anyway!

      • Omg so guys I make myself such a promising timetable and then I just end up going only 1 or 2 topics and not even finishing them. IT IS SO ANNOYING WHEN I HAVE OVERDUE WORK. Is anyone in the same situation as me? I have my bio and physics end of years tomorrow and I have not completed either of them. I AM SO DUCKING LATE FOR EVERYTHINGG URGH.

  7. Im in “classe préparatoires” Where all the students are worth as much as a human can do, but here im not studying at all and feeling sleepy all the day even when i sleep 8 hours, and i can not focus at all, once i open the book i fall asleep, im really tired of myself 💔

    • Hi Misaky, hang in there! It’s not just about getting enough sleep, although that’s a big factor. Try having the same routine everyday, making sure you incorporate exercises as well to stay fresh and keep things varied/interesting.

  8. I study 6 hours efficiently daily but after that it is not possible to concentrate the whole day. Please help

  9. As a student i have to study for at least 16 hours, yes i do that and i have no problem in it, however i have 2 exam on the same day and usually i never slept in the afternoon however i feel sleepy around 3 after lunch so do you have any insights for that?

    • Hi Akshay, first off, I personally don’t think studying 16 hours a day is productive nor sustainable. We are after quality study hours here, and a long run approach. Your issue here would simply be setting up a schedule that is sustainable for at least 6 months without burning out. So if you’re sleepy in the day, I’d suggest that you check if you have sufficient sleep in the first place (#14). If not, review/adjust your schedule to make time for sleep. If you have enough sleep to begin with, it may be just an after lunch fatigue – which could be having too big a meal, or mid afternoon energy slump, of which a brisk 10 minute walk outdoors (#8) may freshen you up.

  10. Amazing post and very helpful as well to all the college students. I would like to share it with my sister and my colleagues who are pursuing higher education.Keep sharing such great tips.


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