Last Updated on May 8, 2021 by James Matthews
Sometimes, you just can’t sleep at night, or you just feel down. The next morning, you are yawning at your desk, and you just cannot stay awake. There are many options of drinks to stay awake. You could just pound another cup of coffee. However, too much coffee causes anxiety, insomnia, digestive issues, rapid heart rate, and fatigue. You drink something with a ton of caffeine in it and you will crash hard later.
So maybe you are looking for an alternative to those caffeine-saturated drinks. Maybe you are used to drinking an afternoon soda. However, soda has a lot of sugar and is bad for your teeth, heart, and arteries. There are a ton of natural, healthy options out there without all the effects of too much caffeine from coffee.
So we put together this guide on the best healthy drinks to stay awake during the day and afternoon. These drinks have natural ingredients. They offer an energy boost, without the negative side-effects and eventual crash from caffeine-heavy beverages like energy drinks, coffee, or soda.
The Problem With Caffeine
A little bit of caffeine, in and of itself, is not that harmful. In fact, caffeine in small doses has a lot of beneficial effects. Caffeine improves reaction times, improves focus, and reduces headaches, provides energy, and so on. The problem is that so many modern drinks with caffeine nowadays use way too much.
For example, the average 8-ounce cup of coffee contains nearly 100 mg of caffeine. Given that a person can drink up to 3-4 cups of coffee per day, that means they’ll be consuming 300mg-400mg of caffeine per day. That much caffeine can cause a ton of issues, like insomnia, rapid heart rate, frequent urination, upset stomach, and more.
Moreover, caffeine can be addictive. If you drink a lot of coffee and have ever tried to take a break, you know that not having your daily jolt of caffeine in the morning can cause headaches and other side effects.
That is not to say that caffeine is always bad. Everybody can benefit from a quick dose of caffeine now and then and drinks with small amounts of caffeine can be very helpful. But too many people get hooked on the stuff and it becomes harder to function without it. Caffeine withdrawal is rarely ever severe or dangerous, but it definitely can be annoying and ruin your day. Caffeine restricts the blood vessels, so when you go without it for a while, blood vessels dilate and you get those awful, pounding headaches.
Best Healthy Drinks to Stay Awake
Kombucha is a drink that is made from fermented green or black tea. The fermentation process gives it a distinct, tart flavor and a fizzy quality, somewhat similar to the fizziness of sparkling water. Kombucha is made by fermenting tea with a culture of specially prepared bacteria and yeast to turn alcohols from the fermentation process into acetic acids and other acids. The kombucha bacteria are left in the drink, giving a nice probiotic mixture that is good for gut composition.
Kombucha is gaining popularity, and there has been a lot of ‘miracle’ cures associated with the drink, such as the ability to fight aging, cancer, AIDS, diabetes, and more. None of these miracle cures are accurate, but kombucha can help you stay awake. Kombucha is loaded with B vitamins, which help produce energy, and also the light dizziness is good for a pick-me-up in the morning or afternoon.
Kombucha comes from tea and contains a little bit of caffeine, but the amount is so small (~15 mg) that it is unlikely to cause any side effects. A few words of warning though, it is recommended to not over-consume kombucha. The CDC recommends ingesting no more than 12 ounces of kombucha per day. Kombucha also contains very small quantities of alcohol, but it is unlikely that you can get a “buzz’ from it.
Green tea is another very popular alternative to highly caffeinated beverages to stay awake. Now to be clear, green tea does contain caffeine, but only about a third as much as a cup of regular coffee. The lower amount of caffeine means that you can indulge in green tea without getting nearly as many jitters as coffee can cause.
Green tea also contains a special compound known as L-theanine. L-theanine is a neurotransmitter that crosses that blood-brain barrier and modulates other neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, it can improve cognition and mental focus and may change alpha brain wave activity. L-theanine is a good counter to caffeine so you can become alert without getting the jitters.
There is also some evidence that green tea contains anti-cancer and anti-tumorigenic compounds. It’s a good alternative to caffeine-heavy drinks and will keep you awake all day if you drink a cup in the morning before work or during the afternoon when the mid-day doldrums hit. Green tea is also very cheap so you can buy a ton in bulk quantity, make a bunch, and drink it hot or cold.
Believe it or not, a nice glass of cold water can be a good way to keep yourself awake during the day and give yourself some energy. Did you know that nearly half of adult Americans do not get enough water per day? Dehydration is a common issue for many people ((in fact, one of the biggest side effects of caffeine is dehydration). A common symptom of dehydration is lethargy and tiredness. So if you are feeling tired during the middle of the day, the problem might just be that you are dehydrated and need some more water.
There are a ton of studies showing that dehydration affects performance across a number of metrics, from lowered concentration, lowered physical ability/dexterity, and lowered cognitive ability. Even small activities like walking up the stairs or going down the street to the store can drain you if you are dehydrated and do not have enough water.
Additionally, water often contains important minerals and electrolytes, things that your body needs for various processes like muscle contraction, pH balance, nerve signaling, and more. This is one reason why muscle twitching and cramps are common symptoms of dehydration. Experts recommend that the average adults should drink about 16 cups of water a day for optimal benefits. So, make sure that you get enough water in your day and you can stay energized through the morning and afternoon.
If regular water seems boring to you then you can always try sparkling water. Sparkling water has some light carbonation so it has a fizzy body and can make bland tap water a bit more interesting.
If you have a blender and some frozen fruit on hand, then a healthy fruit mix smoothie can help you stay awake and give a huge burst of extra energy. In fact, smoothies can be a good substitution for breakfast and function as an energy drink. For example, a smoothie with berries, bananas, and something like avocado for unsaturated fats is rich in fiber and protein, everything you need to get a good start to your day. Fruits also contain natural sugars which your body burns for energy.
Dairy-free smoothies made out of fruits and green vegetables can keep you energized all day thanks to their high mineral and vitamin content. If you use a lot of green vegetables, you will get a lot of iron which can combat fatigue brought on by anemia. A fruit and vegetable smoothie will also give you an adequate amount of fiber which will aid digestion through the day, a much better alternative to coffee to start the day.
It’s commonly said that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but apple juice can also be useful for keeping the yawning away too. Apple juice (and apples themselves, for that matter), are packed full of phenolic and fibrous compounds. Apple juice also has a high quantity of natural sugars that your body can burn for energy. When apples are juiced, it produces polyphenol compounds that may have antioxidant, anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, and anti-allergy effects. Regular apple juice consumption has also been linked to heart health and reduced risk of certain cancers.
Polyphenols also seem to have some interesting neuroprotective properties. Some studies seem to show that polyphenols found in apple juice can prevent neural apoptosis (cellular death) in certain conditions. These antioxidative effects of polyphenols are good for your heart and lungs as well. Lastly, Apple juice is a decent source of vitamin C, which is believed to improve energy levels.
If you don’t want coffee but still want something with a deep, rich flavor, then chocolate is a good option. Dark chocolate has a moderate amount of sugar and caffeine. It can be useful for giving a short burst of energy with no huge caffeine crash afterward.
Additionally, chocolate has a neat chemical called theobromine, which has stimulant effects and can increase mood and focus. Ironically, theobromine is also the chemical that makes chocolate unsafe for dogs. The same thing can be a mild stimulant for one species and a lethal poison for another, isn’t biochemistry weird?
In addition to the mood enhancing and energy-boosting properties, dark chocolate might help with brain health. Dark chocolate might increase attention/focus, which will keep you awake during the morning and afternoons at work.
Things to Avoid
Here are some common drinks and food items that you should avoid if you want to stay awake.
Sugar is a double edge sword. A bit of sugar is necessary for energy but too much sugar can cause a sugar crash and tiredness afterward. It’s a common reason why people might feel really tired a few hours after they drank a soda. Drinks that are very high in sugar like soda, sweet drinks, and alcohol (which metabolizes into sugar) can give you an initial burst of energy but ultimately make you more tired.
Natural simple sugars like glucose and fructose from things like fruit are a much better choice for your sugar intake. That’s why we recommend fruit juice over things like soda or energy drinks.
Foods that are high in saturated fats can also cause sleepiness and drowsiness as they are metabolized. Fats are tough to digest, the body has to divert blood to your stomach and intestines to do the job. The result is that the rest of your body feels sluggish and tired from the relative lack of blood flow. This is why you get tired after eating something like fried chicken.
You should also avoid alcohol when trying to stay awake and alert. A lot of people think that a drink or two might pep them up but even a single alcoholic beverage can induce drowsiness and lethargy. Alcohol is processed into sugar which likewise increases insulin production, making you more tired. Alcohol also dehydrates you which can exacerbate symptoms of fatigue. Certain types of alcohol have congeners in them that may cause sleepiness, like terpenes in wine.
A good shot of caffeine can be good every now and then, but caffeine should not be something you get used to relying on. Instead of that cup of coffee, consider one of these healthy drinks to stay awake, along with many other beneficial effects. These drinks will give you a nice burst of natural energy without the harsh crash and sleepiness after drinking caffeine. These natural drinks also will not upset your natural sleep cycle and circadian rhythm like caffeine-heavy drinks will.