Feel Sleepy? Research Says Hit the Stairs, Not the Coffee Cup

Feeling sleepy at the office? Instead of heading for the coffee shop, try climbing some stairs.

Brock Armstrong
2-minute read

There are many reasons why we get sleepy at our desks. Bad lighting, a poor night's sleep, boring job, large (carb-heavy) lunches, and more can all contribute to head-bobbing at your desk or dozing off during a meeting. The best course of action would be to find the root cause of your particular sleep issue and fix it, but most of us simply head for the coffee pot or the café.

Well, now researchers at the University of Georgia have discovered that walking up and down flights of stairs for about 10 minutes actually gives you a more effective boost of energy than chugging 50 milligrams of caffeine (the average amount of caffeine found in a cup of coffee, tea, or soda).

The Study

In a study called Stair walking is more energizing than low dose caffeine in sleep deprived young women, the researchers enlisted 18 "physically active" college women between the ages 18 and 23, who had self-identified as consuming "nonextreme" amounts of caffeine. In this case, nonextreme meant between 40 milligrams and 400 milligrams per day. As a frame of reference, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says that 400 milligrams of caffeine (the upper end in this study) is equal to about 4 cups of regular old coffee. The participants also reported experiencing chronically poor sleep, adding up to an average of fewer than 45 hours of shuteye each week.

The researchers concluded that a brief bout of low-to-moderate intensity stair walking has transient energizing effects that exceed a low dose of caffeine.

The researchers chose stair climbing as the exercise of choice due to an oft-mentioned lack of available time during the workday for a dedicated exercise session. Walking up and down the stairs also requires no specific clothing, travel time, or even a shower afterward.

During the study, some days the participants alternated between taking 50-milligram caffeine pills or a placebo. On the other days, they skipped the caffeine (real or otherwise) and trotted up and down the stairs, at a moderate pace, for 10 minutes.

At the conclusion of the study, the researchers acknowledged that there is more research to be done (when isn't that the case?) but concluded that "A brief bout of low-to-moderate intensity stair walking has transient energizing effects that exceed a low dose of caffeine for active young women with chronic insufficient sleep." 

So, the next time you find yourself nodding off at your desk, give the stairs a try! We already know that exercise is good for the brain and for your mood, so worst case scenario is that you burn some calories, boost your mood, and recharge your creativity. And of course, you can always grab a coffee afterwards if you are still feeling dopey.

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All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Brock Armstrong Get-Fit Guy

Brock Armstrong was the host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast between 2017 and 2021. He is a certified AFLCA Group Fitness Leader with a designation in Portable Equipment, NCCP and CAC Triathlon Coach, and a TnT certified run coach. He is also on the board of advisors for the Primal Health Coach Institute and a guest faculty member of the Human Potential Institute.