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I have this reoccurring problem. It is 9/10/11am and I am at a meeting where I sit either one chair or two away from a large projector screen. With the fluorescent lights off, the screen is bright in a dark room. I get drowsy and my head feels heavy. My eyes go off in their own directions until I try to snap out of it. Typed words become illegible and challenging to try and read. I have noticed this in same behavior in a meeting where the projector was used while fluorescent lighting was left on. When we break, and I get a chance to walk around, I can snap out of it. What can I do to avoid it altogether?

I eat breakfast each day, usually shortly after 7am. I get 6 to 8 hours of sleep. I sometimes drink coffee but it doesn't seem to help. I believe it is some sort of eye-strain related to sitting too close to the projector screen, but I don't know. What can I do to stay alert in meetings?

  • Might seem obvious, but have you had your eyesight tested? – pdr Mar 20 '13 at 0:30
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    It's possible that you have a sleep anomoly of some kind. Discuss this problem with your doctor. She will probably suggest you get a 'sleep study', which would identify a large number of possible physical issues associated with getting a good night's sleep. Your problem sounds like it's physical, and not solely due to the boring nature of the morning meeting. – Jim In Texas Mar 20 '13 at 2:56
  • To complement @JimInTexas, you might try running through the (short) questionnaire for the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, then seeing what your results indicate – AakashM Mar 20 '13 at 9:09
  • sleep study can be very expensive and very hard to get. Had a doctor mention it once, when I was suffering from severe insomnia (which never completely went away). He said even if we went to get it done, it'd be at least 3-6 months before it would happen, IF we could get an appointment at all. – jwenting Mar 20 '13 at 10:08
  • @pdr I have no problems at any other point in the day, and I am usually looking at a monitor 2 feet away for 6 - 10 hours in any given day. I rarely sleep through the night without waking up. I usually wake up once or twice and go back to sleep. That may have something to do with it. – Garry Mar 20 '13 at 14:00
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I have this problem in any meeting scenario where I'm being talked at (not encouraged to participate in any way), particularly when the lights are low, the room is warm and the chair is comfortable. A boring topic being covered by the speaker, or a terrible speaker (reading directly from the powerpoint, monotonous voice, no energy or enthusiasm) doesn't help either.

There are a few techniques I use to combat this:

  • Prevention is better than cure: Avoid meetings which you know will provide little value and which you are likely to doze off in. The best excuse is having value-adding or important work to do.

  • Bring a glass or bottle of very cold water with you, and make a conscious effort to sip from it constantly

  • Sit forward in your chair - right on the edge of it so you aren't using the backrest. If it's possible to stand at the back of the room without sticking out, that's even better

  • Drink strong coffee or eat something sugary immediately before the meeting. This will give you a brief energy boost and keep you engaged

  • Ask questions wherever possible - try to engage the speaker.

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    I was with you all the way til you said "eat something sugary." If I sugar-crash mid-meeting, I'm in serious trouble. An apple is the best thing, odd as it may sound. – pdr Mar 20 '13 at 0:26
  • @pdr Agree. If I was really tired, I might just have black coffee – bobobobo Mar 20 '13 at 4:04
  • indeed, a sugar crash is the last thing you want. Even worse, a sugar high can be dangerous in and of itself, rely on them too much and you end up with diabetes. – jwenting Mar 20 '13 at 10:03
  • Something else that helps is to move your eyes and your focus every ~7 seconds. It's something I learned for driving while sleepy, since when you start staring blankly at the same spot for too long you risk your brain shutting down and going to sleep. – Rachel Mar 20 '13 at 12:47
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  • Get more sleep (8+ hours);
  • Sit further from the projector;
  • Make sure your breakfast is light on the carbohydrates;
  • Take deep breaths to increase the oxygen in your brain;
  • Take notes on the presentation with questions and ways you would improve it;
  • Take a sucker (hard lolly on a stick) and slowly eat it during the meeting. (At that point, the instant sugar will help, as well as giving a slight distraction that keeps your mind more awake. That slight distraction actually helps your concentration (a super hot beverage that you have to sip, gum, or other options can be just as good).)

In other words, attack it from multiple angles: even if one alone doesn't help, several together should.

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    +1 to making sure breakfast is light on carbohydrates. Or get a breakfast if you're skipping on it. If you're going 12+ hours without eating anything, chances are that your blood sugar is low. – Muz Mar 20 '13 at 4:21
  • 5 light meals a day is better than 2-3 heavy ones. Breakfast at 7, a snack at 10 (few pieces of cheese or snack sausages is perfect, or a handful of nuts), lunch at 12:30, another snack at say 4, then dinner at 6-7. As to brain oxygen, oxygen levels tend to drop rapidly in meeting rooms, which are often way overcrowded, being packed with far more people than the room was originally designed for. – jwenting Mar 20 '13 at 10:06
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I've had this problem since I was 12. My solution is often to go with a different mindset: I am a journalist and need to report the presentation to the masses. I'll need to be able to understand everything, and I need to be able to give the presentation myself after having had it once.

  • I jot down notes on the form of the presentation
  • I summarize the contents
  • I report on the teacher, the people around me. What are they wearing? How are they acting? What do I like about them (hey, good idea to bring a bottle of water) or do I not (man, someone texting on a mobile phone making a sound on every touch is annoying)

Since the amount of information you'll be getting is more than the amount you can process, usually you should not fall idle. I do sometimes bring some of my own work/documents to read/think about too.

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Do you face the same problem reading a narrative book (like a history book or newspaper article)? It might not be a medical issue if so. Especially if you can view a computer monitor under similar conditions.

Everyone gets sleepy when they're passive. You want to force yourself to be a little more active.

What you should do is go into the presentation with a few questions in mind, which should be answered by the end of the presentation. I modify these from the book How to Read a Book:

  • What type of presentation is it? A report/summary? Proposal?
  • What is it about? What's the topic?
  • Is it true? What credibility does the presenter have? Are the methods used correct?
  • What of it? Why don't I just get up and leave? Why should I listen to this? How does this help me? Does it contain information that I'll miss out on elsewhere?
  • What are the important points made in this presentation?

The first three should be answerable before the presentation starts or early on, but the third one requires that you answer the first two first. The fourth question should be answerable by the first quarter of a good presentation and is probably the most important question of all. If it doesn't matter to you, feel free to sleep or zone out.

The last question will require active effort and even note-taking throughout the presentation. The most difficult points are usually the hardest to understand. Copy those points, and think over it after it's done. Something that is not difficult to understand is usually well known to you and not worth thinking about. Something with more knowledge density often supports or summarizes the main arguments of the presentation and is often worth thinking about.

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