Stanford Sleepiness Scale: Discover Your Own Pattern of Alertness

The Stanford Sleepiness Scale is a great way to quickly assess how alert or sleepy you’re feeling and discover your patterns of alertness throughout the day.

By understanding your own patterns of alertness, you can effectively schedule your days activities to match your levels of alertness.

So for example, you might want to schedule an important presentation in the morning when you’re feeling wide awake and alert. Or you might want to check your emails after lunch when you’re feeling a bit sleepy and don’t need as much attention.

The Stanford Sleepiness Scale comprises of a 1 to 7 rating, as shown below. Pick what best represents how you’re feeling and note the number.


Degree of Sleepiness Scale Rating
Feeling active, vital, alert, or wide awake 1
Functioning at high levels, but not at peak; able to concentrate 2
Awake, but relaxed; responsive but not fully alert 3
Somewhat foggy, let down 4
Foggy; losing interest in remaining awake; slowed down 5
Sleepy, woozy, fighting sleep; prefer to lie down 6
No longer fighting sleep, sleep onset soon; having dream-like thoughts 7
Asleep X

Source: Hoddes E, Dement W, Zarcone V. The development and use of the Stanford Sleepiness Scale (SSS) Psychophysiology. 1972;9:150.


Obviously, the best score is 1. If you’re at 1 you can work at peak performance.

A result of 4 and below indicates that you could be suffering from a lack of sleep and so getting a better nights rest could improve your day to day performance.

How to use – Patterns of Alertness

You can use the Stanford Sleepiness Scale to discover your own pattern of alertness by taking the test and recording your results at different times throughout the day.

Patterns of AlertnessOur levels of alertness vary throughout the day. Most people have 2 peak times at around 9am and 9pm with a low time at around 3pm, known as the post lunch dip. Of course these times only act as a template. Your own individual peak and low times depends on your own sleep pattern. Your results will most likely vary by the day if you don’t have a well established sleep pattern. If in doubt, you can always record your results over a number of days and see if they match. You might even have a regular pattern of alertness spanning over 2 or more days.

Discover your natural highs and lows

You can use the results from the test to make the most of your natural highs and lows, providing maximum effectiveness for your productivity. For example, for you can schedule in some high brain power tasks such as decision making or abstract creative thinking for your high levels of alertness, leaving your more routine tasks like housework or checking emails for your lows.

China, Spain and many Latin American countries make use of the post lunch dip for a short afternoon nap. After the nap they wake refreshed and are ready to continue their day. The biphasic sleep pattern also makes use of this natural dip in alertness.

The natural peak at around 9pm can cause problems if not taken into account. It’s known by many sleep experts as the forbidden zone because trying to sleep at this time can be pretty challenging. This is why going to bed earlier to make up for lost sleep is often a bad idea. You would most likely just be lying alert in bed, not able to get to sleep until much later into the night and often past the time you would normally fall asleep had you gone to bed at your normal time.

With this in mind, it’s often a bad idea to rely on going to bed earlier on days where you need to get up earlier in the morning. It rarely works out. You would be much better off shifting your sleep pattern back a bit and make it part of your normal, regular sleep routine. This will have the effect of shifting back your natural peak, making it easier for you to fall asleep earlier.