Getting through the day when you’re sleep deprived
While we absolutely do not recommend letting yourself get sleep deprived, sometimes there are days when it’s just unavoidable. So if you couldn’t sleep last night, we’ve got some tips to help you power through a work day when you’d much rather hit the snooze button. They’ll also ensure that you are not relying on behaviours that lead to continued sleepless nights.
Be strategic about the tasks you have to get done
Be aware that a sleep-deprived brain can sustain focus for far less time than a normal one, so try to postpone tasks that require difficult decisions and critical thinking for tomorrow. Nevertheless, there will be duties that you cannot put off, and for those, you have to think realistically about how you are going to achieve them. You might have the urge to procrastinate your more difficult tasks for later in the day, but try to get them done as early as possible, because your cognitive function will continue to decline throughout the day. Leave busy work for the end of the day, when you’ll need a break from tasks that require focused attention.
Caffeine is your friend
This may seem obvious, but you’ll need some caffeine to get you through the day, just don’t overdo it. Everyone’s caffeine tolerance is different, but studies have shown that the body can handle no more than 400 milligrams a day (for comparison, a shot of espresso is roughly 100 milligrams). A caffeinated drink can be really useful to get you through tasks that require intense focus, like driving, but don’t drink it to close to bedtime or you’ll continue to compound your sleep loss. Try to avoid caffeinated energy/soft drinks, as the sugar will make you crash, counteracting the effect of the caffeine.
Get outside and do some exercise
While it might seem like the last thing you would want to do after a sleepless night, a brisk walk in the sunlight will do you a world of good. Getting your blood flowing and producing some endorphins will energise you, so try to do this in the morning and/or throughout the day, especially if your job requires you to be mostly sedentary. The sunlight on your face will also help your brain shut off melatonin production.
Eat well and stay hydrated
While eating well is important every day for cognitive function, it is doubly important when your energy supplies are already depleted. Make sure you don’t skip meals, especially breakfast, as eating within an hour of waking up will boost your mood and cognitive performance for the early part of your day. When you are sleep deprived you are more likely to crave simple carbs and sugars, but avoid them at all costs, as they will likely provide a rush of unsustained energy and a crash that may leave you more tired and hungry. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water too, it’s not going to combat sleepiness, but you’ll feel much worse if you’re dehydrated as well as exhausted.