We all know that it is optimal to get 8 hours of sleep per night. The benefits of sleep for our health, happiness, and productivity have been well-documented. There is simply no doubt that we need sleep to be at our best.
But sometimes 8 hours just isn’t in the cards.
Whether because of work stress, a crying baby, or some other late-night disturbance, we are sometimes forced to function on 4–5 hours of sleep (or less). When that is the case, should we just resign ourselves to a day filled with moodiness and limited output? Or are there some strategies to counteract the effects of little sleep?
Fortunately, there are some effective ways to survive (and even thrive) after a night of tossing and turning.
Try this routine the next time you’re short on sleep:
Force yourself to get up and exercise. I personally find that a 30-minute run in the morning is worth an extra 2 hours of sleep, and makes me feel close to how I typically would during a well-rested workday. It may not be your finest workout after limited shut-eye, but working up a sweat will make you feel sharper and more alert afterwards.
Follow exercise with a cold shower, which has been shown to increase mood, alertness, and energy.
Have a cup (or two) of coffee. Caffeine in moderation can help boost your concentration and mental alertness. Feel free to go back for another round — coffee or green tea — in the early afternoon if you’re not overly sensitive to caffeine.
Get your most important work done in the morning. It is critical to prioritize your day. Expect an energy dip in the afternoon, so tackle your must-do items first-thing.
Eat light, healthy meals and snacks. The food we eat has a big effect on our energy levels, so treat food as fuel when operating on little sleep. In general, opt for complex carbs and protein to increase energy levels. Some revitalizing options include berries and other fruits, steel-cut oatmeal, eggs, nuts, vegetables, lean meats (such as grilled chicken), and fresh fish (such as salmon). Be sure to also drink lots of water throughout the day. Heavy meals, sugar, and processed carbs will only worsen the situation and make you want to hit the pillow.
Take a walk outside to break up the day. When sleepiness hits at your desk, get up and go outside for a 10–15 minute walk. The break and sunlight will help to restore your energy levels.
Allow yourself a quick afternoon nap. A short 30-minute nap has been shown to boost alertness and limit the effects of sleep deprivation.
Leave work on time. This isn’t the day to put in overtime, if you can avoid it. You accomplished your most important tasks early and made it all the way through, so pat yourself on the back and call it a day. Go home and enjoy a relaxing evening and hopefully better sleep than the night before.
Of course it is never ideal to operate on little sleep, but the reality is that we all find ourselves in this situation from time to time. And fortunately there are some proven strategies to make the most of it.
Your day will certainly be more manageable by following this plan, whether you adhere to every step or just select a few of the items.
Perhaps it also jumped out at you that this routine could maximize your day even when you are well-rested.
Here’s to a great day (sleep or not)!