Skip to comments.How to Get Through a Workday on No Sleep
Posted on 08/18/2014 3:27:08 PM PDT by nickcarraway
So, you couldnt sleep last night. Youd like nothing more than to go back to bed, but youve got a long day of work staring you in the face. How do you power through?
Science of Us talked to sleep researchers to figure out how to get through a day after youve had a sleepless night. Each of them wanted to be incredibly clear, up front, about this: You really, really need seven to eight hours of sleep to function like a proper human being (unless youre one of those short sleepers but look, you arent). Still, they acknowledged, sleepless nights happen, and sometimes they happen to busy people whove got stuff to do the next day.
Consider this a template: Maybe not all of their advice will directly apply to you, because you work nights, or you work from home, or you work extremely long days. But, very broadly speaking, heres the best way to structure a very sleepy day so you can make it to the end.
7 a.m.: Your alarm goes off. You will want to hit the snooze button. Resist this urge. Oh my God. No snooze, says Orfeu Buxton, a professor in the division of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School. Dont insult yourself like that. It feels good no, it feels awesome in the moment, but those seven-minute extra increments of dozing arent actually restorative sleep and wont make you any more alert. Youd do better to set your alarm for the latest possible moment when you actually have to get out of bed and start getting yourself together in order to get the most sleep possible.
7:30 a.m.: Eat breakfast. Research suggests that eating within an hour of waking up will boost your mood and cognitive performance for the early part of your day. Like with your snooze button, youre going to have to exercise some willpower here, too; sleepy people tend to crave simple carbs and sugar, Buxton says, but those are a bad bet for the sleep-deprived. Anything that causes that sugar spike and insulin spike is followed by a crash, so its going to make you more sleepy later, he said. Stick to whole grains, protein, maybe a little fruit. The junk will help, but only for about 20 minutes. Its exactly like the snooze button, Buxton said.
Also: Have (a little) caffeine. Experts recommend no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day. (For reference: One eight-ounce cup of regular coffee has about 100 milligrams of caffeine.) Use it wisely. Youll be feeling very groggy just after waking up this is something researchers call sleep inertia but after 20 or 30 minutes, the fog will clear a bit. After that sleep inertia phase, therell be a rebound period of alertness, Buxton said. Theres the least reason to have coffee then. That coffee will be much more helpful midday. His own personal early a.m. caffeine routine, if youd like to borrow it, is a small espresso.
8 a.m.: Get outside. Surrounding yourself with as much bright light, especially natural light, as possible will help you feel more alert, explains Sean Drummond, a psychiatrist at the Laboratory of Sleep and Behavioral Neuroscience at University of California, San Diego. First thing in the morning is one of the most important times, he said. Itll boost alertness, itll up your body temperature, itll reset your circadian rhythms. But dont wear sunglasses. If you wear your sunglasses, the right frequency of sunlight cant get into your eyes, which means you dont get as much of the cognitive boost as you could, Drummond said. So within the first hour or so of waking up, get outside and get some natural light, if you can.
And you get bonus points for an a.m. jog, says Lauren Hale, a sleep researcher at Stony Brook University and a spokesperson for the National Sleep Foundation. The evidence is mixed, but there are theoretical reasons that you should exercise earlier in the morning, especially if youre going to be outside doing a run, she said. You want the light effects, which are the alerting effects. If thats not going to happen, though, and you live and work in New York City, your morning walk to the train will suffice.
9 a.m.: Get your toughest tasks done first. You will want to procrastinate your creative work in favor of your busy work, telling yourself that youll get to the thinky stuff after youve had some time to wake up. Again: Resist this urge. Thats the path for despair, Buxton said. Because, unfortunately, this is it; its the most alert youll be all day. Best take advantage of it, because its a very small window for the sleep-deprived brain, opening about one hour after waking and closing two hours later. So get critical tasks out of the way first, Buxton says. A different construct would be: Im almost totally out of gas; I need to use all of that for the most important things, and nothing else.
10 a.m.: Have another cup of coffee. A caffeine pro-tip for the sleep-deprived: The attention-boosting and alertness effects of caffeine may not kick in until 30 minutes after youve consumed it. So if youre grabbing a cup of coffee on your way to a morning meeting, you could already be too late.
11 a.m.: Maybe lie low today, as much as youre able. Okay, this isnt really a time-specific task. But if youre really out of it, you might consider rescheduling meetings or phone calls, if possible. Sometimes, positive interactions with others are rewarding and alerting, Buxton says. The problem is the sleep-deprived person in that interaction. Its been shown that sleep-deprived people are less able to detect others' nonverbal cues, that they are more curmudgeonly, and not the most communicative in team situations.
So if youre feeling surly, maybe you should avoid people, and not set yourself up for failure, he continued. Its really best to interact with others when you can be your best.
Noon: Have a (light) lunch. Again, stick with the healthy stuff: whole grains, veggies, lean protein. Stay away from the simple carbs and sugar. Youll naturally feel sleepier in the afternoon, anyway, but eating a too-heavy lunch will make it even worse.
1 p.m.: Have some more coffee. Or tea, or whatever your caffeine mode of choice may be. Even when youre operating on a good nights sleep, your drowsiest time of the day tends to be six to eight hours after waking. But cut yourself off from the caffeine no later than 3 p.m.; the alertness effects from caffeine can stay in your system up to seven hours, and you dont want to suffer through one sleep-deprived day only to set yourself up for another tomorrow.
2 p.m.: Best-case scenario: take a nap. This is usually the part in a sleep story where the writer urges you to take a nap, which always seems a little absurd. Who has time for that? If you can squeeze a quick nap in maybe behind your closed office door or in your car if you drive one to work your afternoon will be better for it. Even a 20-minute naps restorative powers can last for hours, Buxton said.
Second-best scenario: Get back outside. If youre feeling really groggy, but cant take a nap, just go outside for a few minutes, Drummond said. But, again, leave the sunglasses behind.
3 p.m. 5:30 p.m.: Power through some busy work. You know the things youve been meaning to do but have been putting off forever? Replying to emails, organizing your inbox that kind of stuff? Do it now. These tasks dont require as much focused attention, and by the afternoon, youre not going to have much of that. A very sleepy person, in fact, has trouble concentrating for more than ten minutes at a time, Drummond said. Then, when youre done, sneak out a little early, if at all possible. Say sleep scientists told you to.
That is my every day — sleep deprived or not.
Depending on outside temp and traffic, (2) 12 oz coffees, just driving to work.
A steady supply of food, caffeine, and Iron Maiden. Also stay busy, as long as you have something to do you won’t have as much time to think about being tired.
“So within the first hour or so of waking up, get outside and get some natural light, if you can.”
Not often possible in the Cleveland/Akron area! Not much “natural” light!
Or, use what they gave me in the IDF: modalert.
Didn’t know you were in the IDF. Very cool...and bless you.
i agree with the 2 p.m. nap... that is when my sleep train comes in... without fail...
I appreciate your tagline.
When I was younger, I had to do this all the time — work through the night and into the next day. Surprisingly, if you eat just protein (tuna fish without bread or mayo, etc.t) and hydrate yourself, you can go two days without sleep and think clearly. Going three days is a problem though.
Btw, their idea of drinking caffeine is a bad idea. Its a quick boost and then you crash, hard.
Been a while.
I now work for a defense contractor and train pilots, generally NATO countries, but also Japan, etc.
>>Depending on outside temp and traffic, (2) 12 oz coffees, just driving to work.<<
You need a bigger travel mug!
I’m lucky some days if I get a 2 A.M. nap.
Yep, lots of defence forces use the agent. Much better than dextroamphetamines. Increased alpha wave much better than just “staying awake” . US AirForce long flights. SpecOps, and even the Indian military use.
Not to say this is preferable to a normal 7 hour sleep night— which no one gets in the current stress pressures being applied to the working masses.
Call in sick.
i did a computer job finding a billing error for company named nu-car carrier where gm wanted to buy the company but told the owner that he had to find a $1m short billing error to GM. we started on friday. i take the lead cuz that’s what i do. all night friday still nothing. we are on univac which runs same os as the IBM dos and some old line editor to try to find the code in some cobol billing programs. friday night comes some guys go home. Saturday comes some guys go home. I do not and stay awake until sunday morning. It’s snowed three times that weekend. Finally i’m looking over the shoulder of some guy (cuz i can’t sit and code i start to fall asleep ) at this vsam file read statement and look at the return code verification. It’s missing. tell the guy to fix it and run the job with that program. Done. drove home that morning with the schuykill covered in snow. company was off lancaster ave in bryn mahr. That’s accomplishment.
unless most of your job involves thinking. I snooze if i have to.