6 Ways to Get Through the Workday When You Got No Sleep

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In a perfect world, a sleepless night would be followed by a lazy day at home in bed. Unfortunately, real life and responsibilities often mean that just taking a day off to recover isn’t an option.

Yet going to work bleary-eyed is no joke. Not only are you likely to be tired and cranky, but you’re also more likely to be involved in an incident that hurts yourself or others, either at work or while driving. Overall, insomnia has a serious negative effect on work performance. Our collective lack of sleep leads to an estimated $31 billion in extra costs at work due to errors and on-the-job accidents, Psychology Today reported.

If you’re one of the more than 40 million Americans who experience insomnia at least occasionally – or if you just pulled an all-nighter or stayed out a little later than you should have – knowing how to function on fewer than eight hours of sleep is essential. We’ve pulled together this list of six tips that will help you get through the work day even when you’re not well-rested.

Keep in mind that the tips below are stop-gap measures designed to help after the occasional night of little or no sleep. Chronic insomnia, which the National Sleep Foundation defines as disrupted sleep at least three nights a week for three months, is a serious health problem. If you are having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, you should look into improving your sleep hygiene. Try avoiding caffeine in the afternoon and evening, for example, and turning off your phone or tablet at least 30 minutes before you plan to go to sleep. For persistent sleep problems, see a doctor.

1. Avoid driving, if possible

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Drowsy driving causes between 5,000 and 6,0000 fatal accidents every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“If you stayed up all night, you should not be driving, period. You are impaired,” Mark Rosekind, PhD, a fatigue management expert and member of the National Transportation Safety Board, told WebMD.

If keeping your eyes open is a struggle consider taking public transportation to work, if it’s an option, or calling a cab. People who are able to work from home might want to skip the trip to the office entirely, though you’ll also need to be able to resist the lure of your bed if you do.


2. Eat a healthy breakfast

Today is not the day to skip your morning meal. If you’re operating on little sleep, you’ll feel better if you start the day with a healthy breakfast. Healthy is the key word here. Your body may be telling you that you want a doughnut, but you’ll be better off with eggs.

“Anything that causes that sugar spike and insulin spike is followed by a crash, so it’s going to make you more sleepy later,” Orfeu Buxton, a professor in the division of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School, told New York Magazine. “The junk will help, but only for about 20 minutes.”

3. Grab a cup of joe

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Fifty-four percent of adult Americans drink coffee every day, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Even if a cup of java isn’t part of your morning routine, you may get a boost from the caffeine in coffee, which can make you feel more alert because it blocks the chemicals in the brain that trigger sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Too much caffeine can make you jittery, so start with just a single cup, especially if you’re not a habitual coffee drinker. Avoid caffeine later in the day, since it can take hours to work through your system and make it difficult to fall asleep at night.


4. Get some exercise

Squeezing in a workout may be the last thing on your mind when you’re sleep deprived, but getting your body moving can help you stay alert when tired, according to Everyday Health. Morning or early afternoon is the best times to hit the gym if you’re fighting off sleepiness.

Don’t have time for an all-out workout? Even a small burst of activity can help. “You don’t have to spend hours at the gym,” Lisa Shives, MD, medical director at North Shore Sleep Medicine in Evanston, Ill., told WebMD. “A brisk 10-minute walk, or some vigorous stretching, will give you a quick pick-me-up.”

5. Enjoy the sunshine

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Really need some help staying alert? Take your energy-boosting exercise routine outside. Exposing yourself to sunshine can help you feel more awake, especially in the morning, say experts.

“Getting bright light in the morning syncs the nucleus and enables the brain to remain more awake,” Clete Kushida, MD, MPH, the director at the Stanford Center for Human Sleep Research in California, told Everyday Health.

A lack of sun exposure may even be one of the causes of your sleep problems. If you spend all day stuck indoors, your body may get confused about when it’s supposed to be awake and when it’s supposed to be asleep. Spending some time outdoors everyday is one easy way to improve the quality of your sleep.


6. Take a power nap

Just a few minutes of shut-eye could help you get over the mid-afternoon hump. If you’re lucky, your office has a nap room (Zappos, Google, and Nike are among the companies that offer this perk). If not, try sneaking away to your car or shutting the office door for a few minutes to catch some z’s.

“Power naps are a good way to compensate for sleep deprivation and daytime sleepiness, especially for shift workers. It is very helpful for improving their performance and reducing hazards at work as a result of sleepiness,” Yue Leng, a sleep epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge, told the Huffington Post.

Beware, though: A brief power nap might help you get through the day, but a doze longer than 20 minutes or one that happens late in the day could make it more difficult to fall asleep at night, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Follow Megan on Twitter @MeganE_CS

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