We all know we should be getting 7-8 solid hours of sleep per night. We know the detriments of repeated sleep loss—weight gain, depression, and poor cognitive function, to name a few. And most importantly, we know we simply don’t feel great when we’re low on sleep. But let’s take a moment to be real here: there are some nights when even the best of intentions don’t work out and for whatever reason—be it a sick kid, menopause, or a work deadline—getting a full night’s sleep just doesn’t happen. So what do you do on those occasions? Consider this your roadmap for navigating sleep-deprived territory for the day. Of course, we don’t recommend you try to subsist on little sleep. (Did we mention weight gain and depression?) But on the occasions that it happens, here’s how to have as successful a day as you can.
DON’T reach for sugar
The worst thing you can do for your body on little sleep is exactly what your body tells you to do: give it sugar. Because sleep loss throws your leptin levels out of whack (the hormone that’s responsible for telling your brain “I’m full!”) you might be tempted to snack on junk food or sugary substances to fill up. But if you saunter into the office super tired and reach for a doughnut at 9 am, by 10 am you’ll probably end up needing a desk nap instead of leading that meeting. Reach for some gum or something to distract you throughout those misguided, sleep-deprived sugar cravings.
DO get outside
Immersing yourself in bright, natural light upon waking is a great way to not only get an instant energy boost, but help reset your body clock if your sleep loss was due to insomnia or jet lag. Psychiatrist Sean Drummond of the Laboratory of Sleep and Behavioral Neuroscience in San Diego says that getting out into natural light first thing in the morning will “boost alertness, raise your body temperature, and reset your circadian rhythms.”
Related: 7 Unique Tricks To Get Back To Sleep
DON’T overdo the caffeine
Ok, we’re not suggesting that on a sleep deprived day you nix caffeine altogether—having a cup or two of coffee or tea will be your best ally to get through the morning. But downing copious amounts of espresso won’t necessarily do you any favors—just set you up for a harder crash later in the day. Most of us already know that drinking coffee too late in the day can make it harder to sleep at night, but researches at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology at the University of Colorado confirmed it: having caffeine late in the day actually disrupts your body’s production of melatonin, the hormone in your body that signals that it’s time for sleep. So especially on sleep-deprived days, be moderate about your caffeine intake, and do it early in the day. If you’re really lagging in the afternoon, try green tea for a slight energy boost that won’t have you crashing nearly as hard as coffee or soda.
DO take a cat nap if you can
Naps get a bad rap, and while it’s true that a four-hour snooze might leave you feeling groggy and out of it (plus, who has time for a four hour nap?), experts say that taking just a 25-minute nap can help you feel more refreshed and alert the rest of the day. So if you can, squeeze in a quick nap to get you through the rest of your tasks.
DON’T skip your workout
Although the last thing you might feel like doing when you’re exhausting is exercising, a light workout can give you energy-boosting benefits. In fact, a study from the University of Georgia found that adults who did a 20-minute low-intensity workout had a 65% decrease in feelings of fatigue afterward. Not only can some light exercise make you feel more energized by getting your muscles moving and improving circulation, but getting in a workout will make it easier to sleep the following night. Just aim for something low-intensity, like a walking, yoga, or a light jog.
DO drink tons of water
Being dehydrated can cause fatigue in and of itself, so one of the best (and most natural) ways to fend of tiredness is staying well hydrated. Continue to drink water throughout the day, especially when you’re tempted to reach for more sugar or coffee later in the day. If you find it hard to get your recommended 64 oz. of water per day, try adding some citrus fruit (lemons, grapefruit, oranges), cucumbers, or mint to your water to flavor it and make it easier to drink.
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