How to Work Effectively with Limited Sleep
Some people are genetically altered to get through the workday on just a few hours of sleep. Others need their full 8 hours to feel human. I’m the later of the two. But lately, that has not been happening for me and I find myself shuffling around like a zombie from the Walking Dead. It doesn’t help that I’m getting older. I can feel the aging of my bones and the pain in my neck that never goes away. It’s natural to blame sleep problems on the physical changes that come with age. But, if you’re like me, that isn’t always the case….just yet. No, in fact, my sleep deprivation is directly related to a little 4-foot visitor that comes to my bed nightly at 1:00AM.
Now, I can go on and on about strategies and supportive research that says to keep kids in their own beds, that truly does solve the problem. But sometimes you’re just too tired to deal with it in the middle of the night. Sometimes you think to yourself, fine…. “I’ll just move over because if you crawl in bed, I know you will JUST LIE STILL this time”. (Of course, the “lying still” never happens and you vow, never again).
No matter how little sleep you get one night, chances are you still have to go to work the next day and do your job successfully enough to keep your boss, clients, and colleagues happy. So, if your 5-year-old child enjoyed sleeping diagonally across your king sized bed while you rolled yourself into a protective ball (in the event one of their limbs comes down on you like an anvil in the middle of the night), here are some tips to on how to work effectively with limited sleep:
Moderate Amounts of Caffeine
Allow me to use one of my 5-year-old’s favorite phrases…Duh! Yes, caffeine can boost your alertness, but take it easy – just a cup or two! Caffeine is a drug. There are some potentially serious side effects from drinking too much, which range from jitteriness, irritability, dizziness, muscle twitches, and insomnia, all the way up to vomiting, seizures, extreme weight loss, dehydration, and heart failure. It’s also majorly addictive. And sometimes it can be counter-productive. Too much caffeine and you’ll have a terrible time getting to sleep at bedtime no matter how tired you are!
Feeling tired – take a short run. It may seem crazy but it works for my husband. Running and exercise (in general) releases a ton of endorphins, which will make you sharper and more alert, naturally. Running in particular is a good endorphin trigger, thanks to evolutionary biology. It makes sense if you think about it. Imagine being a caveman, if you just had to sprint a half-mile to escape from being eaten, you probably wouldn’t feel like sleeping for a while either. Just don’t overdo the exercise, which can exhaust you, making you even sleepier. Remember, you’re already working with limited energy reserves, don’t burn through them.
Eat Small Snacks
Your body needs energy, if it’s feeling low on fuel; you need to fill it up. But make wise snack choices! Grab fruit – like an apple for instance, with its roughly 10 grams of sugar. Half of it is from glucose and sucrose, which the body can break down quickly to give you an immediate boost. Don’t ingest a high calorie, high carbohydrate meal. Those heavy meals take a lot of energy to digest, which will put you right into a food coma.
Turn Up the Lights
Your eyes have specialized light receptors that send a signal to your brain to be awake when it’s light out (this is my 5-year-old’s argument when I’m putting him to bed at 8:00PM and it’s still light out), and help you go to sleep when it’s dark. Again, this is evolutionary biology—humans are built to be up and about with the sun. Our bodies have not yet evolved to tell the difference between sunlight and artificial light so keeping the bright lights on will help fool your body into thinking it’s supposed to be awake.
If you have the option, take a quick 20-minute power nap. This is enough time to keep your body in the first stages of sleep, which can boost cognitive function and make you feel more rested. Make sure you don’t over do it – longer than 20 minutes and you won’t want to wake up at all!
In the end, there’s no replacement for a good eight hours of sleep a night. But sometimes, well, life interferes. When you’re running on fumes—either because you just stayed up too late or because your kids are waking you up—there are simple ways to maximize your productivity until you can start to repay that sleep debit and get back on track.