How To Function On No Sleep: 15 Tips To Fight Sleep Deprivation

You had some broken, restless sleep.

Or perhaps you didn’t sleep at all last night.

And now you have to face the day ahead… somehow performing your usual tasks and responsibilities.

Maybe you’ve got to work. Or perhaps you have children to look after.

Either way, how exactly are you going to get through the day?

What can you do to not just survive, but function like a normal human being?

Dealing with a lack of sleep is not easy, but the follow tips can help you to push through the tiredness.

Whilst you don’t have a lot of energy, you can try to make best use of what you do have.

1. Prepare For The Mental Battle

Coping with sleep deprivation is, first and foremost, a mental battle.

Aside from all of the advice that follows, the biggest challenge will be the one you face in your mind.

And we’re not just talking about the sensation of being utterly exhausted; we’re talking about the thoughts and feelings you have.

Your mental state is going to be different on little or no sleep to what it is when fully rested.

Understanding this and being able to recognize this difference is important in how you function throughout the day.

As with any battle or challenge, you will fare better if you prepare for it.

This means using things such as positive self-talk to motivate you for the hard times ahead.

It also means being aware of your limitations when in this drowsy state and not pushing yourself too hard.

Self-kindness is important, as is the ability to identify when you are acting from a place of tiredness so that you can regain your composure.

So, self-awareness when you are getting irritated by a coworker is key to finding a way to resolve that feeling.

Similarly, knowing when your energy levels are dipping even lower will prompt you to act to give them a boost (using the tips that follow).

The mindset you need to try to foster is one of resilience in the face of adversity. You will get through this difficult time one way or another.

2. Don’t Watch The Clock

Given the previous point, let’s begin with some of the psychological challenges you will face when sleep deprived, before turning our attention to the physical side.

One of the most common mental obstacles is the feeling that the day is passing by really slowly.

After all, you just want to get some sleep and the night cannot come soon enough.

So you check the time regularly to see how much longer it is until you can go to bed.

But this is a bad idea.

Whether your work day is dragging or you just want today to be over already, the psychological passing of time slows the more you observe the actual time.

Instead, try to follow the advice in our article on making time go by faster.

3. Add Variety To Your Day

When you’ve had no sleep, nothing will make you feel more tired than the monotony of a repetitive task.

So it’s vital that you try to break up your day as much as possible.

This can be difficult in some working environments, but do whatever you can to change things up every so often.

In an office setting, you might get up from your desk, make a cup of coffee, talk to colleagues, go to the toilet, or spend a few minutes outside.

In retail, perhaps you could ask your supervisor if you could keep swapping between restocking the shelves, manning customer services, sitting on a checkout, or unloading deliveries in the storeroom.

If you’re taking care of your young child, try to get out to playgroups, go to the park, take them grocery shopping, walk to a coffee shop, visit friends or family, or even just play in different rooms of the house so that you’re not cooped up in one place all the time.

The more variety you can introduce into your day, the less your mind will begin to settle into a pattern of autopilot.

This will help keep you alert and it will make time seem to pass a little quicker.

4. Simplify Your Day

If you haven’t slept at all in the night, today is not the day to do anything too mentally taxing.

Your concentration will be impaired and your critical thinking skills absent.

So shelve that complicated task for another day – especially if it has potential long term ramifications.

Instead, stick to things that aren’t as important and that you can do without a great deal of thought.

Now is a good time to do all of those little jobs that you never get around to because you’re too busy with other things.

At work, this might mean clearing out your inbox, organizing that pile of paperwork on your desk, or having non-critical meetings with your colleagues.

At home, you might choose to clean out the fridge, mow the lawn, or put some unwanted items up for sale online.

And if you simply have no choice but to tackle something more mentally challenging, do it in the morning. You’ll almost certainly feel even more tired in the afternoon.

5. Listen To Upbeat Music

The power of music should not be underestimated in motivating us and giving us more drive and energy.

Why do you think many gym-goers listen to music whilst working out?

When you are severely sleep deprived, try listening to some medium tempo upbeat music.

It can help combat mental fatigue whilst maintaining your attention on whatever task you are doing.

And music also helps to keep the day moving as each track passes by.

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6. Eat Balanced Meals, But Allow For Lots Of Treats

Let’s now turn our attention to some of the more physical ways you can get through a day on no sleep.

Much of the advice relating to your food choices on a day of extreme tiredness tells you to eat balanced meals containing lots of protein, fresh fruit and veg, nuts, and pulses.

And that carbohydrates should be complex whole-wheat forms wherever possible.

This is pretty sound advice.

But most so-called experts tell you to avoid sugary and fatty foods because they’ll only lead to an energy crash later on.

We’re going to buck the trend and tell you that treats can and should form part of your diet when you’ve not slept well.

It all comes back to the mental battle we discussed at the start of this article. Allowing yourself some treats throughout the day can help you to win that battle.

Whether your guilty pleasure is chocolate, cake, candy, or chips, it’s okay to eat them in moderation.

They should not make up the bulk of your meals, but should be consumed in small quantities between mealtimes.

Each treat is a mental win to help you stay emotionally balanced.

7. Some Caffeine Is Fine

It goes without saying that a cup of coffee, can of soda, or a caffeinated energy drink will make you feel more awake and alert.

It can take a little while for the effects of caffeine to kick in, though, so have that drink well before you have to go to work or before you need to focus on something.

There are two caveats here.

The first is that you might be better off sticking to just a few caffeinated drinks in a day rather than knocking back one after the other.

The second is that you should probably stop consuming caffeine by early afternoon.

Yes, we know that this is a time where energy levels can really dip, but caffeine has a half-life in your body of around 5 hours.

So if you have a coffee at 4pm, you’ll still have half that caffeine flowing around your body come 9pm.

And this can impede your sleep the following night and only compound your tiredness.

If you have to drink something in the latter stages of the afternoon, try a variety of tea instead. Tea typically has far less caffeine than coffee and so can give you a bit of a boost without impacting your sleep as much.

8. Get Your Heart Pumping

Exercise is a great way to blow away any cobwebs from your mind and boost your mood.

And you don’t need to exert too much of your precious energy to feel the benefits. A brisk 15-minute walk is often enough.

If you’ve not slept all night, it can be best to fit this exercise in early in the morning before you go to work or start your day.

And to combat that afternoon slump, you could try to get your pulse racing at lunchtime.

Just be sure not to push yourself too much or you’ll cause physical fatigue to go with your mental fatigue.

9. High Frequency Yoga Breathing

Yoga practice uses many breathing techniques, some fast and some slow.

With respect to combating tiredness, fast-paced breathing such as Kapalabhati or Bhastrika may help to boost attention.

There is also evidence to suggest that they may help combat anxiety, which is handy given that anxiety can become more of a problem when a person is sleep-deprived.

These breathing practices can be done anywhere which makes them ideal to do during a break at work or in the comfort of your own home.

10. Take A Nap

If you are trying to function on no sleep, it may seem obvious to try to catch up on a little bit of shut-eye during the day.

But taking a nap will work better for some people than others. It’s very much a case of trial and error.

You may wake up after a short nap and feel worse than you did before, or you might feel energized.

And the length of time you nap for can play a big role. You may want to try shorter and longer naps to see how they affect you before deciding on the perfect nap time for you.

Of course, this also depends on things such as whether you are able to nap at your place of work or how long a napping baby sleeps for if you are synchronizing your naps.

11. Chew On Some Gum

Believe it or not, the act of chewing gum has been shown to increase alertness and may even help workers to keep up with their duties across a day.

And it doesn’t matter what flavor you choose. Just go for one that you like the most, or switch between them.

12. Smell Some Peppermint

You are probably aware that a strong, minty smell is mightily refreshing, but it has been shown to actually increase alertness and combat fatigue.

So whether through a reed diffuser, scented candle, some essential oil on a handkerchief, or from chewing gum (added benefits of the previous point), get some peppermint in your life.

The same effect can be had from cinnamon if that is what you like.

13. Start Your Day With A Cold Shower

There’s little doubt that the sensation of cold water on your skin can be invigorating.

So to get through the day on little to no sleep, you might wish to try showering under cool, or even cold water in the morning.

If you can’t manage an entire shower in these conditions, you can opt for cold water during the final 15-30 seconds.

It will give your mind and body a jolt and help to increase your concentration.

If you feel yourself getting tired during the day, try splashing some cold water on your face.

14. Get Outside

No matter how well lit your home or workplace is, it is many magnitudes less bright than being outside during daylight hours.

And this natural light can help to keep you awake if you haven’t slept at all the previous night.

So get yourself out into the daylight as soon as you can in the morning and take breaks outside where possible.

Even sitting beside a window can increase the light levels entering your eyes, which can provide similar, though smaller, benefits.

Not only that, but exposure to natural light can help to set your circadian rhythm and, thus, help to standardize your night time sleep going forward.

15. Ask For Support

Sometimes you just have to ask for help to get you through the day when you’ve been deprived of sleep.

For workers, this means speaking to your supervisor to see if you can take on different duties for the day, or whether you might be able to work a shorter day.

For struggling parents of young children, it might mean getting family or friends to help with childcare so that you can nap.

Or in general, it might mean speaking to someone close to you about the situation to get their thoughts and advice.

Sources:

Li R., Chen Y. V., Zhang L. (2019). Effect of music tempo on long-distance driving: Which tempo is the most effective at reducing fatigue? i-Perception, 10(4), 1–19. doi:10.1177/2041669519861982

Telles, S., Gupta, R. K., Gandharva, K., Vishwakarma, B., Kala, N., & Balkrishna, A. (2019). Immediate Effect of a Yoga Breathing Practice on Attention and Anxiety in Pre-Teen Children. Children (Basel, Switzerland), 6(7), 84. doi:10.3390/children6070084

Telles, S., Singh, N., & Balkrishna, A. (2012). Finger dexterity and visual discrimination following two yoga breathing practices. International journal of yoga, 5(1), 37–41. doi:10.4103/0973-6131.91710

Allen, A. P., & Smith, A. P. (2015). Chewing gum: cognitive performance, mood, well-being, and associated physiology. BioMed research international, 2015, 654806. doi:10.1155/2015/654806

Raudenbush, Bryan & Grayhem, R. & Sears, T. & Wilson, I.. (2009). Effects of peppermint and cinnamon odor administration on simulated driving alertness, mood and workload. North American Journal of Psychology. 11. 245-256.

https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/5-ways-to-wipe-out-winter-tiredness/