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8 Steps for Surviving on Too Little Sleep

Everyone knows sleep is key to staying healthy, but we all have restless nights from time to time. So how do you survive the next day?

Here are 8 are safe, effective ways to keep your body and mind moving.

Sleep helps everything from your immune system and metabolism to your memory and ability to learn.

1. Set priorities

Not everything needs to be done right away, even when it feels that way. Prioritize the important things: What 3 things absolutely have to get done today and what can wait? Use the energy you do have to complete those tasks. Save complicated or less pressing things for another day.

2. Drink water

When you’re sleepy, it’s tempting to reach for coffee. But too much caffeine can cause dehydration, which makes you even more tired and slows blood flow to your brain. In fact, by the time you feel thirsty, you’ve already lost 2-3% of your body fluid, so start drinking water right when you get up. If you don’t like water, try a healthy alternative like herbal or unsweetened tea. Just be sure to replace the fluids you’ve lost or you’ll be fighting an uphill energy battle all day.

3. Make a caffeine plan

If you are a caffeine-drinker, drink smarter when you’re sleepy. Caffeine temporarily boosts your alertness about 30 minutes after you drink it, so if you need to be at your best for your 10:30 presentation, drink your coffee at 10 a.m. And remember: coffee is a short-term solution. Don’t replace meals or snacks with caffeine or you might end up binging when the effects wear off.

4. Eat smart

When your body isn’t well-rested, the fuel you put into it is even more important. A tired body may crave things that seem comforting, such as empty carbs and saturated fats. But those foods can cause your blood sugar to spike, or make you feel sluggish and weighed down.

Maximize your body’s fuel:

  1. Eat a healthy breakfast within an hour of getting up (eggs, yogurt, nut butter, fruits)
  2. Don’t eat a heavy lunch. Balance it:
    1. Fill ½ your plate with non-starchy vegetables (greens, broccoli, green beans, asparagus, carrots, cauliflower)
    2. Fill ¼ of your plate with nutrient-dense carbs (sweet potatoes, quinoa, wild rice, whole fruit)
    3. Fill the last ¼ of your plate with protein (meat, tofu, eggs, beans)
    4. Include healthy fats (nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, olives)
  3. Grab a healthy afternoon snack that’s high in protein or healthy carbs (fruit, whole grain crackers, popcorn, cheese, hummus, hard-boiled eggs)

5. Go for a walk outside

There are 3 reasons this works:

  1. If you’re sleepy, you’re more likely to get bored and vice versa. Sitting makes both worse.
  2. Walking boosts energy.
  3. Sunlight prevents your body from going into sleep mode and gives you a much-needed boost of vitamin D [link to spring fever article].

6. Take a day off intense exercise

If you typically work out in the morning, you may want to skip the day after a bad night’s sleep. Pushing your body too hard too early can take a toll on your brain. Weigh the pros and cons and consider moderate exercise like a walk if you have important things to do later on. At the least, consider waiting until after work or after you’re done with your day’s biggest tasks to hit the gym.

7. Take a nap

While naps feel like a luxury to most adults, the benefits are undeniable. According to the National Sleep Foundation, naps:

  • Restore alertness
  • Enhance performance
  • Reduce mistakes and accidents

In fact, a NASA study of military pilots and astronauts showed a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness by 100%. And you don’t even need the full 40 minutes. For most people, 20-30 minutes are enough to provide brain-boosting benefits.

8. Breathe

Breathing is simple, which is why we’ve gotten so good at it we hardly think about it. Yet many of us take shallow breaths, especially when we’re tired or stressed. Take one minute and focus on taking slow, steady breaths. See if you feel more energized after.

To learn more about sleep myths and facts, click here. Already an expert? Quiz yourself.

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville). As senior copywriter at bohan, she is a writer, editor and social media strategist.

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