How to Get Through a Workday When You Haven't Slept

by Jan Fletcher on March 12, 2013

It’s the morning after you’ve pulled an all-nighter, and your eyelids feel like sandpaper. Your frantic push to get through a backlog of orders took longer than expected, after weeks of procrastination finally caught up with you. Yet you can’t call it quits and go back to bed: Today’s schedule is packed with important to-dos.

Here’s how to get through a workday when you haven’t slept.

8 a.m.: Tackle the essentials. A missed night of sleep dumbs you down, and also makes you clumsy. Try not to take on tasks that requires precision with weary eyes and limited attention; save those for another day.

9 a.m.: Drink plenty of water. According to Dr. Janet Taylor, who blogs for the Johnson & Johnson Patient Assistance Foundation, even a 2 percent decrease in your body’s water content reduces your energy level. Consume at least eight 8-ounce servings of fluids  throughout the day.

10 a.m.: Focus on the needs of others. Lending a helping hand can energize you. Even though you’re sleepy, there’s nothing stopping you from lending aid to a co-worker. A good deed can give you a psychological lift, as helping others tends to increase one’s ability to persevere.

11 a.m.: Eat fruit. Bring several servings with you, and munch away, because fueling your body with a steady stream of natural sugars will spare you from a glucose roller coaster ride. You may be tempted to eat high-calorie, processed foods for a quick pick-me-up, but a serving of a high-fiber fruit every 30 minutes, such as half of a banana, will provide a higher-quality energy boost.

12 p.m.: Go light on lunch. Gorging on heavy, high-calorie foods is sure to trigger sleep-inducing hormones. Skip that juicy steak and order a salad.

1 p.m.: Take a brisk 15-minute walk. Breathing in fresh air will counteract the often high levels of carbon dioxide that accumulate inside office buildings by mid-afternoon. And, if you glance upward at a blue sky while you walk, this reduces the production of melatonin, which induces sleepiness. That’s because blue lights increase cognitive abilities, providing a stimulating effect.

2 p.m.: Take a mid-afternoon power nap.  You’ve held out this long, and a brief 15- to 20-minute nap is unlikely to affect your normal sleep patterns. Follow your mid-afternoon siesta with a cup of caffeinated coffee, which packs a two-punch pick-me-up.

3 p.m.: Embrace the cold. Sipping an icy drink or standing in front of an air-conditioning vent boosts blood circulation to the brain. If it’s chilly outside, take another 15-minute walk. Splashing cool water on your face in the washroom can also have the same effect.

4 p.m.: Go home early. Skip that last hour of work, and consider taking a cab home. Although it’s tempting to go to bed early, try to stay awake until it’s close to your regular bedtime so you don’t create more problems by messing with your normal sleep patterns. Don’t cheat on sleep for the rest of the week. Get at least seven hours of shut-eye every twenty-four hours.