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Powering Through That Sleep-Deprived Day

The older you get the more you appreciate getting a good night’s sleep. I’ve seen first-hand the effects of chronic insomnia and sleeplessness. I count my blessings that I usually sleep quite well and rarely set the alarm, letting my body wake up when it naturally would. This isn’t a blog post about getting sleep, this is a post about how to get through the day after those nights when you just didn’t get enough sleep to function properly the next day. We all have our idea of what functioning properly means, but for our purposes it means being able to do common things like string a sentence together or figure out where the coffee grinder is.

I mentioned I rarely set the alarm. Well, I did this morning, getting up at 3 AM to drive my daughter to the airport for a flight across the country. I placed my head on the pillow after 11 PM, so you don’t need advanced calculus to figure out this worked out to less than 4 hours of sleep. So clearly I broke protocol with my sleep cycle, and you know what? It showed.

The first sign that my brain needed some more rest was not knowing how fast I was driving because my eyes locked on the average speed of the car instead of the speedometer. Instead of processing the information quickly and efficiently I fumbled with controls on the steering wheel trying to change the display instead of looking to the right on the dashboard. Great start! Chalk it up to REM, Interrupted.

Sleep deprivation creates moments like these. I used to be cavalier about sleep, often burning the candle at both ends and relying on caffeine to power ahead through the day. Nowadays I use days like this as blessedly infrequent reminders that I don’t want to do this all the time anymore. As we tick past noon I’ve been awake for 9 hours and feeling the fatigue starting to creep in. Powering ahead when you’re sleep-deprived sometimes requires the entire playbook.

So how do you make it through a day when you know you’ll be exhausted? Here are some tried-and-true go-to’s for those moments when caffeine offers diminishing returns:

Hydrate! It’s too easy to let your body slip into dehydration when you’re chugging coffee. Hydration makes you sharper and more energetic, so balance glasses of cold water between cups of java.

Move! Dynamic stretching and a quick walk gets the blood flowing and the adrenaline pumping. You don’t have to run a marathon to feel energized, just 5-10 minutes of active movement can make all the difference.

Sleep! That’s right, when all else fails, a power nap goes a long, long way to getting you through the day. I use the Jocko Willink trick of a 10 to 15 minute power nap. He recommends elevating your feet so you get blood flow to the brain, and to sleep no more than 15 minutes for maximum rejuvenation with minimum grogginess. It’s a rare day when I need a nap but when I do Jocko’s method works wonders. If it can help a Navy Seal get through their day, it can certainly help us mortals.

So go on, power through that day! But remember to get some meaningful sleep that night. We can’t be vibrant when our senses are dulled, and a string of bad sleep nights nullifies even the best wake-up tricks.

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