Maybe you have a newborn at home or maybe it's that insane week before an impossible deadline. Whatever the ultimate cause of your sleep deprivation, occasionally we all have times in our lives when we can't heed the sensible advice of experts to get enough sleep.
When these crunch times hit, you might feel like curling up into a little ball under your desk and sleeping away the day, but unfortunately you need to find a way to soldier on. Science can help. New York Magazine's consistently fascinating Science of Us column recently reached out to sleep researchers to round up advice on what to do when you've had a really, really lousy night's sleep.
All of these scientists stressed that consistently sleeping less than seven or eight hours a night is a truly terrible idea, but they did have tips to offer for these emergency situations, which writer Melissa Dahl organized into a helpful timeline for the sleep deprived. Here are a few of the tips you'll find in the complete post:
Time Your Caffeine Strategically
If you're anything like me, you love coffee and can basically down cup after cup all morning. You might be particularly inclined to go this route if you can barely keep your eyes open, but the sleep scientists Science of Us spoke to suggested you time your caffeine intake more strategically.
Our feelings of exhaustion tend to naturally lift 20 to 30 minutes after we wake up. Take advantage of your body's natural perkiness at this point and save your coffee hit for later. "That coffee will be much more helpful midday," says Orfeu Buxton, a Harvard Medical School sleep researcher.
Eat Lightly and Well
Another fast and dirty approach to boosting your energy levels is to indulge in a sugar high. This is mighty tempting, but you'll regret it, say the experts. After every peak comes the trough, so you'll pay for that short-term surge of energy with a painful feeling of exhaustion later. "The junk will help, but only for about 20 minutes. It's exactly like the snooze button," Buxton warns. So instead opt for a healthful breakfast within an hour of waking, which research shows should give your brain a much-needed kick in the pants.
The same wisdom applies to lunch--as much as you might feel like scarfing some pizza or munching through a bag of chips, you'll be better served in the medium term if you force yourself to eat something light but healthy.
Use the Power of Natural Light
We generally take light for granted (unless--and I speak from personal experience here--you move to somewhere like London where the sun can be absent for weeks on end), but simply taking in some sun is actually powerful medicine. Take advantage of this fast and free route to greater alertness by getting outside to soak up some rays first thing in the morning.
That stroll in the sun will "boost alertness, it'll up your body temperature, it'll reset your circadian rhythms," explains Sean Drummond, a psychiatrist at the Laboratory of Sleep and Behavioral Neuroscience at University of California, San Diego. And sorry hipsters, but sunglasses, no matter how stylish, ruin the effect. So skip the shades and expose yourself directly to the sun within an hour of waking.
Do you have any tricks for powering through your most exhausted periods?