My wife and I are new parents. (Yay!) That means we get--no joke--maybe 50 percent as much sleep as we used to, if we're lucky. (Boo!)
That's not sustainable, and I know it's not healthy. Yet we all know that there are some times when you have no choice in the matter--you didn't get anywhere near enough sleep the night before, and yet you have to power through the day. How do you do it?
My wife found the answer. New York magazine has a digital section called The Science of Us, and their Melissa Dahl interviewed sleep researchers to figure out the best strategy to get through a workday when the deed is already done, and you've missed out on a good night's sleep.
"Each of them wanted to be incredibly clear, up front, about this: You really, really need seven to eight hours of sleep to function like a proper human being," Dahl emphasized. But with that lawyeristic, CYA out of the way, here are the rough points that form their strategy on how to make it through the day.
1. Don't hit snooze
When you're measuring your sleep in small increments, and trying to convince yourself that four or five hours is actually enough, every little bit counts. So even if you're the kind of person who hits the snooze button out of habit it, skip it.
"Better to set your alarm for the latest possible moment--when you actually have to get out of bed and start getting yourself together--in order to get the most sleep possible," Dahl wrote.
2. Eat something
Specifically, skip anything that has simple carbohydrates and sugar, and instead go for "whole grains, protein, maybe a little fruit," Dahl wrote.
"Anything that causes that sugar spike and insulin spike is followed by a crash, so it's going to make you more sleepy later," explained Orfeu Buxton, of the division of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School.
3. Drink four cups of coffee
Not all at once--but you can drink 400 milligrams of caffeine a day, and a single eight-ounce coffee has about 100 milligrams. Buxton recommended husbanding your ration throughout the day, however.
"His own personal early a.m. caffeine routine, if you'd like to borrow it, is a small espresso," Dahl wrote.
4. Bright, natural light is your friend
I'm going to point out here that for this tip, Dahl interviewed Sean Drummond, whom she describes as "a psychiatrist at the Laboratory of Sleep and Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego," which is located in one of the sunniest places in America. But here goes:
"First thing in the morning is one of the most important times," he said. "So within the first hour or so of waking up, get outside and get some natural light, if you can."
Moving back across to the not-always-such-perfect-weather side of the country, Lauren Hale, who studies sleep at Stony Brook University (and who is a spokesperson for the National Sleep Foundation) said that while there's mixed evidence, "there are theoretical reasons that you should exercise earlier in the morning, especially if you're going to be outside."
6. Do the hard stuff first
When you first get to work, "unfortunately, this is it; it's the most alert you'll be all day. Best take advantage of it," Dahl wrote, "because it's a very small window for the sleep-deprived brain, opening about one hour after waking and closing two hours later."
7. Skip meetings so you're not you're own worst enemy
This one is self-explanatory, says Buxton: "It's been shown that sleep-deprived people are less able to detect others' nonverbal cues, that they are more curmudgeonly, and not the most communicative in team situations."
So if you can avoid it, don't risk putting yourself in a position where you'll act like a jerk and have to pay for it later.
8. Find a way to take a nap
Today will be the day you apologize for having made fun of the nap rooms at places like Google and The Huffington Post. Yes, it's tough--but if you can close your eyes even for 20 minutes, it will help.
The problem, of course, is if you're working in a big open office or at a client's site. But maybe you can take a half-hour Uber ride and just tell the driver to circle the park until it's time to wake up.
9. The most annoying advice ever
This is the part of this column where I have to reiterate that you should always try to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep, and that you should probably head out of work early and get a solid night's rest on the day after. Just somebody explain that to my daughter.