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How to Function After Getting No Sleep

How to Get Through One Day With No Sleep

Didn't get enough shut eye and finding yourself nodding off through the day? Men's Journal has the tips for getting through the fog without crashing.

Whether you've worked all night, partied too late, jumped on a red-eye, or just couldn't turn off your thoughts, one thing's for sure: the next day will be hellish. Thankfully, sleep experts have your step-by-step game plan for powering through the following day with some degree of productivity and alertness. "It's a scenario we encounter a lot," says Dr. Mark Boulos, a neurologist at Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, who knows how to have one — but probably not two — productive days without sleep. Here's what to do.

Avoid big decisions.

The first step is recognizing you won't be able to do as much as you would on a full eight hours of sleep. Accept that and proceed accordingly, experts say. And while that isn't always practical for demanding jobs, trying to do too much will only lead to more burnout, less productivity, and bad work. Christopher Colwell, a neuroscientist at the University of California, recommends putting off important decisions once you know you've skimped on sleep. Boulos suggests spacing out your workload to match your energy level. "Anything that's going to require a huge amount of detail or something that has to be done very well — don't do it the morning after," says Boulos. Another tip: take breaks. "When you're in the office, if there's a really important report, don't make back-to-back deadlines. Space them out day by day so you can brace yourself for one day of so-so performance, and one day of great, high quality performance."

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Eat Right.

Sleep deprivation may make you crave carbs, sugar, and calories, but you need to fight this instinct. Studies have found a high-protein (35 gram) breakfast with eggs and lean beef can silence unhealthy snacking throughout the day. "Fatty foods will bog you down and definitely should be avoided," Boulos says. "Pick lighter foods over heavy, fried foods, and take drinks for energy like an apple or orange juice with natural sugars. These give you the right amount of boost to keep you going a little longer." Try fruit, Greek yogurt, or an omelet. And avoid energy drinks like Red Bull, which have a lot of added sugar.

Drink coffee judiciously.

Experts would never recommend against your morning coffee since it's a surefire way to wake up your senses — but they are sure to caution against drinking too much. "Use coffee judiciously," says Bazil. "A coffee or two can help, but too much and you'll get jittery." One tip is to time your coffee consumption in tune with your body, for optimal energy. "[Coffee] sticks around longer than you think, so after mid-afternoon, do your best to avoid it or you won't be able to really shut down once you make it thought the day – and you're going to need sleep tonight," Bazil says.

Get plenty of natural light.

Your circadian rhythms — which dictate when you feel sleepy, or awake, or tired — need natural light to know it's time to wake up and be alert. "There is a passage in the brain that connects the eye, and whenever light hits your eye, your body knows it's time to wake up, and that it's daytime," says Boulos. A study from Northwestern University found that workers who were exposed to natural light slept better and longer, felt more inclined to exercise, and reported better overall quality of life. So if you're working at a cubicle situated far from a window, try stepping outside for a few minutes in the morning, or moving to a workspace where there's ample natural light.

Get exercise.

If sleep isn't in the cards, try to schedule an early workout — whether it's a walk, jog, yoga, or a spin class. If you can't fit it in (because you're going from a red-eye straight to work), see if you can later in the day. "At least take a brisk walk. Anything to keep the body stimulated will help ward off sleep." Exercise is still the best way to boost energy, mood, productivity, cognitive function, and alertness, so make time for it. "A gentle workout that rejuvenates your energy is best," Boulos says. "Exercise is the right answer for everything."

If you must, make it a short nap.

Experts are divided on whether taking a nap after an all-nighter will benefit your sleep-deprivation or not. It all depends on your own personal sleep patterns and how well adjusted your body is to napping. According to Colwell, a nap is still the most reliable method for staying alert. "The only thing that has been demonstrated to be helpful is a short nap for 20-30 minutes in the afternoon," Colwell says. Bazil agrees. "Schedule a nap if at all possible," he says. "A 20-30 minute period of shutting down is better than dropping off multiple times in meetings or at your computer." Power naps have been shown to heighten all-day energy and there are a lot of resources for how to nap properly at work.
But Boulos believes napping can actually rob you of sleep the following night, leaving you too alert to get back to your body's natural rhythm come evening. "We recommend to not nap at day and just push through, so your sleep at night is a lot more refreshed and a lot more rewarding," says Boulos. So if know you have to pull an all-nighter one particular day of the week, you can plan around that and try to get in a couple hours of sleep just before staying up, rather than after. "A couple of hours of sleep is better than nothing at all, even that might take off some of the fatigue."

Skip the naps and limit your coffee.

The last thing you want is two all-nighters in a row. To get to bed early, Boulos suggests skipping food and drinks that would make you feel alert, like coffee. "Try to avoid caffeine, and the less napping you do, the better sleep you'll get. More than likely you'll wake up the next day feeling a lot more refreshed than if you drank a lot of caffeine or took a lot of naps the day before."

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