Sure, there’s no replacement for a good seven to nine hours of sleep a night. But sometimes, well, life interferes. When you’re running on fumes—either because you just stayed up too late or because sleep problems are keeping you up—there are simple ways to maximize your productivity until you can start to repay that sleep debt and get back on track.
Sunshine (or bright light, in a pinch) helps to remind your brain that it’s daytime and you should be awake—even if you’re exhausted. That’s because light triggers your internal clock to stop producing melatonin, a hormone that makes you feel sleepy at night.
It may sound counterintuitive when you’re already dragging, but expending energy through exercise (or even a quick jog up a flight of stairs) increases blood flow and pumps up your rate of breathing. It sends more energizing oxygen throughout your body so you feel as much as 65 percent less fatigued.
Water, that is. While drinking more than you need won’t necessarily increase your energy levels, being even mildly dehydrated can put a damper on your mood and leave you feeling worse than you already do. And if you find yourself running to the bathroom more often, the extra activity can only help!
No, napping is not a sign of weakness. It can be the secret to better performance. NASA pilots who averaged a 26-minute nap on a cross-ocean flight had 34 percent better performance than their non-napping colleagues. Just don’t snooze too long or you’ll run the risk of waking up even more bleary-eyed. If you drink coffee, consider this trick: Since it takes about half an hour for caffeine to work its magic, sip your cup of Joe just before your nap to wake up refreshed.
It’s unfortunate but true: When you’re under-slept, your brain simply doesn’t fire on all cylinders. You have less working memory and you recover more slowly from distractions. So keep it simple. Close extra Internet windows (including e-mail), silence your phone, and shut off those distracting yet oh-so-interesting podcasts for an extended period so you can focus on one task at a time.