All of us experience a night of poor sleep sooner or later. You have a test the next morning, your baby is fussy—and before you know it your alarm goes off and it’s time to start the day.

Below we discuss the best strategies to survive your day when you didn’t sleep the night before:


Proactive strategies

When you are operating on little or no sleep, there are several proactive strategies you can engage in to increase your alertness. These include:

  • Drinking water. Dehydration will increase your fatigue, so it is important to drink lots of water. In addition, the resulting trips to the bathroom will increase your activity level and keep you more alert.

    See How Much Water Do I Need to Drink?

  • Soaking up the sun. After drinking a big glass of water, go outside and bask in the sunlight for 30 minutes. This increases your mood by boosting your serotonin levels, and will help you sleep better the following night. If possible, for the rest of the day sit near a window or continually go outside to increase sunlight exposure.
  • Napping. Find a time during the day to take a 10 to 45 minute nap. This will decrease your sleepiness and improve both your mental and physical performance.

    See How to Power Nap at Work

  • Drinking caffeine. Drinking 100 mgs to 200 mgs of caffeine can provide a stimulant effect that lasts anywhere from three to four hours. Caffeine takes up to 30 minutes to take effect, so you can drink a cup of coffee and then take a quick nap to combine the benefits of both.

    See Lifestyle and Diet Tips for Healthy Bones

Of course, every person is different; so not all of the above proactive strategies may work for you. Don't let this discourage you, as through trial and error you can find the strategies that work best for you.

Bad habits to avoid when you haven’t slept

In addition to the above proactive strategies, there are several bad habits you should avoid when operating on little to no sleep. These bad habits include:

  • Eating large meals. Eating a large meal, especially one full of carbohydrates, will make you drowsy. Instead, try eating several lights meals over the course of the day—and choose moderate portions of lean meats, eggs, nuts, and beans.

    See Food for Thought: Diet and Nutrition for a Healthy Back

  • Engaging in dangerous activities. This one may seem obvious, but when you are sleep deprived your mental and physical abilities dramatically decrease. This means you need to avoid driving, operating heavy machinery, or any other potentially hazardous activity when tired. A good rule of thumb is that your biological need for sleep will eventually prevail, and you don’t want this to lead to an accident.

Remember that all of the above strategies for surviving on little to no sleep are only useful over the short term—there is no long-term strategies to effectively function on little or no sleep.

Learn more:

Addressing Pain and Medical Problems Disrupting Sleep

Practicing Good Sleep Hygiene

Dr. William Deardorff is a clinical health psychologist and specializes in providing psychological services to patients with chronic pain and spinal conditions. He has led a private practice for more than 30 years.