Ways to get through the working day when you’re sleep deprived

It’s with a blend of sadness and excitement that I am rounding off my final placement as a student. Eventually I will enter the world of paediatrics and hopefully I will flourish there, but for now I am at my four-day countdown towards life as a full-time copywriter in Wales. This morning I started my day with the usual haze that accompanies feeling sleep deprived. Although I am well rested most days, the ones that force me to operate under a cloud of sleep deprivation feel horrendous.

Whether you’re reading this in the middle of the night while anticipating feeling sleep deprived in the morning or you’re a regular visitor to the world of insomnia, let me reassure you that hope is not lost. No, you won’t feel your usual vibrant bursts of energy as you muddle your way through the day. Yes, you’re going to survive anyway.

What causes sleep deprivation?

Working while sleep deprived
CC: Pexels at Pixabay

The simple answer is: lack of sleep. But, the lack of sleep that’s making your waking hour existence dull beyond belief has a cause in itself. Medically, there’s a whole host of conditions that cause sleep deprivation. Both depression and anxiety appear to go hand-in-glove with insomnia, and when those restless nights persist you may find yourself swirling through a hellish spiral in which one makes the other more likely.

Depression and anxiety aside, other common causes of sleep deprivation include:

  • Living the shift work life, which disrupts your circadian rhythm
  • Being a teenager, a well-known state in which one attempts to function on the bare minimum of life’s essentials
  • Having a baby, as they love to scream for absolutely no reason while we’re attempting to grab some shuteye
  • Poor sleep hygiene, which I will try to discuss below
  • The menopause…I’m not quite at that stage yet
  • Pregnancy, I intend to avoid repeating that particular state
  • Hyperthyroidism, I’m quite confident that my TSH and T4 levels are in a stable enough state to render me euthyroid

In my case, it’s a combination of exam stress, a touch of anxiety, inappropriately long Sunday morning lie-ins, and the latest Dua Lipa song trotting through my mind.

How can you make it through the day while feeling sleep deprived?

Sleep deprivation coping
Good food, coffee, and naps will save your sanity

At first glass, your temporary state of sleep deprivation looks disastrous. I mean, there’s no way you could possibly enjoy anything on less-than-perfect sleeping hours, right?


Functioning while sleep deprived means entering a state of acceptance

Rather than rising from your bed contemplating how awaful the world is when you’re tired and how perfect it is when you’re not, accept that you’ll spend the next few hours living a sub-optimal existence. How exactly is that different? The first approach radically catastrophises a fairly innocuous situation (unless you’re operating heavy machinery or flying a plane, in which case you’ll probably need to feel well rested to avoid occupational dangers). The second approach involves accepting that, yes, you feel shattered, but no, the world will not end. Trust me when I say that embracing acceptance makes everything feel a lot less stressful.

Take a glass of water to bed and hydrate upon waking

While you sleep you’re perspirating without replenishing your water levels as you do during your waking hours. To offset your loss, place a large glass of water next to your bed and chug it the second you wake up. Your brain (much like the rest of your body) is very dependent on water. Rehydrating first thing in the morning balances your mood, making your night without sleep seem a little less tragic.

Delve into the wonderful world of caffeine asap

Did you know that caffeine has a half life of 5-to-6 hours? Plying yourself with this marvelous nectar from the get-go allows you to achieve some energy without jeopardizing the night ahead. Aside from the mild buzz you feel, your caffeine hit also boosts your dopamine levels, which results in a greater sense of focus.

If at all possible, take a nap

The beauty of working as a copywriter in the UK is that I can nap whenever I want. Okay, if my offspring requires my attention I technically can’t, but while she’s attending the bastion of parental sanity that is school I can. A few years ago our media proudly reported that our (then) prime minister David Cameron would take power naps throughout the day. Research demonstrates that the optimal nap time is 10 to 20 minutes, so squeeze a little shut eye in to accelerate your energy levels.

Indulge in slow-burning carbohydrates for day-long energy

Trust me when I say I am more than familiar with the temptation to destroy a box of Krispy Kremes when I feel sleep deprived. Although most of us will gain temporary gratification when doing so, the joy we’ll encounter is fleeting. Aim for slow-burning carbs instead so that you experience fewer sugar crashes and a steady delivery of energy.

Delegate, delegate, delegate

If you’re a copywriter, web designer, or another form of freelancer, dip your toes into the delegation waters. Or, if you don’t trust someone else to carry a little of the slack, consider delaying some tasks instead. The chances are you’re not going to shine like your usually incredibly talented self today, so relax a little and ease some of the stresses that accompany sleep deprivation.

How can you prevent sleep deprivation?

Prevent sleep deprivation
Grab some daylight to reset your circadian rhythm (it’s an excellent starting point.) Photo Location: Victoria Docks, Capetown

Like any element of your wellbeing, preventing the negative event that leaves you feeling sluggish is better than trying to cure its side effects. I’ll be slightly irritating here and reiterate the need for acceptance. If you’re reading this post it’s because you have a penchant for insomnia. It is, therefore, a good idea to deescalate the stressful sensations that can prevent you from falling asleep in the first place by accepting that you’ll have another restless night one day and that you can cope when it happens.

Otherwise, sleep deprevation prevention relies heavily on sleep hygiene

Don’t dismiss the beauty of sleep hygiene. I could dedicate an entire blog post to the topic, but seeing as you want quick answers I’ll aim for my shaky version of brevity instead.

In a nutshell, sleep hygiene involves:

  • Controlling your caffeine consumption; As I’ve already mentioned, caffeine has a half life of around six hours. If you drink it at 6am, most of it will have left your system by bedtime. For some people, drinking it after 12am is near fatal when it comes to creating a poor night’s sleep.
  • Not drinking alcohol; Although alcohol may make you fall asleep easily, you’re not achieving a restful sleep. It prevents you from entering sleep’s REM phase, which is where your brain sees the most benefits. Additionally, it causes chaos between GABA and GAMMA, which are two neurotransmitters that contribute toward your ability to sleep.
  • Quitting smoking; As an ex-smoker I will hold my hands up and admit to many a middle-of-the-night cigarette when sleep was evading me. Unfortunately, nicotine is a potent stimulant, which means it’s going to wake you up, not put you to sleep.
  • Exercising at an appropriate time; Burning off some energy early in the day is advisable. Exercising within 2-3 hours of bedtime is not. Although exercise can lead to fatigue later, the immediate period following your workout floods your body with adrenaline. Breaking a sweat too close to bedtime could make your insomnia worse.
  • Setting yourself up with a bedtime routine; Don’t worry, you don’t need to pour the same level of trickery into your own bedtime routine in the same way you would a child’s. Instead, tell yourself that you will go to bed and rise at the same time no matter what. Extreme insomnia sufferers sometimes take this a step further with sleep deprivation techniques, which eventually results in a better night’s sleep.
  • Avoiding naps; I know I attested to the beauty of naps earlier on, but they shouldn’t become a regular feature of your day. You should also avoid them after 2-3pm, depending on what time you like to go to bed. Naps are excellent for topping up a depleted sleep bank, but they can make dozing difficult later on.
  • Spending some time in the daylight; Finally, there’s evidence to suggest that a lack of time outdoors will starve your brain of the cues it needs to enjoy a normal circadian rhythm. Try spending 15 minutes outside relaxing each day.

I’m pleased to report that I did make it through my working day with few casualties despite my lack of sleep. As I’m concluding my post this morning I’m sitting next to a puddle of coffee. My partner was kind enough to place one next to me at around 6am, which I promptly knocked over because I possess all the grace of a baby elephant. But, I did sleep spectacularly well, which means I can go about my daily tasks with a fresh sense of productivity.


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