6 Tips For Surviving Sleep Deprivation

Post written by Zen Family Habits contributor Mandi from Organizing Your Way.

We’ve all heard that getting enough sleep is an important part of living your best life and staying productive and healthy…but what about those times when getting sleep is out of your control? Maybe you have a newborn or a sick child, or maybe you’re working two jobs to make ends meet.

Here are my tips for surviving a sleep-deprived season, shared from the trenches:

1. Scale back your commitments.

This isn’t new advice, but it’s worth repeating. If you aren’t getting enough sleep because of things outside of your control – such as a child who is not sleeping regularly or a medical condition – focus on the things that are within your control. Scale back your volunteer activities, the projects your tackling around the house and even the fun opportunities that come your way until you’re sleeping better and able to handle the extra commitments!

2. Use caffeine wisely.

I’ve always been wary of using any chemical to alter my mental state, but with a full-time job, four little ones and several middle-of-the-night feedings a night, I’ve found that caffeine is a crutch I’m just not ready to give up at this stage of life. That said, I don’t want my body to become so dependent on it that I’m unable to function otherwise, so I try not to drink coffee on the weekends even when I hit my midday slump.

For me, it also means that I start my day without coffee (but I’m naturally a morning person, so that may not work for everybody) and pour myself a cup around lunch when I start really slowing down and having trouble concentrating.

3. Plan your meals and snacks carefully.

There are plenty of natural sources of energy besides caffeine that work just as well, if not better. Eat a protein-rich breakfast, drink lots of water and try eating an apple when your energy level starts to drop. Most importantly, avoid refined sugar. This is easier said than done, as many people crave sugar and sweets when they’re tired, but they’ll just leave you more tired and craving more.

4. Take naps when possible.

I know, I know. This is easier said than done for most people, but there’s something to be said for perfecting the art of the 20-minute power nap. I wrote a paper in college on the increased productivity of workers who took a nap each day, and the research in this area really does promote taking short naps to increase energy, awareness and productivity. Unfortunately, while many countries still practice daily siestas, having a sanctioned nap time isn’t realistic for many of us – whether we stay at home with our kids or work outside of the home – so you may have to get creative to find time for your nap!

5. Plan your schedule around your natural rhythms.

When are you the most energetic and alert? Plan tasks that require concentration during these times. During the times you normally feel sluggish, plan activities that get you on your feet and moving around to get your blood moving and increase your energy. In this way, you’ll be able to capitalize on your high-energy times and make use of the lower energy times rather than staring blankly at the computer screen when your body just won’t cooperate or wasting your best hours on routine tasks.

6. Prioritize your to-do list.

Lastly, take a look at the things on your plate that you’ve determined to be non-negotiables and prioritize them to make sure you don’t fall prey to the tyranny of the urgent and leave the most important things undone.

Of course, getting enough sleep each night is still an ideal to work toward, but real life sometimes gets in the way of our ideals!

How do you handle sleep deprivation?

Read more about productivity, organizing and home management from Mandi at Organizing Your Way, or follow her on Twitter.

26 Responses to “6 Tips For Surviving Sleep Deprivation”

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  1. Great post Mandi!
    I definitely need to work on some of these. It’s been my goal for 2010 to get enough sleep each night. Thanks for the tips.

  2. Thanks so much, Mandi! I really like your suggestion of focusing on your food intake as a means of dealing with less sleep. I know that what I eat can have a big impact on my energy levels and mood even when I’m not super-short on sleep, so I’m sure the impacts are more dramatic when we’re wiped out.

    We have our third baby on the way in about a month, so I’m sure I’ll be getting a lot of use from your tips! :)

  3. andrea says:

    i´m a night person, so no matter how tired i am, i´ll get a little burst of energy later in the evening. if i´m not disciplined, i end up staying late watching t.v. or surfing the net. so my goal has been to make myself go to bed early, so that when the babies cry at 5 a.m. (i have twins), i´ll be ready to take on the day!

  4. Wendy Irene says:

    Sometimes a good shower can help me relax, rejuvenate, and wake up my mind.

  5. Edwin says:

    My tip when having to stay up half the night because of a sick child is as follows: Try not to get frustrated or be afraid that you will not get enough sleep. I notice that in the beginning I was super worried that I would be a wreck the following day and got nervous about that. Guess what happened with the child? Exactly, she became more agitated because I was so nervous about losing sleep.

    So – stay relaxed, take it as it comes and you will have a more relaxed night (although with not a lot of sleep).

  6. Liz says:

    I think that if you stop thinking about the “deprivation” it helps.

    I’ve posted on my site about it before.

  7. Noel says:

    I’ve had nearly 4 years of sleep deprivation since my son was born. I’m not a good sleeper to begin with. But I found out this week that I’m vitamin D deficient. This can interfere with sleep (I’m taking a prescription supplement now). But foods with D can help (fortified dairy, salmon, tuna) with sleep problems.

  8. Hi Mandi,
    Great tips. I have a 7 1/2 month old baby, so I know what you’re talking about here, :D For me, the most important thing in the early days of sleep deprivation, was to nap when she napped. It’s so easy to think, “Oh, I could get the house cleaned while she sleeps,” but it made such a huge difference to how I felt about everything. And, the housework can wait!

    Also, a few power snacks, as you mention, can do wonders too. For me it’s nuts and seeds, berries and natural yoghurt, oh and water, lots of it!

  9. I have 4 kids myself (eldest is now almost 11) so yes I absolutely can identify with sleep deprivation. I am still waking up some nights for bad dreams, toilet breaks and just pure assurance for my younger 2 boys (3 and 5 yo). : ) I also have a post that shares how I deal with sleep deprivation! I have definitely have to scale back on my committments – this is the one that I don’t do so well!


  10. i´m a night person, so no matter how tired i am, i´ll get a little burst of energy later in the evening. if i´m not disciplined, i end up staying late watching t.v. or surfing the net. so my goal has been to make myself go to bed early

  11. Christian says:

    Informative post! I’m doing a program at my school for the residents called Catch Some Z’s. We’re having cookies and milk tonight and I’m going to talk to them about sleep deprivation. So this was helpful. Also, do you have any articles pertaining to the paper you were talking about? I would love to read more about what you researched there.

  12. Caleb says:

    My sister is 18years old now and she has never had a good sleep since she was born, she sleeps for 20 to 30 minutes each day and that will be all for the day, It has been so terific and unbelievable, she feels so different and incomplete when other members of the family are sleeping at nights. Please what can she do to overcome this deprivation?

  13. Monica says:

    Great article, i am very fond of my sleep and i don’t cope well without :) I have shared on my BabyRug facebook page as most are new mother and will “hear” your advice. Thanks

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