Attention, night owls. Your parents didn't teach you to get your beauty sleep for no reason. Bodies of research support the fact that the average adult needs seven to eight and a half hours of sleep per night. This sounds ideal, but the busyness of life often causes the hours in the day to quickly slip away from us. In the long run, not getting the proper amount of sleep does us way more harm than good. Research shows that lack of sleep has a terribly disturbing effect on your brain. In fact, a study published in The Journal of Neuroscience found that chronic sleep loss can eventually lead to brain damage.
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In other words, there's plenty of science behind why it's hard to function on no sleep. And while we're not supporting sleep deprivation, we're here for you when it's just one of those days and time is decidedly not on your side. Adam Tishman, co-founder and sleep expert of Helix Sleep, and Michael Breus, aka The Sleep Doctor, a clinical psychologist and diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine, shared an expert-recommended guide to how to function on no sleep. Thank us later for this guidebook on how to make it through the day when you're running on no fuel.
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"Dehydration causes fatigue," explains Tishman, "so staying hydrated throughout the day will help keep your energy levels up."
Don't worry—if cold showers sound completely brutal to you, Tishman suggests opting for just a few seconds of cold water. It'll make all the difference. "If you can't handle an entirely cold shower, try to end your shower with 30 seconds of cold water. The cold water will help increase alertness and get your blood flowing."
According to Tishman, you need to expose yourself to as much natural light as possible, especially in the morning. "Our circadian rhythm is controlled by light, so stepping outside and getting some sun will help your brain and body become energized and ready for the day ahead," he explains. "Starting to feel tired throughout the day? Try stepping outside to get some fresh air and sunlight to help keep you energized."
Breus also stresses the importance of sunlight. "While it helps produce vitamin D, which can give a presenter energy, it also helps reset the circadian rhythm which can be important when you simply have not slept at all," he adds.
"Drink caffeine in small doses multiple times throughout the day," suggests Breus. "This could be done just before naps for even more effectiveness—I call this a Nap-a-latte."
Tishman also recommends drinking coffee… carefully. "If you typically drink coffee in the morning, then continue to do so when you're sleep-deprived. However, be careful about drinking more than one to two cups during the day to compensate for sleep deprivation. Too much caffeine can make you jittery and reduce your appetite, preventing you from getting nutrients necessary to stay energized throughout the day," he says.
Tishman suggests getting your blood flowing by working out in the morning or going on a walk. "Exercise helps boost your energy levels and wakes up your brain and body," he explains. "It also will help you get a better night's sleep later on at night which you definitely need if you're sleep-deprived."
"Taking small, 25-minute interval naps every two to three hours would be helpful," advises Breus. "This will help reduce built-up adenosine, which is the neurochemical that collects as you stay awake, and may make a person more alert."
Hopefully, your schedule permits this. "While not everyone can find the time or place to nap during the day, if you're able to get some quick shut-eye, definitely go for it," advises Tishman. "A quick nap that's no longer than 30 minutes will boost your energy and improve your ability to concentrate and focus for the rest of the day."
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Your body is more likely to crave sugar and carbs when you're sleep-deprived because it'll give you short-lived energy, but you'll eventually crash after the sugar high wears off. "Instead, opt for fruit or whole wheat snacks, which take longer to digest and provide a steady stream of energy," suggests Tishman. "Eat a breakfast full of protein and healthy fats to keep your energy levels stable throughout the day. Try eggs with avocado or whole-wheat toast with almond butter and some Greek yogurt."
For those who like to pull an all-nighter on a normal basis, it's important to understand that not getting sleep advances your risk factor for serious health conditions, poor decisions, brain fog, and more.
"Functioning on total sleep deprivation has some serious risks associated with it," confirms Breus, "including slower reaction time, slower cognition (poor decision making, memory, etc.), higher emotional volatility, higher perceptions of pain, and exercise feels more strenuous."
Tishman points out that your brain starts to feel fuzzy as well. "Just one night without sleep (or enough sleep) hinders cognition, memory, and thought processing," explains Tishman. "In fact, your brain starts to act like it's drunk after just one all-nighter, even if you didn't drink any alcohol, making it difficult to stay focused and think critically during the day. Your appearance suffers. After just one night of poor sleep, you'll start to get dark bags under your eyes, and your skin might lose some of its radiance. The negative short-term effects of sleep loss become present immediately. These include decreased cognitive function, which hampers your ability to process information, learn, and react."
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Tishman notes that even just an hour and a half of sleep loss can have negative effects on your health and well-being. "Individuals need different amounts of sleep to function at their best, and on average, adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night," explains Tishman. "Getting the necessary amount of sleep every night may seem impossible when you're busy, but aiming to get those seven to nine hours of shut-eye is imperative to living a happy and healthy life."
This post has been updated by Sarah Yang.