How to… Power Through the Day on Very Little Sleep

We all know how sleep benefits our general wellbeing, and the negative effects of too little. So if you’re struggling to get enough shut-eye, it can cause a vicious circle of  ‘sleep dread’ anxiety.

Can’t sleep  >  anxious about not sleeping  >  even less likely to sleep  >  even more anxious about not sleeping  >  repeat cycle!

If you’re facing an important event after a restless night, don’t panic.  Here’s 10 tried and tested tips to help you power through the day on next to no sleep.


1. Fake it till you make it

Remind yourself of the times you functioned after all-nights-out!?  You can do it again!  Tough when you feel like a total zombie, nearly fall over when pulling on jeans, can’t keep your eyes open long enough to connect toothpaste to toothbrush, spray deodorant in the wrong direction – but it’s worth making the effort, because looking the part can lift your spirits. You just have to get through a few hours of exams/work, and then you can totally utterly flop.


2.    Cold shower

If you can bear it, a cold shower will certainly stop you feeling drowsy! And splash your face with cold water during the day to bring yourself back to life.


3.   Drink water

Keeping hydrated is vital for staying alert, so drink plenty of water throughout the day.


4.   Food to boost energy

Avoid sugary foods and simple carbohydrates e.g. cereals, white bread and pasta. They give you a quick burst of energy but it won’t last. You’ll just end up crashing later, and then find it even harder to stay awake.

Fresh vegetables” alt=”Apples” width=”300″ height=”214″ />Choose protein-rich foods like lean meat, fish and nuts, which stimulate the mind (1), and complex carbohydrates e.g. fruit and veg, wholegrain foods, beans and lentils, which release slowly into the bloodstream, so you have energy all day long and don’t suffer the crash and slump you get from sugar.

Don’t skip breakfast – Eating a protein-rich breakfast (e.g. eggs, plain yoghurt, nuts) within an hour of waking should boost your mood, energy and cognitive performance early on in the day. (2)

Avoid scoffing big meals or junk food, which can make you feel full and sluggish.


5.   Drink coffee, in moderation

Caffeine is a well known stimulant, designed to keep you alert. But don’t over do it, or you’ll get the jitters and start feeling worse – watch for signs like headaches, dizziness or racing heart, which means you’ve had too much.  The general recommendation is no more than 400mg of caffeine in one day (4-5 cups of coffee). (3)


6.   Take a nap

Help replace lost sleep with power naps if you can – no longer than 25 minutes though, or you’ll feel sluggish.  Drinking coffee immediately before a 15-20 minute nap can turbocharge your mind and body. The timing means you wake just as the caffeine kicks in, and the wake-up effect will be far stronger than just a cup of coffee or just a nap. (4)


7.   Exercise

Physical exercise increases blood circulation, which boosts energy and adrenaline levels, making you feel more alert. Exercise will also help you sleep better.

Bournemouth Beach 3

8.   Go outside

Ideally take a brisk walk in the sun.  Sunlight helps reset your body clock, signalling it’s time to be awake. It also increases your levels of vitamins B and D, which will help combat tiredness. (5) Plus fresh air and sunshine does wonders for lifting your mood!

If you can’t get out, at least try sitting by a window.


9.   Chew gum

Chewing gum can help beat drowsiness, probably because it increases cerebral activity, though it only gives a temporary boost. Choose mint, it’s the most rousing flavour. (5)


10.   Introduce variety

When tasks are monotonous, it’s tough to stay focussed at the best of times, and your attention span will probably be shorter than usual. Shifting from one thing to another can help keep you stimulated when you’re really tired.  So mix it up a bit and take breaks when you can – have discussions, make phone calls, read material, get a coffee…

Hopefully these quick fixes will get you through the day and you’ll manage a reasonably early night to catch up on the sleep you need.  But if you generally suffer from insomnia, here’s some things to try:

Personalised sleep improvement programme


eBook/Book: ‘The Complete Guide To A Good Night’s Sleep by Carmel Harrington


How to get to sleep: eight surprising tricks and tips – The Telegraph


Insomnia – NHS
Causes, solutions, & when you should see your doctor



(1)   Eating Protein Instead Of Sugar Helps Keep Us Awake And Alert, Say Experts – Huffington Post 

(2)   How to Get Through a Workday on No Sleep – Science of Us

(3)   How much coffee is safe? – BBC News 

(4)   The Truth About Sleep – BBC One (On TV 1 June 2017) 

(5)   Didn’t Sleep Much Last Night? 10 Ways to Function Today – Entrepreneur