Our top tips for coping with sleep deprivation at work

Qualified Life Coach
Ask Marianna

06 April 2018

How to survive with sleep deprivation at work

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a parent struggling with a new-born or simply suffering from a bad night’s sleep, I’m sure you’ve all had that moment where you’ve struggled to wake up and realised that this is you for the rest of the day – a day that probably includes a commute and a gruelling eight hour shift with no opportunity to rest and relax. 

For the majority, missing work because of a bad night’s sleep simply isn’t an option, so you probably try to conceal your symptoms with cups of hot coffee and paracetamol for that lingering headache, and hope that no one notices your head lolling during that mid-afternoon meeting.

However, there are better ways of coping with sleep deprivation during the day that doesn’t involve hooking yourself up to the coffee machine and I’m going to explore a few of my favourites below.

Refuse additional responsibilities

When you’re at work you most likely want to make a good impression so, when someone asks you to stay in late, you probably nod and immediately agree despite feeling as though a tiny part of your soul is slowly disintegrating in a corner.  

While I’m all for putting the hard work in, let’s face it, if you’ve had less than 6 hours sleep you’re probably not at your best. In fact, staying conscious is enough of a challenge, let alone adding additional paperwork and responsibilities to the list. As I mentioned in my blog, ‘What happens to your memories while you sleep?’ sleep deprivation definitely has an impact on your cognitive function, affecting your short-term memory and concentration.

Take this opportunity to be kind to yourself and say no. Unless it’s absolutely essential, there’s no point placing an extra burden on your shoulders when you’re struggling to cope with the work you already have, it isn’t worth the stress and chances are you won’t be performing at your best either!

Get organised

If you’re struggling to manage your workload then it’s time to start prioritising. If you have any pending meetings or deadlines, make notes to remind yourself later in the day and try to distinguish between what is and isn’t urgent. It might help to take a little diary into work with you – this will help you to keep track of upcoming events without relying on your memory which, given your sleep deprived state, might not be at its best!

Fuel your day using food

If you’re sleep deprived you probably want to eat something that’s minimal fuss and bother as well as sugary – a dangerous combination. Eating on-the-go is never good for your digestive system and, while sugary, processed foods might be quick and offer a swift energy spike, they’re unlikely to keep you satisfied for long. They can result in a sugar crash leaving you feeling as though you’ve just rolled out of bed all over again.


Instead, try to focus of foods that will help to support your energy levels. Our nutritionist, Emma Thornton, offers more advice about the types of foods that may help in her blog, ‘My top 11 foods for boosting your energy.’ In short, think about incorporating of fruit and veg into your diet and don’t forget about seeds like chia or oats, which can supply a slow steady energy release, keeping you on your toes throughout the day.

Don’t let yourself dehydrate

Keeping hydrated is so essential to our health yet it’s something that a lot of people still struggle with. If you’re struggling to stay awake, you’ll probably be tempted to overlook a glass of water in favour of a caffeinated cup of tea or coffee, however this might not do the wonders for your fatigue that you think it will.

As I discuss in my blog, ‘Are you really tired or is dehydration making you sleepy?’ dehydration can contribute to feelings of tiredness and fatigue. After all, if you’re dehydrated, your blood pressure may slow down restricting the blood flow to the brain. Not exactly good news for your concentration and your mood either! 

And, while caffeine may provide a brief energy rush like sugar, it also comes with a similar crash and can negatively impact your sleep patterns, particularly if you’re on medication like the hormonal contraceptive pill. This is because caffeine remains in your body for a long time – sometimes for up to 8 hours! So that 3pm cuppa may come back to haunt you when you when you’re trying to get to sleep at 10pm!

If you are looking for something to ease your fatigue, you could try our Balance Mineral Drink. This strawberry concoction contains a blend of essential electrolytes, like vitamin D, potassium, zinc and magnesium, helping to keep you hydrated whilst restoring key minerals that can help to gently support your energy levels!

Get outside

If you’re feeling sluggish, you probably lack the will to leave your nice, warm and cosy office for the great outdoors. However, getting some fresh air in your lungs and exposing your skin to some sunlight may help to rouse your senses back to life. Vitamin D, for example, as I mentioned earlier is an essential electrolyte and low levels of this nutrient can be associated with fatigue. Not to mention, getting outside can have a positive impact on your mood and concentration too!

Don’t be afraid to nap

Global giants like Google have started to install napping stations for their employees in the hopes of increasing productivity and there is some research to back this claim up. In my blog, ‘Are naps good for you?’ I explored how some studies have indicated that power-napping, a brief 10-20 minute nap, can help to improve your mental performance and alertness, with some studies even indicating that it may help to lower your stress levels too! 

However, before you go snoozing at your desks, it’s important to note that napping can be a tricky art to master – if you snooze for too long or at the wrong time it can upset your sleep patterns. Ideally, a quick respite between 1-3pm might be best and you may have to modify your environment. For most of you, I imagine this environment may be the back of your car since nodding off at your desk is probably frowned upon!

Take a deep breath

Sleep deprivation can make you vulnerable stress and you may find yourself struggling to meet your usual demands and, with pressure mounting, you may become irritable and prone to emotional outbursts. That’s why it’s important to try and accept your situation and find a way of constructively managing your stress levels. 

Instead of working yourself up into a panic try to find a moment of stillness and take a deep breath. Practicing breathing techniques, which are often essential to meditation and mindfulness, can help to gently lower your stress levels and bring you away from the frantic activity in your mind, allowing you to observe your own thoughts calmly without actively participating in them.

This type of reflection, as I noted in my blog, ‘Is mindfulness the key to a good night’s sleep?’ can work wonders for alleviating the turbulent emotions you might be feeling, enabling you to get on with your day without working yourself into a panic or biting your co-workers heads off!

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