Here’s a hypothetical situation for you: you are a college student, enrolled in the maximum amount of credits possible. You are an active participant in at least one intramural sport. You work close to 20 hours a week while still trying to maintain a social life and sleep is one of the lowest priorities on your schedule. Not because it’s not important, it’s just that everything else at the moment is slightly “more” important. Welcome to the world of sleep deprivation. Now the obvious solution in this scenario would be to cutback on a few activities and get some sleep! But that advice is not the purpose of this article. Because that hypothetical situation is not so hypothetical, it’s my life.
I’m a busy body who doesn’t intend on cutting back quite yet. If you are like me and have a lot of things to do and seemingly less and less energy to do them, welcome to the fight against sleep deprivation! Here are my top three tips to staying alert and awake while operating on 35 hours of sleep a week (5 hours a night)!
First off, manage what you eat. That’s right, it’s time to diet. It is proven that when our bodies are lacking sleep they tend to crave more sugar, though this is counterproductive of our goal to stay awake and alert. Eat foods that are hearty, containing protein and healthy fats. I personally have a simple policy that works wonders whenever I go to Point Loma’s Caf: if I don’t see something I really like, I eat healthy. It’s rare that the caf is offering delicious cuisines, and when they are its difficult to avoid them. So I’ve ensured that whenever they are not (the majority of the time), I grab a salad, or a bowl of fruit, or even some steamed veggies with rice. Basically, if it’s not going to be delicious, it might as well be good for me. This is a very easy first step to implement towards maintaining a healthy diet.
Secondly, and this one’s a bummer, limit your naps. On average, it takes a person two full weeks to recover from a single all nighter. Simply put, you cannot catch up on sleep all at once, it takes time. Which means that more than one nap a day is too many and the lengths of your naps matter. 10-20 minute power naps are extremely good for giving you that jolt of energy and making you feel less groggy. However naps that range from 70-90 minutes are also great, and can counter forgetfulness (which is one of the biggest symptoms of sleep deprivation). No matter which nap length you choose, just make sure they are consistent–never play-it-by-ear when it comes to your sleep schedule.
Thirdly, Exercise is a must. This can be difficult to implement especially since a workout is probably the last thing we think to do when we are tired. But exercise is essential for a healthy lifestyle regardless of your sleep habits, and can make a huge difference in the fight against sleep deprivation. A simple run around the block or five minute ab exercise will increase your blood flow, oxygen intake, cognitive ability, and even your mood. Keep your body strong when your mind is weak. Now, obviously you would not be sleep deprived if you had gaps in your schedule that you could just fit things into (such as more sleep). So adding workouts doesn’t seem feasible. Well I assure you, it is. When sleep deprived, a workout is undoubtedly more effective than a power nap.
That’s right I said it, exercise over sleep. Also you don’t need to dedicate 30-60 minutes to a workout in this case. A quick ab workout, mile run, set of pushups, or quick sprints all take less than 15 minutes each and are really all you need to incorporate into your daily routine. I’ve done workouts during a work shift, jogged up the never ending stairs to class, and done some quick core and pushups before bed on countless occasions and the difference it makes is monumental.
Those are just three ways you can work through sleep deprivation without sleeping more! Of course, these are only designed to slow down the side-effects of sleep deprivation and are not for the long term. Everyone has to sleep eventually. But for finals week, hopefully these tips will help you do what you need to do.