How to get through the day despite sleep deprivation

You are sitting in the office or in the university library, maybe even in the home office due to corona, staring at yourself and drifting off into nirvana. For this, the night does not even have to have been soaked in alcohol. For frequent sleepers like me, not getting to bed early enough and having to hold out without their vital eight hours of sleep is enough to make them permanently tired the next day. Being fit for work or university then seems almost impossible. Without knowing it, I have done pretty much everything wrong on such dog days so far – at least according to sleep experts.

Trap 1: The alarm clock with snooze function

Often the struggle with myself starts when I wake up: Five more minutes! And already the cell phone alarm clock is set to snooze. I guess there is nothing that gives me more inner peace than scamming five more minutes in bed. Only that it never stays with these five and I regularly stand in the shower brushing my teeth, because the snoozing has degenerated once again.

The solution

"Oh my god. No snooze function. You’re only hurting yourself," Orfeu Buxton, a professor in the department of sleep medicine at Harvard, told the New York Magazine. "Snoozing causes stress," sleep expert Jurgen Zulley also tells me. " In the morning you are anyway no longer in a really restful sleep. And this waking up and shortly nodding off again is actually dozing – then waking up again. You need a certain masochism for that." Professor Buxton advises setting the alarm clock at the latest possible time so that you really do have to get up immediately. Whether this really works for stubborn slumberers like me? "I wouldn’t do that," Zulley reassures me, "because then you get stressed out again and have no time afterwards." It would be best to allow yourself a time buffer with the alarm clock, without falling asleep again immediately. With a music alarm clock that screams AC/DC into your ear, for example, you could keep yourself awake until you’re ready to get up.

Trap 2: The wrong food

No matter if with or without snooze function: What I really never manage is a halay normal breakfast. Most of the time, on my way to the train, I have the baker throw me the ready-to-eat rolls like a marathon runner tosses me the water bottles. And in the lunch break I reward myself with a greasy slice of pizza, because so far I haven’t fallen off the chair because of tiredness.

The solution

For both breakfast and lunch, experts such as Professor Buxton and neurologist and sleep physician Dietrich Hasse advise avoiding carbohydrates and heavy foods on sleep-deprived days. "If you eat carbohydrates, you can set your clock by when your insulin peak comes to process the sugar," says Hasse. "And then fatigue sets in. A good breakfast includes stimulants like coffee or tea anyway, which artificially compensate for fatigue."

How to get through the day despite sleep deprivation

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Trap 3: The vast quantities of coffee

So coffee! Finally something I do right in terms of fighting fatigue. I can’t imagine that the flood of coffee I drink every day is really healthy: If the first cup doesn’t get me going, I’ll get the second one to be on the safe side. And if that doesn’t help, then I’ll just fill up a whole thermos right away.

The solution

For whom the coffee has how strong and how fast an effect depends, of course, on whether the drinker is a coffee novice or a caffeine junkie. "It varies greatly from individual to individual," says Zulley. "The important thing is: it takes 20 to 30 minutes for the coffee to take effect."The impatient ones, who then take the precaution of reaching for the second coffee pot, risk a caffeine overkill: "There is also too much coffee, which then naturally has side effects: Restlessness, irritability, nervous trembling."According to the Mayo Clinic in the U.S., the amount of caffeine you ingest per day should not exceed 400 milligrams. That’s the equivalent of about four cups of coffee, which are best spread over the day.

Trap 4: The postponed tasks

Similar to the alarm clock, on fatigue days I always buy myself a reprieve before I get down to the tricky tasks: although I firmly resolve to cram through the script for the exam or write the unpleasant mail to my boss. But then it’s already five past eight-thirty – so I can start right away at nine. Oh, already ten past nine? Then I don’t really get going until half past nine. And so on.

The solution

Many experts advise to do the strenuous activities directly at the beginning of the working day, because one does not become more awake in the course of the day surely. According to Zulley, this is not necessarily true for young people in particular: "Younger people in particular tend to be evening types who are not yet as fit in the morning. The peak of performance most have between 10 and 11 o’clock in the morning. In the afternoon, at around 4 p.m., there’s another short high."Whether one works rather in the morning or in the morning more effectively, each and everyone would have to be able to find out thus for itself. One thing, however, seems to be relatively universal: Between 1 and 3 p.m., the well-known midday slump usually sets in. The thematic perennial after dinner "I could take a nap right now" – is therefore not a mere small talk phrase, but actually physiologically proven.

Trap 5: The wrong power nap

Power napping, which everyone swears by, is again something I seem to be doing all wrong. Because even though I keep telling myself to just take a short power nap before university or after work, I wake up after two hours and first have to figure out where I am in the first place. Of course, turbo cramming is out of the question – most of the time I don’t even have enough concentration for token highlighting of random passages in my script.

The solution

"For example, if I pack a short nap of ten to 15 minutes into my midday slump, I have a huge effect. This buffers away a lot of fatigue and allows me to continue working refreshed afterwards," says Hasse. But if you sleep too long, you slip into the deep sleep phase: "Then you feel this sleep drunkenness," says Zulley. "These are then those who say: If I lie down during the day, I can forget about the rest of the day. They have simply slept too long." For those who can’t take a spontaneous nap at work or at university, there are alternatives: "You don’t even necessarily have to sleep properly – it’s simply a matter of taking time out: You can also meditate, listen to quiet music or go out into the fresh air."

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Trap 6: Sitting for long periods of time

When I finally wake up my inner snorer, it’s time to get down to business: I sit for hours hunched over textbooks or staring at the screen, finally feeling productive. And if the energy wave is already there, then of course I ride it until I fall asleep on the surfboard. And that’s guaranteed to happen, because despite energy drinks and coffee, I’m not good for anything after hours of power sitting.

The solution

People like me, who are fused to the chair, won’t like to hear it, but the best remedy for fatigue is exercise: "When you notice that your concentration is waning, you should get up. For example, you can talk on the phone while standing up," says Zulley. "This also has the side effect that you come across as much more awake and concentrated, because you are physically active at that moment. And once the circulation is cranked up, you stay more awake."And then Zulley gives me another tip that even pilots rely on: "Chewing gum. That keeps you awake and is a stimulus. Pilots sometimes have problems with fatigue, but they can’t necessarily walk around." So if, like me, you still don’t have a guilty conscience about your laziness after this comparison, you can go for the minimal and most pleasant level of movement: Chewing movements. After all, these are also movements – only with the face, but they also stimulate the circulation.

The best trick: the right motivation

Nevertheless, one should not forget with all this that tiredness is not always in direct connection with lack of sleep: The reason why the sandman breathes down your neck all day long is often also a lack of motivation: "If you like doing a project or want to finish it, you get a lot more done," says Zulley. So our tiredness often also tells us that we’re not necessarily happy at the moment. Ideally, find at least one motivating thing to get up for every day. If this does not work out, you should probably change some things anyway.

Editor’s note: This text was first published on 4.10.Published in 2017 and released on 29.7.2020 updated once again.

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