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November 12, 2012 7:23 AM   Subscribe

Let's say for whatever reason you've only slept five hours last night and have to be productive today. What's the healthiest way to compensate for a temporary lack of sleep?

Generally, I take caffeine, lots of carbohydrates, and maybe methylphenidate (prescribed). But I'm looking for other, more sustainable ways to wake myself up that won't lead to dependency or exploding kidneys.
posted by mecran01 to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
I find exercise helps.
posted by dr. boludo at 7:24 AM on November 12, 2012

Lots of showers, walk around a lot.
posted by dawkins_7 at 7:26 AM on November 12, 2012

Sounds like me last night. I'm starting with coffee. When I'm trying to be healthy about it, I take liquid B12 in the morning. Drink lots of water. Eat light, frequent, balanced meals.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:29 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Try a Caffeine nap. It works!
posted by sportbucket at 7:32 AM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Hmm, actually I take coffee, enough water, and a constant trickle of high-calory things, like cubes of parma ham, cheeses, smoked salmon, and nuts. So for me: no carbohydrates, because they tend to make me even more tired after the initial kick.
posted by Namlit at 7:33 AM on November 12, 2012

Presumably if you didn't have time to sleep, you also don't have time to exercise before work. But at the first opportunity you get, have a moderate (not killer) workout.

Take it as gently (not easy, just gently, doing the task before you gently) as you can during the workday and try to make your workspace quiet and not too brightly or too dimly lit.

When you get home, feed the cat, open and deal with the mail, order takeout, and get ready for bed while you wait for the takeout. Figure out what time you need to go to bed to get seven or eight hours' sleep, and set a reminder for that time. In the meantime, you can get into bed, and eat your dinner and read or watch TV.

I wouldn't try to deal with this by throwing caffeine at it. If you're already taking your methylphenidate as prescribed, caffeine is weaksauce anyway and will only make you jittery. You need to limit your caffeine consumption to three cups a day to get the best out of coffee.

And for God's sake, don't drive.
posted by tel3path at 7:34 AM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's my understanding that caffeine is best thought of not as a drug that speeds you up, but rather as a drug that prevents you from slowing down. This makes it essential for you to get up and moving in order to take advantage of caffeine.

In other words, take a caffeine nap, then jog.

Also, coffee can make one spike and crash, but tea is more steady and long-lasting.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:39 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Get up and move around frequently, like taking a quick minute's walk every half hour. Do jumping jacks (in the restroom if you're at work). Small meals and snacks instead of big stodgy sit-and-digest-for-a-while meals.
posted by cadge at 7:42 AM on November 12, 2012

I don't do caffeine so can't talk about that. But, I can absolutely agree with the exercise idea - I do pushups at work when I am feeling tired or take a quick (brisk) walk around the block. Also, music. Upbeat music can almost always get me going (and helps me concentrate).
posted by anya32 at 7:46 AM on November 12, 2012

Best answer: My big one has been learning to not obsess mentally about having a lack of sleep. I find that I feel more tired the more that I think I'm supposed to feel tired. If I get up and moving and somehow internalize the state of mind that is consistent with eight hours of sleep, and try to not dwell on it, sometimes I can't tell the difference. If it's an ongoing insomnia issue, however, that's a different thing.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:02 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Apples, bike commute, ginseng, vriksasana.
posted by feral_goldfish at 8:24 AM on November 12, 2012

Best answer: If before going to bed I know I'll be getting a less than ideal amount of sleep, I wear an eye mask. For whatever reason it gives me the deepest sleep.
posted by it's a long way to south america at 8:27 AM on November 12, 2012

A (brief) cold shower/rinse gets the circulation moving and wakes you up and energizes you for the day. In some Yoga circles, they practice this: instructions here.
posted by amoeba at 8:44 AM on November 12, 2012

Best answer: Make the 5 hours of sleep more wholesome - no noise, no stress before sleep, fresh air, good pillow/mattress - wake up rested and take a good shower with light breakfast.
posted by pchere at 8:55 AM on November 12, 2012

I might double up on my adderall (or ritalin) if I was really desperate.
posted by elizardbits at 8:58 AM on November 12, 2012

Strategic napping. Even 10 minutes can really help refresh you.
posted by Ziggy500 at 8:59 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

My recipe for surviving a day on way-less-than-optimal sleep is a little caffeine, tons of water, a B-complex supplement, chewing mint gum all day, eating several small high-protein and low carb meals, and working stretching into my day.
posted by erst at 9:27 AM on November 12, 2012

Moving around (walking in brisk air = A++, would do again!). Loads of water. Crunchy things (more about protein or fiber than carbs). Caffeine, applied thoughtfully. And the real kicker: 20min nap (less is okay, but not longer - 30min is way too long and will make you sleepier).
posted by batmonkey at 10:43 AM on November 12, 2012

Carbs are a bad idea, because you will crash and then be EXHAUSTED. I have to stay up all night working on occasion, and I'm usually fine UNTIL I give up and have a bagel. Then I immediately want to die. Water, water, water, water, coffee, and PROTEIN.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 11:13 AM on November 12, 2012

Not to steal completely from the adventures Pete and Pete but if its a decent day outside - try to get out in the sun. It will do wonders to recharge your battery.

Or you can try to get your hands on some fig newlies.
posted by ACEness at 11:34 AM on November 12, 2012

Cold water over your wrists for about 15 seconds. Then splash some water on your face, rub it on your ears, and all the way around your neck.

Doing the above at every gas fillup, and a ten-minute powernap every two hours, I can drive for just about 36 straight hours. If you're really strict about it, you can go 36 hours *after* only five hours' sleep, then get four hours and keep going all day.

Protein bars are good for keeping your energy level even, rather than peaking.
posted by notsnot at 11:50 AM on November 12, 2012

I attend a conference on a regular basis that leaves me seriously sleep deprived and then expected to sit for long periods in a darkened hall listening to presentations. However good the the presentations (and they are usually of outstanding quality), the sleep deprivation gets to me. The best thing I have been able to find is some caffeine followed by a steady flow of water --- somehow, staying super-well hydrated makes up for some of the sleep loss.

Good luck.
posted by driley at 12:12 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

The caffeine naps mentioned above combined with lots and lots of water have gotten me through many an exam season, several conferences where I get much less than 5 hours of sleep a night, and some crazy cross-country traveling. A steady stream of protein-y nibbles tends to help keep me relatively energetic (as opposed to just upright). As much as I want to reach for the carbs in this situation because they're comforting and give me quick energy, there's always a crash, which I can't afford when I have to be on for a full day.
posted by rhiannonstone at 1:58 PM on November 12, 2012

(Protein is used during digestion, and to build / maintain muscle. The body can, but prefers not to burn it as fuel. So I'm not sure why people are suggesting you eat a lot of it, except that, at a high enough level, you'll convert it to glucose via glyconeogenesis. But for that, you might as well drink some juice.)
posted by blahtsk at 3:44 PM on November 12, 2012

People are suggesting protein because you need to eat food and if you eat carbs (or juice) you will crash.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 5:44 PM on November 12, 2012

Response by poster: These are all really useful, thank you.
posted by mecran01 at 8:33 PM on November 12, 2012

Besides caffeine and sugary treats (yes, bad, but not that bad if you're truly desperate), I rely on two things not mentioned here:
a) spicy food - ie., have sushi with lots of wasabi for lunch, or keep a bottle of kim chee on hand (like exercise, this gets the endorphins going)
b) laughter, either via co-worker/schoolmate silliness, or on-line comics, youtube videos, kitten pictures, etc.

And, as said above - don't think about the tiredness or get into a poor-me spin over it. Just keep moving, doing what must be done. It takes practice not feeling sorry for yourself over poor sleep (I have a small child who robs my sleep often), but it's really, truly key to surviving the day.
posted by kitcat at 10:42 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

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