Surviving sleep deprivation

1I am a bit of a night owl. I lived most of my adult life on less than four hours of sleep per night. I don’t fall asleep quickly and if something wakes me I am usually unable to get back to sleep. My wife constantly bickers with me about my sleeping habits and all I can do is shrug and tell her that “It’s the way I am.” Is this smart? Definitely not. Is this healthy? Not in the least bit.

But there is an upside—I’ve gotten pretty good at going about the next day, functioning on way less sleep than I should. For those of you that can avoid it, I don’t recommend making a habit of it, but there will be times when you have projects due or presentations that need to be finished and there just isn’t enough time to sleep. When that does happen, there are some easy tips to help you stay awake and alert.


Ladies and gentlemen, I am about to give you some revolutionary new scientific facts that have never before been revealed to the public.

Caffeine helps you stay awake.

All kidding aside, caffeine has been used for thousands of years as a way to ward off sleep. A cup or two a day can have beneficial side effects, but be sure you take it easy on the java. Caffeine is a drug and like all drugs there are some potentially serious side effects, ranging from irritability, jitteriness, dizziness, heart palpitations, and insomnia, to the more effects like vomiting, seizures, extreme weight loss, dehydration, and heart failure.

It’s also majorly addictive. Caffeine is just one tool in your shed—don’t rely on it too heavily. In fact, this “quick fix” should be your last resort.


If you start to feel as though you are about to nod off, get up off the couch or if you’re driving, pull over and do a little aerobics. Exercises release a massive amount of endorphins, which will sharpen your mind and shake you out of a pre dream daze.

Running is about the best exercise that you can do to wake yourself up. It is a natural trigger for adrenaline production that will put your body into fight or flight mode and help to keep you awake. Just don’t overdo the exercise, which can exhaust you, making you even more tired.

Eat Up

Your body is an organic machine and all machines require fuel in order to create energy and function. In the case of a human body, fuel comes in the form of food. Survival is all about caloric intake.

When your body is stressed to its limits you can supplement sleep with additional fuel intake. Most people turn to a candy bar for instant energy, but while this type of food does give you a near instant energy boost, it does come with a major price: a sugar crash.

Apples work quite well as the sugars from an apple are processed easier and it comes without a major crash. Fruit in general is a good energy food, but what you don’t want is a big meal full of proteins, fats, and starches. Those take a lot of energy to digest, which will put you into a food coma. Save the feast for when you have time to have a nice long nap. Speaking of naps…

Power Naps

One of the best things you can do when you’re tired is sleep, duh. I’m actually talking about a power nap. The key here is to have self-control and a booming alarm clock. Timing is everything, and you have to keep your naps under a half an hour to wake up feeling refreshed. If you do sleep over this 30 minute period you will actually wake up even groggier than when you first nodded off.

Chill Out

Have you ever noticed that movie theaters, classrooms and even office buildings are kept at a fairly brisk temperature?  The chilled room actually causes you to be more alert and awake. So if you absolutely must stay awake disregard your electric bill and turn down that thermostat!

Look on the Bright Side

Your eyes have specialized light receptors that try to keep you awake when it’s light out, and help you go to sleep when it’s dark. This is another evolutionary trigger; we were built to be in the sunlight. Fortunately for us our bodies cannot tell the difference between natural and artificial light, so keeping your lights on and bright will help fool your body into thinking that its daytime and you should be awake.

Switch it Up

Even though I said above that the human body is a machine, your mind is not. Or rather, it was not built to focus on the same thing for extended periods. If you’ve been doing the same thing for a while and you start to feel like you can’t focus on the task any more, take a break and do something different for a little while. Your brain craves fresh activities. Taking a break, and then coming back to your original task will help your brain cope with the otherwise mind numbing monotony. Ideally, leave the space that you are working in and engage some other senses. Literally go outside and get a breath of fresh air,

have a stretch, take a quick walk, and then come back to your task.

 Solitaire is boring try Halo

Even if you’re not tired.. it is a great excuse to play some video games and just for the record, solitaire isn’t going to cut it here. You need blood-pumping,

button smashing action. A first-person shooter, like Halo or Call of duty should do the trick. A good side scrolling game like Mario or Sonic will probably do the trick as wel. Just set a time-limit and stick to it.  For a completely sleepless night try the game Amnesia, that will keep you awake for weeks

 An old trucker’s tip

One of my first jobs was working at a car dealership. I worked 14 hours a day and 6 days a week.  I also had to regularly drive cars to different cities or even different states as part of a dealer trade.  Needless to say I spent many nights

on the open road and if it were not for the rumble strips on the shoulder of the road I would have had a number of accidents.  I tried NoDoz and energy drinks but nothing seemed to really help.  I talked to my grandfather about this and he gave me a great tip that worked for me.

He worked as a truck driver for around 30 years and he said the one thing he would do that would keep him awake on late nights, was to lay a can of cola on his seat and sit on it.  The can would make him quite uncomfortable and keep him much more alert than a cup of coffee ever could.  He then said if he got too tired for even that to work he could open the can up and drink it to get that caffeine boost.

I just want to reiterate that you should at all costs get at least 8 hours of sleep. The above tips are a guideline for situations where sleep is not an option and should only be used sparingly.  Stay safe and sleep well.



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