How to be Productive When You're Sleep Deprived


Shelly LopezRelations Specialist at Sleep Advisor

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Everyone has nights when they don’t get enough rest. And even when you feel like you can’t spell your own name the next day, you’re expected to show up and be productive. This might feel insurmountable, but it is possible to manage a full day of meetings and a to-do list as long as your arm.

Article 4 Minutes
How to be Productive When You're Sleep Deprived

With some adjustments to your normal routine, you can get through the day and accomplish more than you might think.

Sleep deprivation’s effect on productivity


Sleep statistics from the CDC reveal that 35% of adults don’t get the recommended amount of sleep. Not only is this detrimental to your physical health, but research shows that it harms productivity as well. Some of the more obvious impacts include:

  • Irritability -- 84% of people report feeling cranky as a result of sleeplessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Changes in perception
  • Impaired judgment
  • Reduced reaction time

Any one of these can stop you from getting work done, but taken together; they can spell disaster for a leader.

Staying productive when you’re tired

The only real way to preserve your productivity when you’re overtired is to get some sleep. But since staying in bed -- or closing your office door and curling up for a snooze -- aren’t options, you’ll need to find other ways to stay alert.

1. Eat breakfast

Skip the sugary cereal or muffin when you’re sleep-deprived. Although you’ll get a small boost of energy, it won’t last, and the crash afterward will make you feel worse. Instead, pick a breakfast with whole grains and protein, for instance, a breakfast sandwich of turkey sausage and eggs on whole grain toast. Eat within an hour of waking up to get the most benefit from the nutrients.

2. Get some sunlight

Natural light, especially when you first awaken, can help boost your alertness and reset your circadian rhythm. Open the curtain as soon as the alarm goes off and soak up some sun. If you can, eat breakfast outside, or consider walking to work to soak up the rays.

3. Do the most important tasks first

Even when you don’t get a lot of sleep, you’re at your most alert and energetic within the first few hours of waking up. Your energy is likely to flag throughout the day, so start with the most critical tasks, and save less taxing to-dos for later in the day.

4. Prioritize

Another hack for getting things done and feeling productive? Choose three tasks that must be done in order for you to feel like you didn’t waste the day and focus on crossing them off your list. Anything else you accomplish is a bonus.

5. Reduce distractions

The average person checks their phone around 150 times a day -- even when they don’t receive any notifications? When you’re sleep-deprived, you lose some of your impulse control, meaning you’re likely to check your phone (and your email, Slack, and everything else) more often. To stay focused, reduce or eliminate as many distractions as you can. Silence email notifications, put instant messaging on do not disturb and put your phone away so you can focus on getting things done.

6. Drink cold water

You might be tempted to consume more than one cup of coffee when you’re sleepy, but the energy boost will be short-lived and you might only make matters worse by disrupting tonight’s sleep. Instead, replace the cup of joe with some ice cold water. When you’re hydrated, you have more energy, and more energy equals more productivity.

7. Take a walk

Even when you have a busy day, you can carve out 15-20 minutes for an outdoor stroll. Getting outside for a few minutes gives you a healthy boost of sunlight, and taking a walk is proven to help improve creativity and focus. Totally swamped? Invite a colleague to join you and have a walking meeting. 

8. Take a power nap

While you might not be able to curl up on your office couch and nap for an hour or two, a quick 10-20 minute power nap can give you the energy boost you need to get through the rest of the day. Set an alarm, dim the lights, and nod off for a few minutes. You’ll be more alert and better able to conquer the rest of the day.

Above all, one of the most important ways to prevent sleep deprivation from affecting your productivity is to avoid focusing on your tiredness and how much sleep you didn’t get. The more you think about it, the more it’ll affect you. Do what you can to get through the day and then get to bed early when you head home.

Shelly Lopez

Relations Specialist at Sleep Advisor

Shelly Lopez is a Relations Specialist for Sleep Advisor, a website that covers everything related to sleep, from mattresses to the newest science behind technology and wellness breakthroughs.


Join the conversation...

22/09/2020 Pete
Hello Shelly, I get told often that i will die sooner because i only sleep about 6 or 7 hours a night. I am 54 years old. Is this true?
12/10/2022 Nisy
This site was so helpful, I am looking forward to getting more tips from it. THANK YOU