How to get through the day without sleep
After a little sleep, you wonder how you are going to survive the working or learning day? These tips will help you keep your eyes open.
You sit in the office or the university library, maybe even in your home office due to your corona, stare away and drift into nirvana. The night does not even have to be alcohol-soaked for that. For heavy sleepers like me, the next day’s fatigue is already enough that they didn’t get to bed early enough and have to manage without their vital eight hours of sleep. To be fit for work or university seems almost impossible then. Without knowing it, I have done pretty much everything wrong on such dog days — at least according to sleep experts.
Case 1: The alarm clock with snooze function
Often the wrestling with myself starts when I wake up: Five more minutes! And already the mobile phone alarm clock is set to snooze. There’s probably nothing that gives me more inner peace than another five minutes in bed. Except that it never stays with these five and I regularly brush my teeth in the shower because the snooze has degenerated once again.
“Oh, my God. No snooze function. You’re only hurting yourself,” Orfeu Buxton, a professor in the department of sleep medicine at Harvard, told New York Magazine. “The snooze function causes stress,” sleep expert Jürgen Zulley also explained to me. “In the morning, you’re not in a restful sleep anyway. And this waking up and nodding off again for a moment is a doze — then waking up again. It takes a certain amount of masochism.” Professor Buxton advises you to set your alarm clock for the latest possible time so that you do have to get up immediately. I wonder if that works for persistent snoozers like me. “I wouldn’t do that,” reassures me Zulley, “because then you’ll be even more stressed and won’t have time afterward.” The best thing would be to allow yourself a time buffer when the alarm clock goes off, without falling asleep again right away. With a musical alarm clock that lets AC/DC scream in your ear, for example, you could keep yourself awake until you are ready to get up.
Case 2: The wrong food
No matter if with or without snooze function: What I never get is a halfway normal breakfast. Most of the time, I let the baker throw me the sandwiches on the way to the train like a marathon runner throws water bottles. And in the lunch break, I reward myself with a greasy piece of pizza, because I have not yet fallen off my chair from tiredness.
Both at breakfast and lunch, experts such as Professor Buxton or neurologist and sleep physician Dietrich Hasse advise sleep-deprived days to avoid carbohydrates and heavy food: “If you eat carbohydrates, you can set your watch by when the insulin peak comes to process the sugar,” says Hasse. “And then tiredness sets in. A good breakfast anyway also includes stimulants such as coffee or tea, which artificially compensate for fatigue”.
Case 3: The vast quantities of coffee
So coffee! Finally something I’m doing right in terms of fatigue management. Although I can’t imagine that the flood of coffee I pour into me every day is healthy: if the first cup doesn’t spur me on, then I’ll get the second one just to be on the safe side. And if that doesn’t help, then I’ll just fill a whole thermos flask.
The strength and speed with which the coffee works depends on whether the drinker is a coffee novice or a caffeine junkie. “It varies greatly from person to person,” says Zulley. “The important thing is that it takes 20 to 30 minutes for the coffee to work.” The impatient, who then take the precaution of reaching for the coffee pot for a second time, risks a caffeine overkill: “There is also too much coffee, which then naturally has side effects: agitation, irritability, nervous shaking.” According to the US Mayo Clinic, the amount of caffeine you ingest per day should not exceed 400 milligrams. That’s the equivalent of about four cups of coffee, best spread over the day.
Case 4: The deferred tasks
Similar to the alarm clock, I always manage to get a reprieve on days of tiredness before I start with the tricky tasks: I firmly intend to work 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 at nine. Oh, ten past nine already? Then I just start at half-past nine. And so on.
Many experts* advise you to do the strenuous activities right at the beginning of the working day, because you certainly won’t wake up during the day. 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 so fit in the morning. Most of them reach their peak of performance between 10 and 11 in the morning. In the afternoon at about 4 pm, there is a brief high.” So everyone should be able to find out for themselves whether they work more effectively in the morning or the afternoon. But one thing seems to be relatively general: between 1 and 3 pm there is usually the well-known midday low. So, the constant theme after lunch — “I could take a nap right now” — is not just a small talk phrase, but physiologically proven.
Case 5: The wrong power nap
The power-napping that everyone swears by is again something that I am going about quite wrong. Although I keep telling myself that I should only take a short power nap before going to university or after work, I wake up after two hours and have to find out where I am. Of course, it’s impossible to think about turbo-drumming — usually, the concentration is not even enough to alibi highlight any passages in my script.
“For example, if I put a short sleep of ten to 15 minutes into my midday sleep, I have a huge effect. It buffers away a lot of tiredness and allows me to continue working refreshed afterward,” says Hasse. But if you sleep for too long, you slip into the deep sleep phase: “Then you feel this drowsiness,” says Zulley. These are the people who say: “If I lie down during the day, I can forget the rest of the day. They’ve just slept too long.” For all those who can’t spontaneously take a nap at work or university, there are alternatives: “You don’t even have to sleep properly — it’s simply a matter of taking some time off: You can also meditate, listen to quiet music or get some fresh air.”
Case 6: The long sitting
When I have finally awakened my inner permanent snorer, it’s time to get down to business: for hours I sit bent over textbooks or staring at the screen and finally feel productive. And once the energy wave is there, I ride it until I fall asleep on the surfboard. And that happens guaranteed, because despite energy drinks and coffee, after hours of power sitting, I’m no longer of any use.
People like me who are fused to the chair won’t like to hear it, but the best remedy for fatigue is an exercise: “If you notice that your concentration is decreasing, you should get up. For example, it’s great to make phone calls 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 your circulation is boosted, you stay more alert. And then Zulley gives me a tip that even pilots rely on. “Chewing gum. It keeps you awake and stimulates you. Drivers sometimes have problems with fatigue, but they can’t necessarily walk around.” So if like me, you still don’t feel guilty about your laziness after this comparison, you can go for the minimum and most comfortable level of movement: Chewing. After all, these are also movements — only with the face, but they also stimulate the circulation.
The best trick: The right motivation
However, with all this, one should not forget that fatigue is not always directly related to lack of sleep: The reason why the sandman breathes on 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 shows us that we are not necessarily happy at the moment. Ideally, every day you look for at least one motivating thing that’s worth getting up for. If it doesn’t work out that way, you should probably change a few things anyway.