Trying to survive on two hours of shut-eye—or less? These tactics will help keep you alert and awake until bedtime finally comes around again.

By Nancy Rones
Updated May 08, 2018
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Long-term sleep deprivation can lead to chronic diseases and an early death (real talk). But for those occasional rocky nights when falling asleep (or staying asleep) is impossible, these next-day hacks will help you feel more awake and less like the walking dead. Not only will these pick-me-ups help with mental alertness and productivity the day after a sleepless night, they may get your snoozing back on track by tonight.

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1
Take a Hot and Cold Shower

When you alternate between hot water (which dilates the arteries, bringing blood to the skin's surface) and cold water (which constricts the arteries, pushing blood from the skin to the internal organs), you’re really getting the blood flowing throughout your body, which is a natural way to wake it up, says Marianne Marchese, ND, a naturopathic physician in Phoenix, Arizona and author of 8 Weeks to Women’s Wellness. The how-to: Hop in a hot shower for a minute or two and then switch to cold water for 30 seconds; repeat this cycle a few times, but (as hard as it is) the key is to end on an invigorating blast of cold.

2
Don't Take a Nap!

Tempting as it is, sacking out midday can further dispupt your sleep cycle and prolong your nighttime problems, says Jerald H. Simmons, MD, a neurologist triple-board certified in neurology, sleep medicine, and epilepsy and director of Comprehensive Sleep Medicine Associates in Texas. Instead of napping, Simmons advises trying to power through the day by keeping busy, to increase the likelihood that you’ll be able to fall asleep the following night. If the necessity to nap is more of a safety issue—for example, you are exhausted and need to drive somewhere—then a quick power nap may be important. Stick to a brief 15 to 30 minutes, warns Simmons. Once you go beyond 30 minutes, you risk falling into slow-wave sleep, the deepest stage of sleep, which is difficult to transition out of and can cause you to wake in a confused state of “sleep drunkenness.”

3
Breathe in Energizing Scents

Rosemary and peppermint essential oils are amazing natural stimulants, says Dr. Marchese. Putting the oil in a diffuser or dabbing a little on your wrist and inhaling can increase alertness and mental clarity. Burying your nose in fresh rosemary sprigs from your fridge or garden can also do the trick.

4
Hydrate Like It's Your Job

When you’re already dragging, mild dehydration can magnify symptoms of sleep deprivation, including fatigue, headache, crankiness, and lack of concentration. On the flip side, when participants in a PLOS One study increased their water intake from four cups a day to ten-and-a half cups, they reported less fatigue, confusion, and sleepiness. (Tip: Dark yellow urine and thirst are both signs that you may be short on H20.)

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5
Lose the Sunnies

It’s tempting to hide your tired eyes behind sunglasses—or heavy blackout curtains—all day, but spending a few minutes soaking in the sunshine can shake off sluggishness. “When sunlight streams through your eyes, it signals the pineal gland in the brain to suppress your body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy,” says Dr. Marchese.

6
Skip the Extra Shot

Your first coherent thought might be to order the largest possible size of the strongest possible coffee beverage. Resist. “After a bad night’s sleep, drinking a lot of coffee to raise alertness may backfire,” says Dr. Marchese. “It could be too stimulating—and cause you to crash.” Instead of coffee, Dr. Marchese recommends green tea after a poor night’s sleep. “Green tea has about half the caffeine of coffee—45 mg per cup versus 90 mg—and you also benefit from the tea’s healthy antioxidants,” she says. Besides avoiding an energy crash, going easy on caffeine may save your next night’s sleep, since Dr. Simmons points out that loading up on caffeine can result in sleep that’s lighter, more fragmented, and less restful. For that reason, make it a policy to cut off caffeine intake at least six hours before bedtime.

7
Make It to Your A.M. Workout

Exhaustion seems like a perfect excuse to skip exercise—except it isn't. Moving your body in the morning gets the blood circulating and wakes up the senses, says Dr. Marchese. That said, don't push yourself too hard. When you’re wiped out, dial way down the intensity of your regular workout or you’ll risk feeling more fatigued. Dr. Marchese says doing even simple stretches can be beneficial.

8
Pop a Stick of Sugarless Gum

Not only can chewing gum help curb the sugar cravings that come with insufficient sleep, but the action itself, says Dr. Simmons, can provide stimulation that keeps you more alert and focused.