Whether you've pulled an all-nighter at work, partied too late or simply spent the night tossing and turning because you couldn't turn off your thoughts, one thing's for sure: The next day will be rough. Still, you’re probably wanting to save that sick day for something important, like a trip to Six Flags or to some dockside retreat with mammoth cocktails, so you’ve got to suck it up and stroll into the office. But while there's no way to avoid the exhaustion, there are ways to strategically plan your day to make the most of your drowsy condition. That's why — with an assist from Dr. Chunbai Zhang, a sleep specialist at UW Medicine-Valley Medical Center — we created this science-backed schedule that might help power you through the day when you're running on empty. Stay strong, folks.
7am: Take a Cold Shower
Wake up fully with a shock to the system. “The deep breathing in response to your body’s shock increases your overall oxygen flow rate,” says Zhang. Your heart rate will also increase, releasing a rush of blood through your entire body. This will give you a natural dose of energy for the day.
7:30am: Eat a Light Breakfast
Scarf something within an hour of waking up to boost your mood and cognitive performance. Go for protein-rich foods such as eggs and plain Greek yogurt. “When you’re sleep-deprived, you’ll crave sugar,” says Zhang. You’ll be tempted by sugary treats and simple carbs; avoid them. If you must have something sweet, choose fruit, not a Pop Tart. The natural sugar in fruit takes longer to digest than refined sugar and won't make you crash as hard.
... and Drink Lots of Water
Dehydration contributes to fatigue. Therefore, the more water you drink, the more alert and awake you feel. Drinking all of that water will also require more restroom breaks — a simple way to be more active and not fall asleep at your desk. “If you haven’t gone to the bathroom in more than two hours, you’re not drinking enough,” says Zhang.
8:00am: Get Outside
Surround yourself with as much bright light, especially the natural natural variety, as possible. Light controls our circadian system and is essential to energy production. “But don’t be tempted to put on your sunglasses,” says Zhang. “Allow light to enter your eyes to stimulate the suprachiasmatic nuclei within which the circadian rhythm center is located.” Myriad studies have also found that light affects areas of the brain involved in attention, arousal and emotion regulation during the day.
8:30am: Drink Some Coffee — and Some More Water
By now, you should be feeling a little bit better, but go ahead and have a bit of caffeine to ready yourself for the office. The effects of caffeine don’t normally kick in until 30 minutes after you’ve consumed it, so now's the time to drink it if you have a meeting first thing today. Just remember that caffeine is a diuretic, so continue to chug as much water as you can hold.
9:00am: Attack Your Toughest Tasks
This is it. This is the most alert you’ll be all day. Best take advantage of it, because it’s a very small window for the sleep-deprived brain, opening about one hour after waking and closing two hours later.
10:00am: Drink Some More Coffee—and More Water
“Down one cup of coffee with equal amounts of water so you don’t get dehydrated,” says Zhang.
11:00am: Sneak in a Quick Workout
Go for a short walk — or, even better, hit the gym. A workout will help you to wake up. Exercise boosts energy and adrenaline levels and speeds up your metabolism. Bonus: Exercise will also help you sleep better tonight.
Noon: Have a Light Lunch
As with breakfast, have a small meal. Go for whole grains, veggies and lean protein. Stay away from simple carbs like pasta. You’ll naturally feel sleepier in the afternoon, anyway, but eating a heavy lunch will make it even worse.
1:00pm: Close Your Eyes for 20 Minutes
If you're lucky enough to have an office with a door (or work in a place where power naps are acceptable) take a quick nap. Alternatively, sit in your car. Even a few minutes of shut-eye will make the rest of the day go more smoothly. “Strategic short naps of no longer than 30 minutes are known to improve performance immediately after,” says Zhang. “Even the Boston Celtics have benefitted from more sleep in lieu of additional practice.”
2:00pm: Have Some More Coffee — and Drink More Water
Even on a good day, your drowsiest time tends to be six to eight hours after waking up in the morning. Go ahead and have a final cup of coffee, just don't put it off. “Any later and you could risk screwing up your sleep this coming evening,” says Zhang. Caffeine can affect your system for as much as seven hours after drinking it, and you definitely want a good night's sleep tonight.
3:00pm: Do Your Busywork
Your concentration is likely shot by now. Hopefully you don't have any more meetings on the schedule and you can sit at your computer and focus on simply staying upright. Reply to emails, pull your expenses together, stare at Excel spreadsheets—basically, do anything that requires as little brain power as possible.
4:00pm: Chew a Piece of Gum
Hang in there. Research has shown that chewing gum can reduce sleepiness, probably because it enhances cerebral activity. If you want to get the most out of your gum-chewing experience, stick with mint-flavored gum as it has more of a rousing effect.
5:00pm: Head Home
You made it! Now do yourself a favor and take a Lyft or Uber home, as you're likely in no state to be driving or navigating public transit. “Sleepy drivers do as poorly on the road as drunk drivers,” says Zhang. When you're home, try to stay awake until your usual bedtime; at most, go to bed an hour early. This will keep you more or less on schedule and will preempt another day like today. And while you're at it, give yourself a high five.