No matter how little sleep you get one night, chances are you still have to go to work the next day and do your job successfully enough to keep your boss, clients, and colleagues happy. And the more sleep debt you rack up from a chronic sleep condition, the harder it is to function normally during the day.
Poor sleep affects work performance, there's no question: The indirect costs of insomnia, including time lost from work and losses in productivity, are estimated at nearly $28 billion a year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Somehow you've got to work around your sleep problem until it's gone, which could be soon, eventually, or never. Try these tips for staying awake during the day while searching for better sleep at night.
Drink lots of water
Not only will it quench your thirst, it'll keep you active, running back and forth to the bathroom.
"I drink enough to use the bathroom every hour," says Ann Austin, 46, a health-care training and development specialist in St. Louis who has narcolepsy, which causes her to have sudden sleep attacks during the day, particularly when she is driving or working at the computer for long stretches. "As soon as I leave the bathroom, there's a water fountain, and I drink until I feel full. And there's always water at my desk."
Seek out the sun
If you have irregular sleep patterns, direct sun exposure in the morning can help reset your internal clock. It can also give you a boost when you're fading during the day. A 2006 Belgian study found that light affects areas of the brain also involved in attention, arousal, and emotion regulation during the day, and that sunlight curbs afternoon drowsiness.
Thanks to an accommodating employer, Austin gets an office with a window. And when she has to attend meetings, her boss tries to book rooms with windows as well. If sitting near a window isn't an option for you, try to get outside during lunch or coffee breaks. And if possible, ask if you can get high-intensity light bulbs instead of standard ones in your office.
Get up and move
Find the nearest stairwell at work and use it. Get your soda from the cafeteria, instead of the vending machine on your floor. Instead of riding the elevator to the mailroom, take the stairs. Even if you have nowhere to go, walk up and down a couple flights when you feel yourself flagging.
"Moving stimulates the brain to stay awake," says Ralph Downey III, PhD, director of the Loma Linda University Sleep Disorders Center in California. "If you are very sleepy, distracting yourself with movement can override the sleep drive."
Negotiate a flexible schedule
Jo Dickison, 38, has had insomnia on and off for about five years, and she lets her boss know when she's having a rough week or month. "Luckily he understands," says the executive assistant in Washington, D.C. "If I finally fall asleep at 6 a.m., I'll sleep in an extra hour."
In a 2007 Wake Forest University study, researchers found that workers who felt their jobs had adequate flexibility to meet personal and family commitments also reported getting more sleep. These people may not be working as late or are perhaps less stressed and sleeping better at night, the authors suspect. Talk with your employer about the possibility of setting some of your own hours, or about whether you might be eligible for special arrangements.