How To Survive The Workday When You're Completely Exhausted

No matter how much effort you put into getting enough sleep every night, there are going to be days when you wake up exhausted. You'll still have to survive the work day, but it doesn't have to be miserable. Here's how you can get through your day and actually be productive too.

Before we get started, let's get one thing straight: this isn't going to be a cakewalk. When you're really tired, working is tough no matter what you do. That said, there are ways to help make the day easier and actually get things done. You're not going to feel bright and cheery, but you can avoid turning into a zombie. We've looked at quick fixes for feeling tired, but in this post we're going to examine what you can do to help yourself during the entire day. Essentially, your goal will be to give yourself extra energy and avoid behaviours that will make your exhaustion worse. With a little bit of effort you'll be able to avoid passing out.

Be Diligent About What (and How Much) You Eat and Drink

When you're tired, food is a difficult affair. You need to eat enough to provide your body with the energy it needs to get through the day, but you also need to be sure you don't overeat or you can end up feeling worse. Exhaustion makes it somewhat harder to tell when it's time to stop eating. Rather than waiting for your stomach to give you the signal that you're full, pay attention to the food you put on your plate. Only take as much as you're going to need to eat and nothing more. Eat that and drink plenty of water. If you end up getting dehydrated during the day you'll worsen your situation as well.

When you're choosing what to eat, you'll want to start out with a healthy breakfast. The food that starts your day can have a big impact on the rest of it. Avoid sugary foods — which you should do all day anyhow — and stick to things like eggs and whole grains. Focusing on proteins and fibre, rather than carbohydrates, will serve you better. Basically, your goal is to eat how you'd probably eat if you were opting for a healthier diet. That doesn't mean you can't have carbohydrates or anything with sugar, but your focus should be on healthier food that will provide your body with easy energy. Aim for a balance and it'll make it easier to get through the day.

Perform a Few Quick and Simple Exercises to Get Your Blood Flowing

Not all exercise will wake you up. Some will wear you out and expend the energy you need to keep going. But doing small amounts of specific exercises during the day can help keep your blood flowing and help you stay alert when you're tired. The easiest option is pushups. Just do three sets of as many pushups with 30-second breaks in between. Do as many as you can in each set. This shouldn't take you more than five minutes, you shouldn't sweat too much in the process, and it'll wake you up. If pushups aren't your thing, however, check out this simple core routine instead.

Work Standing Up

We all know that sitting down all day is bad for us, but standing up isn't an exciting prospect for most people. You're probably used to working in your chair because it's more comfortable. When you're tired, you don't necessarily want to be comfortable — you're trying to stay awake, not fall asleep. This is another good excuse to work in a standing position. You may not have the desk for it, but generally there's a way you can shift your workspace so that you can keep your monitor and keyboard at standing height. You'll have a much harder time falling asleep on your feet, rather than your butt, so find a place to stand and work that way for the day. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but after a little while you should be able to adjust.

Use Caffeine Intelligently (if Necessary)

Caffeine is what most people use to stay awake when they're tired, but overuse can lead to problems like headaches. If you're a frequent coffee drinker, or you consume caffeine regularly, this section isn't going to help you. Caffeine is only really a useful tool if you use it sparingly and intelligently. If you're not a regular consumer, starting your day off with a reasonable amount of the stuff (around 65-100mg) can help prevent you from feeling more and more tired as the day goes on. This is because your active brain is constantly producing adenosine as a byproduct of its activity. When your adenosine levels are high enough, your brain knows it's time to get some rest. Caffeine can essentially impersonate adenosine and bond with its receptors, putting off your brain's job of letting you know it's time to sleep. This works well if you're not a constant consumer of caffeine, but it won't do so much for you if your body expects it. The important thing to remember is to avoid caffeine in the later hours of the day, as you are going to want to sleep eventually. So long as you consume the stuff before 2pm, and not after, it can help.

Plan a Well-Timed Power Nap

Just because you're at work doesn't mean you can't find a little time to sleep. Hopefully, your boss is understanding enough to let you escape for 20 minutes to take a quick nap. If not, you can still fit one in. Napping at the wrong time of day can throw off your circadian rhythms, but if you keep that nap to 20 minutes and take it between 1pm and 3pm, you can actually boost your cognitive ability without screwing with your sleep schedule. Use your lunch break to take a 20-minute nap in your car (or somewhere more comfortable if you've got it) and take your lunch back to your desk. You can eat it there feeling a little less exhausted.

Photos by Korki, George M. Groutas, US Army, Marco Arment, Roger Price, John Morgan.


Comments

    I do a lot of weird hours and split shifts, usually around 16 hours per day.

    Since i started using the alarm app "Sleep" (free in the Android Play Store) ive noticed a much better start to the day. Sleep monitors your, well, sleep using the gyro/accelerometer on your phone and will wake you up at the most oppurtune moment in a preset buffer before your alarm. I set mine to 30 minutes. Therefore if my alarm is set for 2am, Sleep will wake me any time between 1:30 and 2 whenever my sleep is very light. No more waking up feeling groggy and baggy eyed!

      I tried searching for the app but all I found was "Sleep as Android", but it's only a 14 day trial.

        I use Sleep As Android, and feel it's well worth the small expenditure. Its large variety of wake up methods and record keeping make it quite effective in monitoring sleeping patterns.

    As a lawyer with 3 kids, the youngest being 2 weeks old, i applaud you for this article.

    I'd also suggest thinking about what you can/should do. Data entry is easy and doesn't require much thinking, but lack of sleep can mean you make mistakes. Doing things like filing, cleaning, returning phone calls, etc are also easy to do, but keep you moving around and keep the blood flowing, so you're less likely to nod off ;-)

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