How to cope with a day at work when you've had too little sleep

You get on the train, eyes sore from going to sleep so late last night, and hobble into a seat in the back, trying to catch a few zzzs among the rumbling and talking passengers.

But then you get to work, and the real struggle begins. Words and numbers swim in front of your eyes. Hours go by in front of your screen, and you find yourself drifting closer to your desk as your eyelids get more and more heavy. Your entire day fades into triage, just trying to survive and counting the hours until you can go home and pass out.

We all know that work won’t wait for us to pull our act together on days like those. Here’s how to stay alert at work when all you can think about is crawling back into bed.

Fuel yourself

The National Sleep Foundation describes what you can eat and drink in the afternoon to stay awake, including green tea, whole grains, protein and fruits, in a post.

Very often, tiredness is just another form of thirstiness. The post’s section about green tea sheds light on dehydration.

“Dehydration can make you feel sleepy, but getting plenty of fluids will help boost alertness. Water is your best bet for hydration, but if you must have caffeine, opt for green tea instead of coffee. It has less caffeine (about 35 milligrams compared to about 200 milligrams) so you won’t have the same come-down once it wears off. Also, it’s loaded with good-for-you antioxidants,” the post says.

Play energetic music

Music is an instant mood-fixer and mood-lifter. It also can lift or depress our energy. When things are dire, some bouncy music could help get you going again. (Our editor’s favorite song for this purpose: Flo Rida’s “Club Can’t Handle Me.” It’s upbeat and designed to get people’s energy moving for dancing. Others like hard rock, classic rock, or something even faster. Just aim for more than 128 beats per minute, and avoid mournful and slow tunes.)

John Boitnott writes about listening to music when you’re tired at work in a Business Insider article.

“We all have that song that wakes us up and gets us moving. Find that song and play it through earbuds when you’re feeling sleepy. If midday slumps are a normal occurrence, consider making a playlist that you can fall back on whenever you need some wake-up music. If your office is private, feel free to dance around a little…” Boitnott wrote.

Head outside or move your body

Fresh air and movement are naturally designed to get us more alert. Instead of breathing in stale office air and sitting at your desk like a potato, get moving. Get your muscles moving while on a brisk walk outside. If you can’t leave the building at the moment, try exercising inside instead. Even a few stretches could help clear your mind.

Mayo Clinic provides some tips on “fitness breaks.”

“Rather than hanging out in the lounge with coffee or a snack, take a brisk walk, hike a few flights of stairs or do some gentle stretching. For example, face straight ahead, then lower your chin to your chest. Or, while standing, grab the back of one of your ankles — or your pant leg — and bring it up toward your buttock. Hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds,” the website says.

Fine. Try Coffee.

Yes, caffeine works. You already know that. If you’re really exhausted, go for a stronger form like espresso or cold brew — but know that the effects only last for a while, and don’t have it in the afternoon or your sleep will suffer again. Also go easy on the sugar, because it leads to an energy crash and there’s no way that helps your energy or your body.

Rest up

Everyone doesn’t have the option of taking naps at work, but if you do, revel in the fact that they are good for you. If not, try to hold on until you make it home, but sure to get a lot of rest for multiple nights in a row.

All this triage only works for a while, though. Be careful about not getting enough sleep regularly, however- as Harvard Health Publications reported, “sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Too little sleep can also leave you too tired to do the things you like to do,” and “sleep debt contributes to a greater tendency to fall asleep during the daytime. These lapses may cause falls and mistakes such as medical errors, air traffic mishaps, and road accidents,” in addition to other points.