Sleep Deprived? 7 Tips for Staying Awake When You’re Exhausted

It’s three in the afternoon and you’re shaking your head to stay awake. The computer screen is blurry and all you want to do is get some shut-eye. Here’s how to fight the sleepiness and stay awake

Sleep Deprived? 7 Tips for Staying Awake When You're Exhausted

Why are we so tired?

These days, daily life to so fast that it doesn’t take long for it to catch up with you. ‘The most common sleep problem is just not getting enough [of it],” says Dr. Mark Boulos, staff neurologist at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital. “We live in a pretty competitive environment, holding onto your job, being a good spouse, dad or mom – it takes a lot of energy. If you can get an hour or two more of sleep, that’s good. We recommend eight hours a night but it’s different for everybody.’

Other people’s sleep habits can also affect you – everything from a partner with a sleep disorder to a sleepless toddler.

Waking up – and staying awake – after a sleepless night can be hard. Here’s how to power through and stay awake, even when you’re tired.

How to stay awake when you’re tired

The first thing many people turn to is a cup of coffee or an energy drink, all chock full of caffeine. But if you’re being kept awake chemically all day with coffee, you’ll have a harder time sleeping at night, particularly if you drink some close to bed time, cautions Dr. Boulos. The same goes for energy drinks. ‘They’re fine in moderation, but never late in the day and never in excess because they can cause cardiovascular complications.’

Sometimes a short nap can take the edge off sleepiness. But aim for no more than 20-30 minutes. ‘If you sleep during the day, you have less physiological drive to sleep at night,” says Dr. Boulas.

A healthy diet
Cristina Meffe, a naturopathic doctor and supervisor with the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine says overall vitamin deficiency can cause fatigue as can specific deficiencies like B12 and iron. ‘Make sure you’re eating a healthy diet with adequate protein, fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates. Too many refined carbohydrates and sugars can leave you feeling drowsy,” she says.

High-protein snacks
Don’t leave too long between meals or you’ll feel fatigued. Try high protein snacks like a hard-boiled egg with veggies, an apple with nut butter or hummus with veggies.

Ginseng, peppermint and licorice teas are all great pick-me-ups and are also available in other forms, such as supplements. (Be sure to consult with a healthcare practitioner first.) Coenzyme Q10 is also a great antioxidant, as well as an energy builder for the body.

Not drinking enough fluids can make you feel tired and headache-y. If you get bored of plain water, try herbal tea or fruit-infused water.

Ideally, you should incorporate at least 30 minutes of activity into the day, even when you’re feeling exhausted. Meffe recommends high intensity workouts in a ten-minute time period as well as yoga for an energy boost. Even taking a quick break to get some fresh air and walk around the block can help you feel more alert.

A small proportion of the population simply cannot stay awake in the daytime. For them, doctors may prescribe drugs like Modafinal (Alertec) designed for people with disorders like narcolepsy or shift-work sleep disorder. Attention deficit drugs liked Adderall are also used for some rare sleeping disorders.

When to seek professional help

Underlying health issues like diabetes can cause fatigue as can an underactive thyroid or an imbalance in stress hormones – too much or too little cortisol.

More serious problems like sleep apnea, (where you stop breathing in your sleep), restless leg syndrome and periodic limb movement can also affect your quality of sleep. Visiting a sleep disorder clinic may be able to determine the cause of your sleepiness.

Occasional sleep disruption is common, but don’t let it go on too long. Prolonged sleep deprivation can cause everything from poor cognition to an increased risk of stroke or heart attack, says Dr. Boulas. If you keep experiencing problems it’s best to see a doctor and perhaps change your bedroom routine.