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Surviving Sleep Deprivation



Feature | Man looking at the window | Surviving Sleep Deprivation

Need to combat sleep deprivation? These nine ways can help you.

RELATED: 11 Homeless Survival Tips | How To Survive On The Streets

In this article:

  1. Drink Coffee
  2. Exercise
  3. Eat Up
  4. Take Power Naps
  5. Chill Out
  6. Look at the Bright Side
  7. Switch It Up
  8. Play
  9. Try an Old Trucker’s Tip

9 Tips to Power Through a Day Without Sleep

1. Drink Coffee

Woman drinking her coffee | Surviving Sleep Deprivation

Let’s begin with the easiest: if you want to beat sleep, try to drink coffee. Its component, which is caffeine, helps you stay awake.

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The use of caffeine has been around for years. A cup or two a day can even have other health benefits.

You should still take anything in moderation, though, so go easy on the java.

Caffeine is a psychoactive substance and a stimulant. It can change the way the brain functions.

For this reason, some people may develop a dependency on it. They may experience withdrawal symptoms for a few days of no intake:

  • Irritability
  • Jitteriness
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting

Too much caffeine may also lead to other health problems. These include seizures, extreme weight loss, dehydration, and heart failure.

Drinking a cup or two, especially in the morning, is less likely to result in dependence. It may not even interfere with your sleep in the evening.

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2. Exercise

The dangers of sleep deprivation are real. They can affect your body and mind, particularly your focus and attention.

If you find yourself nodding off while behind the wheel, it’s best to pull over and rest. Otherwise, do some exercises.

Exercises such as aerobics can release a massive amount of endorphins. They will sharpen your mind and shake you out of a pre-dream daze.

Endorphins Definition: Endorphins are neurotransmitters that interact with certain brain receptors involved in mood and pain regulation. High levels of them may enhance mood.

Running is one of the excellent exercises you can do to wake yourself up. It is a natural trigger for adrenaline production.

Adrenaline Definition: It is the hormone secreted by the adrenal glands. It changes the body’s metabolism when it is under stress. These include increasing the heart rate and alertness.

It will put your body into fight-or-flight mode, so it can increase your heart rate and alertness.

Note, though, overdoing the exercise may have an opposite effect. It will make you feel sleepy afterward.

Use it to jolt yourself and recover your focus.

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3. Eat Up

Your body is an organic machine, and all machines need fuel to create energy and function. In the case of the human body, fuel comes in the form of food.

Survival is all about caloric intake. When your body reaches its stress limits, you can supplement sleep with additional fuel intake. Most people turn to a candy bar for instant energy.

While this type of food gives you a near-instant energy boost, it also comes with a major price: a sugar crash. Apples work quite well as an alternative. The body processes its sugar more efficiently. Fruits, in general, are good energy food.

You may also want to avoid eating a lot of proteins, fats, and starches. These take too much energy to digest that will put you into a food coma. Save the feast for when you have time to have a nice long nap.

4. Take Power Naps

What will you do if you want to sleep but circumstances prevent you from doing so? Break it down into power naps.

The key here is to have self-control and a booming alarm clock. Timing is everything as well.

Keep your naps under a half an hour to wake up feeling refreshed. If you sleep for more than 30 minutes, you will actually wake up even groggier than when you first slept.

5. Chill Out

Group of friends watching movie | Surviving Sleep Deprivation

What do you notice about movie theaters, classrooms, and even office buildings? They maintain a brisk temperature.

The chilled room causes you to be more alert and awake; you may think you’re having trouble sleeping. If you absolutely must stay awake, disregard your electric bill and turn down that thermostat!

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  • ADVANCED NASA TECHNOLOGY: The Illumy GTS-3000 uses the same light technology developed by NASA to...
  • GENTLE, GRADUAL WAKE-UP: The Illumy GTS-3000 gently wakes you with a brightening sunrise rather than...
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RELATED: Survival Skill | The Significance Of Sleep In A Survival Situation

6. Look at the Bright Side

Your eyes possess specialized light receptors that try to keep you awake when the lights are on. The same parts can tell your brain to let you go to sleep when it’s dark.

This is another evolutionary trigger that involves sunlight. Fortunately for us, our bodies can’t tell the difference between natural and artificial light.

Keeping your lights on and bright will help fool your body into thinking it’s daytime and you should be awake.

7. Switch It Up

Your mind gets tired. In fact, it may not be able to focus on the same thing for extended periods of time. If you are doing the same tasks for a while, observe your behavior.

If you are having a hard time focusing, perhaps it’s time take a break and do something different. Allow your brain to crave fresh activities.

Taking a break before going back to your original task will help your brain cope with mind-numbing monotony. Ideally, leave the space you are working in and engage your other senses.

Go outside and get a breath of fresh air and stretch. Take a quick walk and then come back to your task.

8. Play

Couple bonding | Surviving Sleep Deprivation

Couple bonding | Surviving Sleep Deprivation

In case you cannot sleep but you are also too tired to exercise, get your mind busy by doing something fun. Play some video games!

Solitaire isn’t going to cut it here. You need blood-pumping, button-smashing action. First-person shooters like Halo or Call of Duty should do the trick. A good side-scrolling game like Mario or Sonic will probably be fun as well.

Just set a time limit and stick to it. For a completely sleepless night, try the game Amnesia to keep you awake longer!

9. Try an Old Trucker’s Tip

One of my first jobs was working at a car dealership. I worked 14 hours a day and 6 days a week. I also had to regularly drive cars to different cities and even different states as part of a dealer trade.

Needless to say, I spent many nights on the open road. If it were not for the rumble strips on the shoulder of the road, I would have had a number of accidents. I tried NoDoz and energy drinks, but nothing seemed to really help.

I talked to my grandfather about this, and he gave me a great tip that worked for me. He worked as a truck driver for over 30 years. My grandfather shared the one thing he would do that would keep him awake on late nights.

He used to lay a can of cola on his seat and sit on it. The can would make him quite uncomfortable and keep him more alert than a cup of coffee ever could.

He then said if he got too tired for this strategy to work, he would open the can up and drink it to get that caffeine boost. Talk about a win-win situation.


Check out this video by TED-Ed on how caffeine keeps us awake:

I spent most of my adult life sleeping less than four hours each night. I don’t fall asleep quickly, and if something wakes me, I am usually unable to get back to sleep.

My wife constantly bickers with me about my sleeping habits. All I can do is shrug and tell her, “It’s the way I am.”

Is this healthy? I don’t think it is.

Experts recommend getting 7 to 9 hours. If you can’t achieve it, then strive for at least 6 hours.

The above tips are a guideline for situations where sleep is not an option. For example, you may be in the middle of a natural disaster. The best way to a healthy life is still to stay safe and sleep well.

Do you find these tips useful in surviving a day without sleep? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in January 2016, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.

Last update on 2022-10-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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  1. ChewyBees

    September 28, 2012 at 2:44 AM

    You can still get ephedrine and ephedra varieties online in the form of a diet/fat burning pill. Even if you don’t think it’s a good idea to use them as a dietary supplement (it isn’t), in a time of need, they are 8x what caffeine could ever give, and longer lasting. They also are not addictive. And you can order them online. If you’re afraid of legal implications, check with your state regulations. It could be a much needed addition to a prepper store.

  2. Ryan

    May 27, 2014 at 12:44 AM

    That you eyes can’t tell the difference between natural and artificial light isn’t precisely true. The brightest part of sunlight is in the lighter blues, which is the same frequency your eyes use for determining day vs night. Florescent and halogen lights produce zero light in that frequency range, so as far as your eyes are concerned, its nighttime (hence the classic no natural light office exhaustion). LCD’s produce as much blue as sunlight, making TVs, phones, tablets, and laptops the last thing you want to be looking at in the evening, as you’re tricking you’re brain into thinking its daylight. The converse is true, as well; amber colored sunglasses block blue, making you think its night.

    Relevance to this article? Look at LCD’s and avoid amber glasses if you’re trying to stay awake, and avoid florescent and halogen lights like the plague. If you need sleep, avoid all electronics with LCD screens and keep any lights low or wear amber glasses to reduce your alertness.

  3. Randy

    January 13, 2016 at 7:37 PM

    how many more enjoy getting 3 hours at most if any every night?

  4. Robert

    November 1, 2018 at 5:30 AM

    I find that drinking a pint of water helps me wake up in the afternoon if I feel dozy, possibly because I am dehydrated but either way it works a treat

  5. Loui Elfrink MD

    November 1, 2018 at 9:51 AM

    Speaking from personal experience since I get out of bed between 3-3:00 every day and in bed 1130-MN to start my daily serious exercise before meal # (1), it’s not if it’ll happen but how often and when. Coffee, for me, does help but the # (1) factor to fight off the demanding urge to semi-doze into what I call semi-consciousness or “Twilight” sleep is be constantly on the move. I have found if I am eating and feeling very “tired”/sleepy what works best for me is to get the calories as quickly as possible then resume activity/motion. As long as I am physically moving I am OK.

  6. Alexander Jacques Sabucido

    April 11, 2019 at 10:25 PM

    There would be a lot of ways to survive lack of sleep.

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  9. Brian

    June 6, 2022 at 12:44 AM

    I’ve gone through many work days without sleep on a very physical job. I did it on the Keto diet. Also implemented with coconut oil, which naturally raises you metabolism as much as three times faster than normal. I also supplemented with Guarana and Astragalus.

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