I’m sure none of us would argue against the idea that getting enough sleep is an important part of living your best life and staying productive and healthy…but what about those times when getting sleep is out of your control? Maybe you have a newborn or a sick child, or maybe you’re working two jobs to make ends meet.

Here are my tips for surviving a sleep-deprived season, shared from the trenches:

1. Scale back your commitments.

This isn’t new advice, but it’s worth repeating: If you aren’t getting enough sleep because of things outside of your control—a child who is not sleeping regularly, a medical condition or something else—focus on the things that are within your control. Scale back your volunteer activities, the projects your tackling around the house and even the fun opportunities that come your way until you’re sleeping better and able to handle the extra commitments!

2. Use caffeine wisely.

For a long time, I avoided relying on caffeine, but I’ve found that caffeine is a crutch I’m just not ready to give up when I’ve got a nonsleeping toddler in the house! I still try to limit my coffee consumption to one cup of coffee or tea a day, and I start my day without coffee (but I’m naturally a morning person, so that may not work for everybody) and pour myself a cup around lunch when I start really slowing down and having trouble concentrating.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I’m more sensitive to caffeine, especially later in the day. On those days when I’m just exhausted, pouring a second cup of coffee in the afternoon is tempting, but it never seems to give me the boost I’m looking for. And it’s not that it keeps me from falling asleep at night (exhaustion makes that easy for me!), but inevitably I wake up in the middle of the night and lie in bed, still exhausted but unable to fall back asleep.

Your coffee habits will probably look different than mine, but the key is to pay attention to your reliance on caffeine and to monitor yourself so that you don’t slide into consuming more and more and more over time!

3. Plan your meals and snacks carefully.

There are plenty of natural sources of energy besides caffeine that work just as well, if not better, things like eating at a protein-rich breakfast, drinking lots of water, and snacking on an apple when your energy level starts to drop. And the most important of them all: limiting or avoiding refined sugar. This is easier said than done, as many people crave sugar and sweets when they’re tired, but I think we’re all familiar with the cycle of sugar that leaves you more tired and craving more.

4. Take naps when possible.

I know, I know. This is easier said than done for most people, but there’s something to be said for perfecting the art of the 20-minute power nap. I talked about napping in more detail already, so I’ll just reiterate that a nap really is a great strategy when you’re not getting enough sleep at night!

5. Avoid the snooze button.

Rather than falling into a pattern of waiting for the alarm to go off and hitting snooze multiple times over 30-45 minutes, set your alarm for the latest time possible and commit to getting up when it goes off. Falling back asleep multiple times just to be woken up again is exhausting, and you’ll be much more rested if you sleep solidly during that time instead.

If you have flexibility in your schedule, consider a daylight alarm or soft ambient noise alarm that allows you to wake up during the right part of your sleep cycle rather than jarring you awake in the middle of REM sleep.

6. Plan your schedule around your natural rhythms.

When are you the most energetic and alert? Plan tasks that require concentration during these times. During the times you normally feel sluggish, plan activities that get you on your feet and moving around to get your blood moving and increase your energy. In this way, you’ll be able to capitalize on your high-energy times and make use of the lower energy times rather than staring blankly at the computer screen when your body just won’t cooperate or wasting your best hours on routine tasks.

7. Be consistent.

Experts agree: one of the most important things you can do for your sleep quality is to consistently go to bed and wake up at the same times each day. By doing this, your body is able to establish a consistent circadian rhythm so you sleep more soundly as well as fall asleep and wake up more easily.

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Of course, getting enough sleep each night is still an ideal to work toward, but real life sometimes gets in the way of our ideals, and these strategies will help you make the most of the sleep you do get!

ACTIVITIES & QUESTIONS

1. Take time to honestly evaluate your sleep patterns:

  • How much sleep do you get each night?
  • Is your sleep limited by outside circumstances or your own choices?
  • Do you consistently go to bed and wake up at the same time each day?
  • Does screentime before bed affect your ability to fall asleep?
  • Does your caffeine consumption affect your sleep quality?
  • Are you relying on the snooze button each morning?

2. Choose one strategy from this list to practice this week.

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