How to get through work when you are sleep deprived

We are the underworld of the workforce. If you are blessed with the ability to sleep (lucky you!), then you’ll have no idea what I am talking about - but for the rest of us sleep-deprived mortals - lack of sleep can become a big gnarly focus for life and a hindrance to work performance.

As I write this, I’ve been on a 4am bender. It’s not a cool club to belong to. Despite the huge numbers of people in the club, it’s very anti-social. And quite frankly, there is only so much talking to yourself in the middle of the night that you can stomach.

So how do we function at our best when we have had no sleep? Here are a few ideas: Own it but don’t let it own you

Letting insomnia rule you is easy to do (I speak from experience here!). You’re tired and depleted and you don’t have the energy to do anything, especially have your work game-face on.

So you need good routines and habits around food, exercise, coffee rules (welcome to the no coffee post 12-noon club) to keep you in a steady state. Crucially, when we are sleep deprived the first things to go are the most important - good food and exercise are supplemented with additional coffee and muffins. We seek comfort in the short term pick me ups at the expense of the things that will keep you in health so fight the temptation and grab a walk and a salad instead.

For me, a good doctor, melatonin and always having a good book on my kindle are crucial. Managing my stress levels when I am awake during the night is paramount and I’ve found that reading a good book really helps.

While you need a plan around how to manage the habits that support sleep, it is important that you don’t focus on sleep at all costs because that is going to stress you out! Hatch a plan

Some days there will be no choice in what you have to do at work (think giving presentations, going for an interview, asking for a pay rise or a meeting with the crucial client).

On these days you must accept that you need to be at your best, and you’ve had no sleep. For me - remembering the times when I’ve had a big day at work and I’ve smashed it out despite not having slept is important. If I could do it then, I can certainly do it now and so can you.

If you do get to dictate how you spend your time and focus at work, then creating a list of light relief (or natural inclination) tasks really helps. For me, that is the creative stuff like writing blogs, reviewing marketing plans or thinking about how we can do things better.

It’s a bit weird, but I find that when I am tired I become more creative, so I’ve learned to embrace that too.

I’m an introvert, so when I’m lacking sleep and low on energy the last thing I want to do is catch up with loads of people but some people find their light relief task is having that coffee catch up you’ve been putting off.

Whatever it is, work out what your light relief tasks are the things that need doing, are important and work with your current state. Form a support network

Depending on your relationship with your boss and workmates, I would recommend letting them in on your sleep-deprived secret.

As a manager , I can better understand why someone’s not on their A-game if I know they’ve got sleep struggles and I can manage them accordingly; and as a work-mate and leader, I think it is good to show vulnerability and reality. We aren’t robots, we’ve all got our own stuff going on and I think a strong team is one that flexes with the states and capabilities of its people. In sharing your sleep issues, you also create an environment where it is okay to share and that is a powerful thing. Don’t forget that your boss is a human too and might have had the same struggles as you!

There are many workplaces now that are helping its people with their day to day struggles. If they have an awareness of sleep issues, and frankly this is a health and performance issue, then many organisations can put in place flexible hours to help you get the sleep and support you may need. Ignore the negatives

People seem to love to tell me how red my eyes are when I haven’t slept. So instead of letting it get to you, have a bit of fun with it. I’ve just told the 20-year-old barista that I’ve been out partying until 6 am and now he is thinking that I am slightly mad instead of how red my eyes are.

No one ever felt better about themselves because you told them how tired or rubbish they look. So be kind and remember that everyone is on a journey. Chances are, they probably already know they look like a sack of spuds! Perspective

Maintaining perspective is crucial because when you are lacking sleep, you tend to lose all perspective. The small issues become massive at 2am.

The small work issues at 11am become more annoying than they would normally be if you’d had a decent night’s rest.

So really focus on keeping perspective. I know that the night after a sleepless night will be a great night’s sleep, so I look forward to that.

So if you do struggle with sleep remember:

  • You are not alone

  • You can manage on little sleep and still do a great job

  • You need to put ‘steady state’ plans in place

  • You need to share in order to gain support

  • This will pass and you will get through it.

This post was originally published on the Consult blog.

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