The deadline is looming. You’re tossing and turning. So much is going through your head. Oh no, it’s already 2 a.m. The anxiety is increasing and sleep is elusive. Now it’s 3 a.m., and only four hours until the alarm goes off. This is not good.

The human body has basic needs like food, water, and sleep to keep functioning at an optimal level. So sleep is vitally important. That’s why we spend a third of our lifetime in dreamland. But why is it crucial, and what’s going on with our body while we’re sleeping?

Sleep is restorative and works as an auto-repair mechanism for the body. It also plays a critical role in memory retention and for bolstering our immune systems.


Most of us can survive without sleep for a reasonable amount of time. But studies show only sleeping between four or five hours a night makes you four times more likely to have a car accident than drivers who’ve had eight hours of sleep. Likewise, those getting less than five hours of sleep risk an almost three times greater chance of suffering a work-related mishap than colleagues who manage at least seven hours.

In 1964, a 17-year-old named Randy Gardner stayed awake for 11 days and 24 minutes without medical aids or stimulants as part of a high school science project. Gardner had help from friends who took him on long drives, blasted loud music, and made multiple trips to the donut shop. After two days, he had trouble focussing, couldn’t identify objects based on touch, and was unable to engage in tongue twisters.

Day three, he was losing his coordination and became moody. On day five, he experienced hallucinations and paranoia and began having issues with his short term memory. By the final day, his speech was slurred, with his mental acuity and attention span severely limited.

Gardner was able to make a full recovery without any long term effects, but the experiment proved even a small deprivation of sleep has big impact. Unfortunately, in today’s 24/7 world, it’s not uncommon to be faced with a night or two of no sleep. So whether it’s work or an unfortunate life circumstance, we need to figure out ways to cope if we can’t get a full night’s ZZZ’s.

So, how can you stay awake? Why isn’t coffee the best solution? What can simple breathing do to help?

Step 1: Move Your Body

Go for a walk and get some fresh air. Any activity will make you feel alert, since endorphins help to raise your heart rate and get your blood pumping. If you have time to exercise that’s even better, because scientists have found working out helps to reduce daytime fatigue.

Step 2: Drink Lots of Fluids

Although coffee is the first choice for trying to stay awake, it will only give you a temporary boost. Once the caffeine buzz is gone, it can leave you a jittery mess and, ultimately, feeling worse. The best thing is plain old H20. Even better, add a squeeze of lemon to fight any dehydration which causes sleepiness. And don’t worry about the frequent bathroom breaks, since this too will help keep you awake.

Step 3: Have a Healthy Snack

This will boost your blood sugar levels and clear out the mental cobwebs. Good proteins like nuts, peanut butter, and lean meats are great options. Also, any fresh veggies and fruits that are higher in water content will help as well. And avoid excessive sugar. You’ll get a burst of energy, but like your other friend caffeine, it will eventually let you down with an epic sugar crash.

Step 4: Keep Your Area Brightly Lit

Sunlight, fluorescents, and any bright type of light will help to keep you alert.

Step 5: Splash Cold Water on Your Face

Try dunking your head in cold water, or even better, take a cold shower to shock your system.


Step 6: Start Talking

Whether it’s just to yourself or a friend, having a chat can stimulate your brain, especially if it’s a lively debate. And don’t worry if the discussion gets too heated. Getting angry can also get the energy flowing.

Step 7: Listen to Music

Busting out some show tunes, singing, and listening to rock, pop, or dance music can help get your blood flowing and give you that extra boost.

Step 8: Breathe

Deep breathing helps oxygenate the blood supply and gets your heart rate flowing, helping with mental stimulation, performance, and overall energy. Ideally, breathe in through your nose, taking deep, full breaths. Put your hand over your belly to feel the movement and release the air through your mouth. If you can, try to get outside as lots of fresh air will be your best enlivening option.

Step 9: Pinch Yourself

Pinch yourself hard or jab yourself with a pencil. The pain will naturally ramp up your adrenaline response and you’ll be able to tackle any situation, including a lack of sleep.


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