How to improve mental alertness

How to Function on 4 Hours of Sleep

Getting 8 hours of sleep every night for optimal functioning is common knowledge. An increasing number of studies show the benefits of sleep on our mood, productivity, weight and overall health, so there’s no doubt that getting enough sleep is critical for us to perform well.

However, sometimes, 8 hours of sleep is not possible. Whether it’s a crying baby, work, or stress, there are days when we have to force our bodies to function on 4 hours of sleep or less.

Therefore, should we succumb to a day packed with restricted outcomes, mood swings, and lethargy? Probably not. Luckily, there are many ways you can power through a day, despite getting poor sleep in the night. Keep reading for some practical tips on how you can survive without barely any sleep.

How to Improve Mental Alertness on 4 Hours of Sleep

Your brain does not function at maximum levels when you don’t get enough sleep. According to brain imaging researches, sleep deprivation reduces blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, which plays a role in higher-level thought processes, such as your memory. It’s also likely that you wake up feeling groggy and moody following a miserable night’s sleep – therefore, your goal should be to overcome these symptoms to get through your day.

Sure, it’s going to be a struggle, but you can power through with the following tips until you’re finally able to enjoy the warm embrace of your comfy bed.

1) Stay Hydrated

Your body is over 60 percent water, so it relies heavily on getting fluid to function. However, drinking water whenever you feel thirsty isn’t enough – especially on days when you can’t afford to lose more energy.

Thirst is a sign that your body has already hit dehydration. One of the most common symptoms of dehydration is fatigue and impaired brain function, such as mental fog. However, sleep deprivation makes this even worse. When you’re tired, your body can feel dried out because it has to continue functioning despite not getting enough rest. This can cause to feel increasingly tired and sleepy.

Fortunately, this can be easily remedied by drinking plenty of healthy fluids throughout the day. Staying hydrated throughout the day improves your brain performance and energy levels, thus increasing your focus, problem-solving skills, and memory. According to a study from the British Psychological Society (BPS), students who bring water to exams perform better than students who don’t. To top it all off, drinking more water increases your bathroom breaks, which is an easy way to stay active and not fall asleep on your desk.

Other than keeping a reusable water bottle with you at all times, you can also increase your water intake by consuming natural drinks and water-rich foods. Coconut water, citrus fruits, berries, watermelon, and cucumber are incredibly refreshing and can help you feel more awake, without the need for coffee. Just be sure to stick to natural sources, and avoid drinks that contain sugar or unwanted chemicals.

2) Get Some Sun

Sunlight signals your mind and body to wake up. It’s an evolutionary feature among humans, which allows them to rise with the sun, and get to bed in the night. However, there’s a lot of science behind this. Sunlight contains a blue spectrum light which diminishes release of melatonin (sleep hormone) in the body. When it gets dark, the body releases more melatonin, preparing the body to fall asleep.

You may be aware that your computer screens and cellphones also release blue light, but artificial blue light in most cases isn’t as powerful as the sun. However, it is strong enough to keep you up at night. Sunlight helps set your circadian rhythm naturally, helping you wake up refreshed, and fall asleep faster in the future.

Does insufficient sleep affect your health?

Also, sunlight also increases levels of vitamin D and B in the body, which helps improve your energy levels. Spending just 5 to 10 minutes under the sun will give you enough rays to kickstart your day, improve your mood and give your immune system a much-needed boost. Sleep deprivation can have detrimental effects on our immune system, so spending some time outside and eating whole foods can help perk it up immensely.

Additionally, getting fresh air is also known to revitalize the mind and body. If you cannot step outside during work hours, try sitting next to a window. Installing high-intensity light bulbs in your bathroom can also help. However, nothing can match the fresh air, bright sun and the change of scenery you can only get outdoors.

3) Do Some Deep Breathing

Most people believe that deep breathing should exclusively be reserved for calming the body and entering zen mode. However, deep breathing can also increase the oxygen flow to your brain, helping it work better and make you feel more alert.

According to a Northwestern study, deep breathing improved cognitive function among patients, helping them be more focused and get through mental tasks at ease. Deep breathing also helps you shake off feelings of fatigue and mental block, giving you more energy.

It’s also important to note that not getting enough sleep, and staying awake when your body wants to rest, puts stress in your body. During stressful situations, you automatically start taking shallow breaths, reducing the amount of oxygen reaching your brain.

To counter the effects of stress, poor sleep, and shallow breathing, attempt to breathe in more deeply and slowly than you usually do. This will allow your breath to become smoother and more efficient, helping you reduce your tension, which may also be contributing to your fatigue.

1 Minute Deep Breathing Exercise for More Energy

Breathing and energy go hand in hand. When you breathe incorrectly, not only are your reducing your energy levels and productivity, you’re also increasing your heart rate – the same way obstructive sleep apnea accelerates your pulse as your body struggles to derive more oxygen.

Incorrect breathing puts your body under severe stress, leading to a host of issues, starting with lack of alertness, mental fog, and poor productivity levels. In the long-term, shallow breathing can increase stress levels and even contribute to anxiety, depression and sleep issues.

Yogic breathing is a tried and tested form of stress management that can be performed by anyone, anywhere – without ever entering a yoga class. Whether it is lack of sleep or increased workload that’s causing your stress, restlessness and mood swings, the following slow breathing exercise can help elevate your blood oxygen, cognition, energy levels and productivity:

  1. Inhale slowly and deeply to the count of two
  2. Exhale slowly to the count of two
  3. Inhale again to the count of two
  4. Exhale, but this time to the count of three
  5. Inhale to two
  6. Exhale to four
  7. Inhale to two
  8. Exhale to five

Repeat this cycle several times, for as long as your schedule allows and return to normal breathing. Performing this exercise every day, before going to sleep and after waking up will improve oxygen flow to your brain, making you feel more alert in the daytime and more relaxed at night. Increased focus in the daytime is crucial for your day to day performance, as it helps you stay on track, make fewer mistakes and have more me-time” later in the day.

4) Take a Cold Shower

A cold shower stimulates your body and sends shockwaves to help wake your brain and body up. Exposure to cold water, allows your body to work to bring your body temperate back to its optimum 37 degrees F. This triggers the body to expend its fat reserves, boost your metabolism and thus, increase your energy.

More obviously, cold water also wakes you up by shocking your body. Taking cold water showers multiple times a day may not seem practical, but on days you’re feeling especially fuzzy, starting your day with a cold shower can have a massive effect on how you perform later.

How to improve mental alertness with little sleep

You don’t have to spend several minutes torturing yourself, however. Just a quick 5 minute cold shower should do the trick. You can also finish your regular shower with a couple of minutes of cold water. If you’re at work, splashing some cold water on your face or placing an ice cube on your temple and wrists should do the trick.

5) Drink Cold Fluids

Having refreshing drinks such as cold-pressed juices, coconut water, lemon-infused water, or just water can have a similar internal effect on your body as a cold water shower. When you drink something cold, it immediately forces your body to bring its temperature back to normal.

Cold fluids are also refreshing and can energize your body, without the need for sugar, caffeine or other stimulants.

6) Categorize Your Tasks for the Day

If you find yourself sitting at your desk, feeling groggy and disoriented more often than you should, your best bet would be to have an action plan for all your tasks. Having a plan and writing it down will ensure that you’re on the right, despite getting insufficient sleep.

Write down all the tasks you do on a daily basis and figure out a way to group them into categories.

Here’s an example:

  • Correspondence: This category includes tasks such as making phone calls and handling emails.
  • Administrative and operational: The tasks include going through financials, negotiating contracts, reviewing forecasts, etc.
  • Collaborative: Such as team meetings.
  • Solitary creative: Coming up with new business ideas and concepts, creating a draft for your blog, getting inspired and designing plans. This category is more self-indulging and may fit better in “me-time,” but it’s important to keep it separate so that you can have a set time for it and not let it creep in late in the night, setting you up for another night of poor sleep.
  • Me Time: These are the tasks you want to do and feel like you deserve. This can include going to a coffee shop for some reading, watching your favorite TV series or documentaries, or taking some time to relax, soaking in an essential oil bath or doing some light yoga. Your “me time” deserves a slot of its own in your schedule, so be sure to have a set time for it to prevent it from keeping you up too late in the night.

After grouping your tasks, figure out how much time you should spend on each group of tasks, and when is the best time for your brain to perform each of them optimally.

7) Have a Set Schedule

Some individuals workout first thing in the morning and cannot imagine doing so at any other time of the day. This is because they’ve trained their bodies to follow a set schedule that helps them perform each task at the best time at optimum efficiency.

For example, if you rise between 7 am – 7:30 am, it may take a couple of hours for your mind to become as active as you want it to be. Instead of spending these 2-3 hours unproductively, try dedicating this time to “mindless” tasks that you have on your to-do lists, such as handling emails and phone calls.

Sleeping less and more energy

Another excellent example of utilizing your time efficiently is converting your afternoon slump into something that recharges you. For most individuals, concentrating on work, especially during after-lunch hours can be incredibly daunting. This causes us to go through several cups of coffee, increasing our chances of hitting significant fatigue earlier than we should (caffeine crash). The solution: keep this time reserved for a quick, 15-minute nap to refresh you and give you enough energy to get through your day.

On the flip side, use the hours you feel sharpest on tasks that require maximum creativity. These can include coming up with new ideas, innovations, and concepts or drafting new content for your website or blog.

8) Get Your Heart Pumping

Exercise is a great way to wake yourself up. Sure exercise may be the last thing on your mind on days you’re feeling sleep deprived and lethargic – but hear us out. Just 10 to 30 minutes of exercise is enough to release energy-boosting adrenaline, as well as feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin. This doesn’t only increase your energy levels fast but also prepares you to perform productively at work.

If you wake up not feeling refreshed on the regular, try exercising as soon as you wake up. When you perform something even as simple as a quick jog outside as soon as you wake up, you’ve already scored one accomplishment for the day. This will help you start your day on a bright note, and keep your mood and positivity up for several hours to come.

Exercise also boosts your metabolism, allowing your body to produce more energy – instead of storing it away in the form of fat. All these changes help you thrive through the day. Furthermore, exercising in the daytime will also create a healthy level of fatigue before you reach bedtime, helping you sleep more soundly through the night.

9) Avoid Having Large Meals

Steer clear of heavy meals, junk food, or processed snacks that contain massive loads of refined carbohydrates, sugar, and unhealthy fats. These foods will only make you feel drowsier. This is because large meals cause blood sugar levels to spike significantly, leading to the release of a surge of insulin to correct the imbalance. However, this causes blood sugar levels to drop beyond normal conditions – thus, resulting in the typical afternoon slump.

The solution: have smaller meals. Instead of three big meals, try having three lighter meals with enough room for snacks in the middle. Be sure to include plenty of protein, good fats and reasonable amounts of whole grains or sources of complex carbs to ensure your blood sugar remains stable throughout the day.

Protein sources, such as chicken, fish, and eggs digest slowly in the stomach, which means they release energy for longer periods. Sources of good fats, such as salmon, nuts, and seeds, olive oil and avocado are packed with mood-boosting and anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fatty acids. And complex carbs, such as quinoa, brown rice, beans, veggies, and lentils help keep you fuller for longer, ensuring that hunger doesn’t affect your mood and energy levels.

10) Snack Smart

When your body is lacking the rest and repair, it achieves during sleep, the best way you can help it is by providing it with the right fuel and keep blood sugar and insulin levels stable.

Focus on having high-protein snacks and avoid refined carbs and sugar. Even though it may feel like sugar gives you more energy, the effects are only temporary. Some examples of energy-boosting snacks include a handful of nuts and seeds, carrots with hummus, yogurt and berries, a protein shake or homemade granola bars.

If you’re in a meeting and cannot have a snack, research published in the journal, Nutritional Neuroscience suggests that popping a piece of gum can enhance your cerebral activity. Chewing on gum is a simple solution as it stimulates the brain and the study shows that it could also be linked to better mood and greater alertness. According to the study, participants had quicker reaction times, which became greater as the task became more difficult. It also increases cortisol levels and heart rate, confirming that it increases alertness and attention.

11) Change Things Up

Monotony is boring, and what’s boring does not do your waking hours any favors. Therefore, change things up throughout the day to help keep you going. Engage in brain-stimulating activities that will make you forget you’re tired, such as making phone calls, playing a quick computer game, performing a few stretches, trying that new kombucha flavor or joking around with your co-workers.

What’s interesting is that our brains tend to be more creative when we’re tired because we aren’t as focused on our ideas. Therefore, take advantage of this by writing, drawing or solving puzzles.

12) Don’t Strain Your Eyes

Your eyes are already red, swollen and tired from not getting enough sleep. Therefore, it can be incredibly difficult for them to focus solely on a computer screen and your phone for several hours during the day.

Eye strain can cause dry eyes so try using an eye lubricant to moisten your eyes and help you feel less exhausted. It also helps to make sure you take frequent breaks, looking away from the screen at a distant object so that your eyes can readjust and reduce its strain.

How can I function with little to no sleep?

The American Optometric Association suggests using the 20-20-20 exercise for eye relaxation. This exercise is simple and can be performed from your seat. Every 20 minutes, stare at something 20 feet away (this can be outside your window). Look at that object for 20 seconds and return to work.

This exercise helps reduce the effects of eye strain caused by excessive screen use, which is worsened by sleep deprivation.

13) Allow Yourself a Quick Power Nap

Taking long naps can affect your biological clock, keeping you up late in the night, but a quick power nap can be beneficial. A short 10 to 20-minute nap is enough to boost your alertness, increase your energy levels and reduce the effects of a poor night’s sleep.

A 10 to 20-minute nap helps you stay within the boundaries of your light sleep, without tapping into a deep sleep. Waking up from light sleep allows you to feel more refreshed and positive, but rising from deep sleep can cause you to feel lethargic, groggy and moody after waking. This explains that heavy-head, tired feeling you get when your naps get too long.

If you’re at work or anywhere where you can’t take a nap, you need to get creative. For example, if you drive to work, you can take a quick nap in your car during your lunch break.

14) Simplify Your Day

When you’re tired and sleep-deprived, you’re probably not at your most productive level. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to stress yourself and accomplish multiple difficult tasks on this particular day. In most cases, it’s probably okay for you to cross off just the most important tasks from your list and leave the rest for another day. Also, you can also simplify your day by delegating some of your tasks, which include both personal and professional activities.

Another way to reduce your things to do is to not drive on days you’re not well-rested. Driving while tired is not only dangerous, but traffic can also worsen your stress levels even further. Carpooling or taking public transport on such days is less risky and much more practical.

What are the Negative Effects of Sleeping only 4 Hours?

You’ve probably heard people bragging about how they can function efficiently with only 4 hours of sleep. And there may be occasions where you feel more energized when you sleep less. That’s just your body entering stress-mode, which increases your alertness temporarily.

So is 4 hours of sleep enough for one night? This is what science has to say:

  • Lack of sleep weakens your immune system and reduces antioxidant levels in your body, increasing oxidative stress and risk for chronic diseases.
  • Sleep restriction causes you to consume more foods with a higher glycemic index, especially foods containing refined carbs, sugars, and unhealthy fats. Late night snacking is a crucial contributor to weight gain and increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and early death.
  • Lack of sleep deprives your body of deep, restorative sleep, diminishing the body’s cell repair, growth and development activities.
  • Short sleepers are also four times more likely to catch a cold.

On the other hand, getting 8 hours of sleep helps improve your energy levels, positivity, metabolism, skin health, immunity, while reducing the risk of weight gain, cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Trained and Natural Sleep

It’s important to know that some people are naturally short sleepers. This means that they are genetically predisposed to sleep less, as a result of a mutation in the gene DEC2. There are thousands of people with shortened sleep genes, but just because some people can get by on 4 to 6 hours of sleep, doesn’t mean you have to try it.

Some people train their bodies to run on less sleep. While natural short sleepers tend to be more energetic and have a lower risk of getting sick, trained short sleepers are at risk of the adverse effects of poor sleep. When you don’t get enough sleep, your immune system weakens, making it easier for you to get sick.

Therefore, if you feel you don’t have to genes that will help you fulfill your tasks while skimping on sleep, don’t train yourself to sleep less. You can accomplish much more, at greater efficiency by getting 7 to 8 hours of quality shut-eye.