A woman with long hair sips from a white mug while looking to her left. She is wearing a blue shirt and is seated by a window, with soft sunlight illuminating her face and the background. Her calm demeanor suggests she has just finished an insightful leadership development session.

Getting a full night’s sleep can, on occasion, feel like a luxury rather than a necessity. Whether you’re burning the midnight oil to meet a deadline, juggling personal responsibilities, or simply finding it hard to catch those elusive Z’s, sometimes we have to perform at our best on minimal sleep (heck, I’m facing one right now, thanks to a thunderstorm and a noisy puppy). Here are some quick tactics to help you stay sharp and productive, plus some deeper strategies to enhance your sleep quality over time.

Quick Tactics for Peak Performance on Minimal Sleep

Light Up Your Day

Getting some exposure to natural light first thing in the morning can help reset your body’s clock, boost your mood, and increase alertness. This simple step can help you feel more awake and energized even on little sleep. Make it part of your morning routine to go outside first thing and enjoy a little sunshine for about 15-20 minutes and you’ll find yourself perking right up. Alternatively, get a sun lamp, a special lamp that mimics natural sunlight.

Prioritize Your Tasks

Every time I talk with my clients about improved productivity, I suggest that they pay close attention to identifying their peak productivity time of day. Some people ar most alert in the mornings, while others are more awake in the afternoon or evening. For example, I’m very much a middle-of-the-day kind of person and function best if I do brain-intensive tasks between 11:00 AM and 5:00 PM. Once you’ve gotten clarity on when your brain is best suited to specific kinds of tasks, then take a look at your tasks and assign yourself tasks that match your brain state.

Identify the tasks that require the most focus and tackle them when you feel most alert (this is often in the morning for many people). Save less intensive tasks that require less brain power for when your energy starts to fade.

Stay Hydrated

Dehydration can increase feelings of tiredness. Start your day with a glass of water to jump-start your systems – this is true every day, but even more important on days when you’re especially tired. Keep a water bottle handy and sip throughout the day to stay hydrated and help maintain energy levels. Don’t worry about that old “eight glasses of water a day” adag. There’s no research to back up that recommendation at all. That said, most of us don’t hydrate nearly enough anyway, and hydration is key to health and vitality, as well as brain function, so drink more than you think you need.

Power Nap

I wish I was better at napping, but I’m honestly terrible at it. However, I still frequently recommend naps to my clients. A short nap of around 20-30 minutes can significantly boost your alertness and performance. Be sure not to nap too late in the day, because doing so could interfere with your nighttime sleep.

Move Around

Physical activity can increase blood flow and oxygen to your brain, helping you feel more awake. You don’t need to do much to get the blood blowing. Take short, brisk walks, run in place at your desk, or do some light stretching to combat sleepiness. If you’re really tired right now, get up and move!

Mind Your Nutrition

I’ve learned to be very careful with what I eat during my workdays. If I eat too many simple carbs like chips or sweets, for example, my brain will be mush for working with clients, so I save those foods for late in the day after my client sessions and meetings are over. Opt for meals and snacks that combine proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates throughout your workday for sustained energy. Avoid heavy meals and high-sugar snacks that can lead to energy crashes.

Practice Mindfulness or Meditation

A brief mindfulness or meditation session can help reduce stress and improve cognitive function, making it easier to focus despite being tired. Even just five minutes of a meditation practice can make a big difference when you’re tired.

A workspace with an open laptop, showing a blurred screen, sits on a wooden desk. In front of the laptop, a silver pen rests on an open notebook—a perfect setting for leadership development notes. A white mug, a small vase with flowers, and a glass jar with a black lid are placed to the right.Deeper Strategies for Better Sleep

While the tactics above can help you manage the occasional sleep-deprived day, they’re not a substitute for quality sleep. Here’s how to build a foundation for better sleep:

Read My “Manifesto” on Sleep

Several years ago, my hormones shifted and I developed insomnia. Of course, I sought counsel from my doctor, who got me on HRT right away, which helped tremendously. However, I still experienced some sleep disruption, so I dove into the research and then put everything I’d learned into a blog post about sleep. You should read it.

Establish a Sleep Routine

Our circadian rhythms (that internal clock that regulates sleep and wake cycles) need consistency. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (even on weekends) can help regulate your body’s internal clock and improve the quality of your sleep. Sometimes we resist setting a bedtime because it makes us feel like children, and as kids, we often railed against bedtimes. But as adults, it’s very worthwhile. And, it can be challenging to adhere to a set schedule, but the payoff is fantastic.

Wind Down

Develop a pre-sleep routine that helps signal to your body it’s time to wind down. This could include reading, taking a warm bath, or practicing relaxation exercises.

In our household, we have a set time that we start our pre-sleep routine. Our routine includes standard things like washing faces and brushing teeth, but we wrap up our routine with something a bit unusual: meditation while lying on acupressure mats. By the time we’re done, we’re positively groggy and very ready for sleep.

Create a Restful Environment

Ensure your bedroom is conducive to sleep—cool, dark, and quiet. Consider using earplugs, an eye mask, or white noise machines to block out disruptions. A fun suggestion: listen to the sounds of a crackling fire. There’s some interesting research that talks about how a crackling fire is a sound that brings comfort to many people. It harkens back to a time when we lived tribally, and if you could hear the sounds of the fire, it would indicate that all was safe and well.

Limit Screen Time

Exposure to blue light from screens can interfere with your ability to fall asleep. Aim to disconnect from electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime, minimum. Some research suggests that you disconnect earlier. One exception: if you like to read before bed, like I do, then you can still use an e-reader. I recommend that you put the background on black and use the dimmest possible setting to prevent issues from the screen time.

Mind Your Intake

Avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime, as they can disrupt your sleep cycle. In fact, most recommendations suggest no caffeine within 8 hours of bedtime. And alcohol might seem to have a sedative effect, but while it might help you go to sleep, alcohol will actually disrupt your sleep cycle, causing you to wake up in the middle of the night and struggle to go back to sleep. Similarly, try not to eat large meals within a couple of hours of going to sleep.

Seek Professional Advice

If you consistently struggle with sleep, it may be worth consulting a healthcare provider. They can help identify any underlying issues and recommend appropriate treatments or interventions.

While we all have those days where we must make do with less sleep than we’d like, employing quick tactics can help us remain productive and alert. However, these are merely band-aids on a larger issue. Investing time and effort into establishing healthy sleep habits is crucial for our long-term wellbeing and performance. By prioritizing sleep just as we do other aspects of our health, we can improve not only our productivity but our overall quality of life.

Remember, sleep is not a luxury—it’s a fundamental component of our health. By treating it with the importance it deserves, we can enjoy greater energy, clarity, productivity, and joy in our daily lives.

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