I have to start by admitting something to you: one of the building blocks of my good days has gone astray. (No, not because of Brexit, though that’s not helping.) The truth is, I’ve been short of sleep recently – and if statistics are anything to go by, there’s a more than 1-in-3 chance you have been, too. Which is a shame, given how sleep deprivation undermines us. When our brain is starved of the rest it needs, we reduce our intellectual capacity and flexibility, and our emotional resilience takes a hit too. Bluntly: we’re dumber and less delightful.
Knowing all that, I work hard to make sure I get my quota. I practically wrap myself in blackout fabric for eight hours a night. But sometimes life intervenes. You might have a baby who’s not sleeping through the night. In my case, it started with a hotel room overlooking noisy overnight roadworks. And even though I know the research, it was still startling to notice how quickly I lost my sense of humor, and how tasks that should have taken an hour ended up stealing half a day (further reducing my giggle rate).
If that sounds familiar, what can you do? Should you just power through?
When we’re truly, madly, deeply interested in what we’re doing, research suggests that it is possible to hold it together for short periods of time. So it can be helpful to ask yourself: “what’s really amazing about what I’m doing right now?”
But there are limits to how far that can take you, unless you’re able to sustain a state of perpetual fascination. So it helps to be savvy about the effects of short sleeping on your brain, and to adjust accordingly. For example, I know that my self-control will be limited until I give my brain time to recharge. So as well as prioritizing tasks that I enjoy, I’m majoring on things that demand minimal cleverness but that still need to be done (e.g. admin, yay, admin). I’m doing what I can do defer difficult work for a day or two.
I’m also injecting a few proven mental and emotional energy boosters into my day. (Beyond coffee, I mean, though mine’s a large Americano, thank you.) I’m trying to walk as much as I can, knowing that research has found even a small dash of aerobic activity can sharpen my focus and lift my mood. Evidence suggests that naps are surprisingly effective, and I’m getting better and bolder at grabbing the chance to take them. (I even canceled a meeting to get one in.) I’m amping up my gratitude by reflecting on small pleasures, and I’m trying to be extra nice to strangers. These short-term tactics aren’t as good as getting that all-important great night’s sleep, but they’re definitely helping me while I take steps to catch up – and they’ll probably help you. The strangers involved seem moderately happy about it, too.