How to Win at Life (Even When You Don’t Get 8 Hours of Sleep)

Written by Chaunie Brusie, RN, BSN on July 18, 2017

how to get through the day on no sleep

A funny thing happens when you don’t get enough sleep: Your mind begins to play cruel jokes on you. It’s suddenly tempting you to eat all the donuts and cookies in sight. You need carbs just to comfort your cold, exhausted soul. You also start to snap at the ones you love, and you fantasize about diving into your bedsheets above all else.

Sleep is Queen. But so is paying the bills. Don’t worry, you can get through the day. Here’s some heart-to-heart advice from some pretty powerful women about winning at life, even when you don’t win at sleep.

Focus on your why

sleep deprived

Michelle Lentz, 31, a police officer with the Greenville Police Department in South Carolina, had to work overtime during protests that occurred. At the time, she was still breastfeeding her 7-month-old daughter. “That was also my first experience with having to skip a pumping session because of work, and it was not comfortable, especially while wearing a ballistic vest,” she says.

And despite the fact that she was exhausted and couldn’t even rely on coffee to help her function, she says focusing on the important work she was doing helped keep her going.

“I hope to inspire in my daughter (and future children) that being honest and hardworking are great traits in any profession, whether it’s law enforcement, accounting, or otherwise,” explains Lentz. “I hope that she never feels that she’s incapable of a job because she’s a female, and that I can show her how to be successful at anything she puts her mind to,” she says.

Darn it, I guess that’s a pretty good reason for skimping on sleep here and there.

Have no shame about doing what you gotta do to survive

There’s no sugarcoating some realities of living on the night shift. For example, Clair McLafferty, 28, is a Birmingham, Alabama-based bartender at The Marble Ring and author of “The Classic & Craft Cocktail Recipe Book.” She says that her job is “brutal” on her body.

The physical and emotional tolls of dealing with people and their problems — at times when most people are sleeping — isn’t an easy task. McLafferty finds that it takes a lot of work to calm her brain down after a shift.

She tries to connect with loved ones and friends for lunch dates, but has found that when it comes to doing what she has to do to recover and make it through her hectic schedule (she’s also a writer and math tutor), she has no qualms about claiming her alone time.

“Spending significant amounts of time with people can be difficult,” McLafferty explains. “Though I’m a bartender, I’m actually a very extroverted introvert, so a night of nonstop movement and professional social interaction can be draining.”

The day after a shift, she prefers to spend most of her time alone doing activities that don’t require anything above the bare minimum of human interaction. Even though it makes it difficult to maintain relationships, she says it’s important to recognize what you need to do to survive when you’re running on little sleep.

Just say ‘screw it’

screw it

Galia Peled, 57, from Detroit, is a woman who knows what sleep deprivation is. Not only does Peled have six children of her own, she’s a nurse-midwife who’s dealt with hundreds of births in the middle of the night over her 25-year career. (Babies don’t care if you’re tired, let’s be real.)

Peled, who’s lived in Jerusalem since 1977, has a rather unconventional — but what she says is effective — way for dealing with life while having a job that requires basically no consistent sleep schedule whatsoever:

You just say screw it and accept that this is your life.

After starting work as a midwife after the birth of her second child, she started on a crazy ride where she “never felt much balance.” She’d work all night, try to sleep a little before picking up her kids up from school or daycare by 1 p.m., then feed them.

Those years were a blur spent trying to survive. The exhausted mother and dedicated nurse-midwife fell asleep several times driving home after work, even driving off the road once.

“There was a lot of stress for many years,” Peled explains. Unfortunately, there was no easy solution to her problem. She couldn’t sleep enough because the reality of her life and job wouldn’t let her. But she loved both, so she finally says she had a breakthrough moment.

“I finally came to accept that lack of sleep would not kill me,” she explains. “My biological clock was irreparably damaged, but that was OK and I would survive! Once I accepted it and didn’t fight it, it was easy sailing.”

She went on learning to adjust to sleeping three to four hours, with sometimes even that small amount being interrupted. She stopped picking fights with her husband because she was cranky. “When I accepted it, I started to flow and everything got better,” she says simply.

Focus on the basics

focus on basics

Listen, when you’re barely getting through the day and you’ve reached that I’m-so-freaking-tired-even-my-bones-are-tired stage (if you’ve been there, you know exactly what I’m talking about), you need to celebrate the small wins in life. Things like the feel of fresh sheets, a good hot meal, and, um, brushing your teeth?

“I know it sounds gross, but I was always tempted to forgo brushing my teeth because I was too tired,” admits Peled. So, on those mornings when she did remember to brush her teeth, she gave herself the congratulations she deserved. “I always was so happy I brushed my teeth,” she says. “That was my little concession to self-care.”

It really is the little things, right?

Make it a goal to feel slightly less awful

small goals to feel better

Maybe a perfectly balanced wake-sleep cycle will never happen in the stage of life you’re in right now. Sometimes you’re just not getting enough sleep and there’s no real way around it at the moment. But you can focus on some ways it can suck just a little bit less.

“When I worked overnights, I never felt like I was living a balanced life,” admits Mary Justine Sauer of her time working in a mental health hospital when she was 25. “No matter how much sleep I got, I still felt like I was living in a perpetual fog of exhaustion.”

Still, the health worker-turned-writer from Kansas City, Missouri, says she focused on figuring out the key things she needed that made a difference in “not feeling the worst every day.” Little things helped immensely, like eating light meals overnight instead of carbs and sugar and treating her mornings like a bedtime routine by reading a little or taking a warm shower.

She may not have been ready to tackle the world, but at least she could tackle the day feeling just a teeny bit better.

Make like the Energizer Bunny and just keep moving

energizer bunny

Pauline Campos, 39, is a Twin Cities, Minnesota-based mom of a 10-year-old. Her daughter has ADHD, anxiety, and insomnia, and all of them keep her from ever getting enough sleep. Campos eventually made the decision to just roll with it.

“I tell people that ADHD is my superpower,” she says. “I rarely get the sleep I need, and anytime I try to implement a scheduled bedtime, the universe laughs and I suddenly have a deadline requiring an all-nighter.”

The freelance writer also home-schools her daughter, so her work is often limited to the middle of the night when her daughter is sleeping. If she finds that her work is keeping her up past 4 a.m., she says that’s when she makes the decision to just stay awake all through the next day.

“I use momentum to keep moving forward, and try to sit still as little as possible,” Campos says. “If I stay focused on what I need to do, I can keep going until I can try for a better night’s sleep. Basically, I’m the Energizer Bunny, except there aren’t any batteries involved.”

Bam, enough said. To survive life on little sleep, perhaps just make like the Energizer Bunny and keep going. Just don’t forget to recharge your batteries once in a while, OK?


Chaunie Brusie

Chaunie Brusie is a registered nurse with experience in critical care, long-term care, and labor and delivery nursing. She lives in Michigan with her family and loves traveling, reading, writing, and hanging out with her four young kids. She gladly cleans up dinner every night because her husband is a fabulous cook and she once famously ruined frozen pizza. She blogs about motherhood, freelance writing, and life at chauniebrusie.com

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