How to stay productive with not enough sleep

This is what works for me to stay productive when I haven’t had enough sleep. Everyone is different, and has a different level of energy and sleep requirements. For some people, pumping caffeine works. But the goal is to move as close to the ideal circadian rhythm as possible; i.e. wake up at or before sunrise, wind down at sunset.

Front Loading

The secret is front loading the most important task of the day. Get it done when you still have energy, as little as it may be. If you drink coffee or green tea, it’s best to use that bump in energy before it runs out. Do not keep consuming caffeine to keep the energy going. If you do, it will mess up your sleep cycle and tomorrow you’ll feel even worse.

Do not work heavy machinery when you have not slept enough. By front loading the most important task, I mean tasks that do not require a well rested brain’s full concentration. As a writer, I write my 500-1000 new words as early in the day as possible. I cook breakfast and make a serving of coffee, and get to work. What really helps the brain use the little energy it has, is to put on noise cancelling headphones with some instrumental music or frequency beats. 20Hz seems to work for me. I tend to get very easily distracted by background noise when I haven’t slept well. My dog moving around, or a neighbor’s mower will set me off.

Second tier

Then, I move to my second tier level. These are tasks that require less energy, creative or physical. Using my writer example again, this is editing, checking the status of my beta readers, posting on social media, researching, and catching up on emails.


Usually, at around this time you should take a break for lunch. Usually, when we have a less than perfect sleep, we will crave the worst food possible. Fight this urge. What you need is protein, fats, and drink only water. Avoid sugar like the plague. Avoid processed foods. These tenants you should probably follow every single day, but the less we sleep the more inclined we are to make bad choices, specially with things that are right at our fingertips, like food.

The afternoon tiredness

If you want to and can, a 15-30 minute nap is advisable here. But only for that amount of time and only before 3:00 PM. Yoga Nidra helps here, as well.

At this time it is good to do even less intense tasks. Walking the dog, watching a short video, journaling, reading, drinking plenty of water. If you get any ideas for writing, leave a note for tomorrow. Careful to not get lost in binging too much of one thing. If you do that, you will be snoozing before you know it, and you will spend another insomniac night.


It’s not the end of the world. You didn’t get enough sleep. You see your sleep tracking apps and it says 4 hours and all the circles are red. Don’t despair. Not all is lost. Follow these simple guidelines and bend them to your liking. Always think forward and make decisions today which will make tomorrow better.


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