How to keep going when you’re brain-dead exhausted

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I’ll admit, I’m writing this post as much for me as for you. For several reasons, I’ve been getting a lot less sleep than I want or need lately.

But life goes on, and there’s work to be done. And I know I’m not alone here.

So how do we power through the fatigue?

Well, first of all, I probably should offer some health-related caveats.

  • Anything I suggest here isn’t a substitute for healthy, sufficient sleep. These are essentially tips for getting through the day when you’re exhausted and taking time off (from work, from childcare, etc.) just isn’t an option.
  • Obviously it’s much better for your physical and mental health to get a healthy amount of sleep each night (usually 7-9 hours for the average person, though some people need a little less or more). If you’re dealing with chronic, debilitating insomnia, please speak to a health professional about it!

Now that that’s settled…

If you already had a bad (or no) night’s sleep and you’re just trying to get through the day, here are some dos and don’ts.

Photo by Aphiwat chuangchoem on


  • Take a cold shower. This might wake you up better than coffee!
  • Perform triage on your tasks for the day. Let go of what is unnecessary or unsafe. For example, could you take a carpool or Uber to work instead of driving yourself? Can another coworker take charge of that morning meeting while you offer support from the sidelines?
  • If you have a desk job, get up and move occasionally. This might be the last thing you want to do, but it can help clear your mind and give you a little energy boost.
  • Stay hydrated with plenty of water. Plus, the added trips to the bathroom may keep you moving and wake you up!
  • Change your routine somehow. Monotony is the enemy of energy.
  • Get natural light, and even go outside, whenever possible. You might work near a window or take your lunch outside. This can help you feel more awake and restore your natural circadian rhythm.
  • Fuel your body with healthy snacks throughout the day. Fruits, vegetables, and protein can help you power through the day.
  • Take note of your environment and see if you can change the lighting, temperature, or noise levels to something that may help your fatigue. For example, better lighting can reduce eye strain.
  • Listen to upbeat, enjoyable music, if your work allows.
  • Chew minty gum. No, really.
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  • Make important decisions if you can help it. Fatigue can seriously cloud your judgment. Whenever possible, wait until you’re more rested!
  • Rely too heavily on caffeine and other stimulants. I know, easier said than done, but too much will only make it harder to sleep the next night. If you must have caffeine, consume it in moderation (three cups or less all day), and not after 3 p.m.
  • Consume a lot of sugar. Not only is it bad for your overall health, it can cause an energy crash.
  • Eat a big breakfast or lunch. This can make you even sleepier when your body starts to digest it. Instead, eat smaller meals more often.
  • Try to do too much in the early afternoon (again, if you can help it). This is a low-energy time for a lot of people.
  • Take a long nap. A power nap of 20 minutes may help, but anything more could throw off your circadian rhythm and interfere with your sleep that night.
  • Drink alcohol at the end of an exhausting day. You may think it helps you sleep, but it creates lower-quality sleep.

Not all these tips will work for everyone. For example, naps often make me feel worse, but short exercise breaks, like a quick walk, are helpful.

Have you tried any of these? Which ones worked (or didn’t) for you?

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