6 Things You Should Never Do When You're Low On Sleep

For some of us, not getting enough sleep isn't a rare occurrence, and we usually have our routine to deal with feeling so overwhelmingly tired. However, a number of these coping mechanisms may actually cause us more harm than good, so it's important to know what to avoid when you're low on sleep. Taking the right steps can make you feel more energetic and awake, but go in the wrong direction, and you can end up feeling worse and even mess up your sleep cycle.

"We have become such an active society that chronic sleep restriction or deprivation is very common," says Mark Muehlbach, Ph.D., F.AASM, R.PSGT; clinical director at the Clayton Sleep Institute in St. Louis, over email. "However, reducing our hours of sleep has a significant impact on our health and wellbeing. Long-term sleep deprivation results in increased interpersonal relationship problems, increased mood swings, and increased number of work related accidents and days missed at work."

The best course of action is to stick it out through the day and get back on course at night, but sometimes it can be hard to keep from dozing off throughout the day. If you're low on sleep, try to avoid these six things, which could end up making you feel a whole lot worse.

1. Drinking Too Much Coffee

"Avoid excessive caffeine to compensate for you sleepiness," says Dr. Robert S. Rosenberg, Board-Certified Sleep Medicine Physician, over email. "This will make you more irritable and further interfere with your sleep." Caffeine messes with your body's circadian rhythms, which can affect your body's internal clock, including when you go to bed and how well you sleep.

2. Take Too Long Of A Nap

"Naps of 20 minutes are fine — in fact they can restore alertness after a sleep-deprived night for up to four hours," says Rosenberg. "However, naps of greater than 45 minutes to an hour may decrease your drive to sleep that night."

3. Vigorous Exercise

Although a brisk, short walk can help boost your energy, anything too intense or vigorous can actually be dangerous. Studies show that lack of sleep affects your cognitive and fine motor skills, which can in turn increase your risk for injury. Stick to light exercises or take a rest day.

4. Drive Long Distances

"You may not be aware, but when we are sleep deprived, our reaction times slow significantly," says Rosenberg. "In most studies done on driving simulators, participants are not aware that they are slow to step on the brakes and tend to wander outside their lanes. In fact, with four hours of sleep your driving maybe worse than someone with a .08 alcohol level."

5. Take A Test

If you've got an important test or meeting the following day, it's imperative you get some good sleep the night before. "Your ability to focus and concentrate is negatively impacted by lack of sleep," says Rosenberg. "Memory consolidation of things you studied will be impaired by lack of sleep."

6. Turn To Junk Food

"People who are sleep deprived tend to eat or snack on foods that are less healthy," says Muehlbach. Researchers from Columbia University found that junk food is more appealing when you're sleep-deprived, so you'll have to fight your instinct for unhealthy food, which could actually slow you down.

"Try to make sleep a priority," says Muehlbach. "Allow for 7 to 9 hours of sleep on a routine basis. Better sleep, better life."

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