Can You Be Productive on 5 Hours of Sleep?

Have you ever gotten poor to little sleep, then when your alarm goes off, you’re left wondering: “Can I even function on this much sleep…or lack thereof?” For example, just how productive can you be on five hours of sleep? 

Only receiving five hours of sleep will have no initial effect on performance or productivity, although the ability to refocus once focus is lost will be severely compromised. For that reason, the National Sleep Foundation recommends you get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. 

So while five hours of sleep isn’t recommended, you can get through the day with little to no issues if you’re able to stay focused. Read on for some tips and strategies to maintain focus on less than ideal sleep!

Can You Be Productive on 5 Hours of Sleep?

It is okay to run on five hours or less sleep every once in a while. However, lack of sleep consistently can lead to negative side effects. These effects get worse the longer we operate at a deficit. 

Some of these effects include but aren’t limited to:

  • Fatigue
  • Lack of Concentration
  • Forgetfulness
  • Anxiety
  • Hallucinations (in extreme cases)

In most cases, simply sleeping the recommended amount will correct any negative effects brought on from sleep deprivation. 

How Much Sleep is Required to Be Productive?

As a general rule, the National Sleep Foundation recommends between seven and nine hours of sleep, but that isn’t a one-size-fits-all rule. Below is a table with the recommended amount of sleep based on the developmental stages of life:

Life StageRecommended Sleep Range
Newborn14-17 hours
Infant12-15 hours
Toddlers11-14 hours
Preschoolers10-13 hours
School-age children9-11 hours
Teenagers8-10 hours
Young Adults7-9 hours
Adults7-9 hours
Older Adults7-8 hours

(Source: Healthline)

Looking at the table above, we can see that not only does the recommended amount of sleep change depending upon age but that at every age, it is a general range of hours. This shows that not everyone is the same, and what works for some may not work for others. 

With that being said, let’s look at ways you can set yourself up for success if you do happen to be running on a lack of sleep. 

How to Stay Productive on 5 Hours of Sleep

Let’s face it; there will be days where you’re not going to get the recommended amount of sleep. So what can we do on those days to help us get through the day and remain productive? 

Here are several tips that can help stave off the side effects of sleep deprivation:

  1. Exercise: While it’s a good idea to maintain a consistent exercise schedule throughout your week, exercising on days you’ve gotten less than adequate sleep can kickstart your day and allow you to stay ahead of that initial fatigue.
  2. Cold Shower: A cold shower can stimulate your mind and body by putting your body in a fight or flight mode. This awakening aspect of the cold shower makes it perfect for those difficult mornings. 
  3. Coffee: There’s a reason this is drink is a staple in most American households. Caffeine is proven to increase our mental alertness and concentration. The FDA recommends we keep our intake to no more than 400mg of caffeine a day, roughly equivalent to 4 cups. So if the first cup wears off, you’re safely allowed up to three more! And, caffeine doesn’t just exist in coffee; any caffeinated drink will do the trick. 
  4. Get your work done in the morning: Studies have shown that the brain is most active in the morning (sleep-deprived or not). So even if you are missing a few hours of sleep, prioritizing your most important tasks for the morning will set you up for success, especially if the rest of your morning is coupled with the above tactics. 
  5. Take a walk: A change of scenery is good. As we mentioned, the biggest danger of sleep deprivation is once you lose focus, it’s hard, if not impossible, to regain your concentration once it’s lost. Taking a walk can break up a monotonous task, allowing your mind a chance to recover before it loses focus. If you’re able to take this walk outside, even better, as sunlight will help restore your energy.  

How to Stay Focused with 5 Hours of Sleep

In the above section, we mentioned some tips for staying on track. However, one of the unfortunate side effects of sleep deprivation is that you might not even notice you’re underperforming. 

Ultimately to stay productive while experiencing a lack of sleep, we need to stay focused. Here is a list of things to avoid/implement if you’re running on a lack of sleep, as they could act as triggers for a distraction. Because, again, if you lose focus while sleep-deprived, it’ll be almost impossible to get that focus back.

Limit Technology

These days, technology is either a blessing or a curse. When you’re running on less than ideal sleep, it’s most likely a curse. With all the different types of social media, news, and entertainment being more accessible than ever, the chances to be drawn into a distraction is high. 

One simple way to avoid this (if able) is to limit your exposure to technology as much as possible while you’re running on little to no sleep. If you do need to access your devices (phones, tablets, etc.), perhaps set a timer to avoid going down a rabbit hole.

Make a To-Do List

This is a simple fix to the common problem of losing direction. Often, we have the end goal in mind but need to figure out how to get there. When we’re running low on sleep, this lack of direction can become overwhelming and can cause many of us to either procrastinate or avoid starting a task at all. 

Breaking up the end goal into smaller, easier to achieve tasks can go a long way in maintaining productivity. 

Don’t Power Through

This is another way to say take a break. Research shows that human beings can only maintain a state of focus for periods between 90 and 120 minutes. 

That’s on a good day. Even on these days, you may find yourself able to work beyond those limits, but your productivity is without a doubt taking a hit as your focus is gradually chipped away. 

With a good night’s sleep, you’ll be able to rely on brainpower to push you through, even if it’s less productive than the initial 120 minutes. However, with only five hours of sleep, your ability to maintain any level of productivity after that 90 to 120-minute mark is almost impossible without a break.

Final Thoughts

You really can be productive with 5 hours of sleep, just as you would if you got 7 to 9 hours. You may have a few extra challenges to face throughout the day, but with proper preparation and some healthy habits, you won’t miss a beat. 

However, remember: while you can be productive on 5 hours of sleep, it shouldn’t be a habit because potentially, you could experience adverse effects such as anxiety, forgetfulness, and fatigue.

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The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this article are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this article. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this article. disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this article. 

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