If you’re a law school student, you’re not going to avoid weeks where you’re getting a less-than-ideal amount of sleep. If you’re an intense overachiever or an intense procrastinator, four hours of sleep a night could even be your norm. Between readings, extracurricular activities, jobs, and obligations to friends and family, how could you avoid cutting back on sleep once in a while? Law school isn’t exactly designed to boost your health. (If you sleep like a baby every night, you’re superhuman, and everybody hates you.)
Still, even if sleep deprivation is inevitable, there are ways to get through it with relative calm and productivity. Below are some strategies that don’t involve Red Bull.
Keep your meals light
Sleeplessness can lead to a lack of self-control with regard to food. After an all-nighter, you might be tempted to drown your misery in a pint of ice cream or an entire Domino’s pizza. But when you eat heavy, greasy food — and when you eat it in massive quantities — you’re going to feel heavy and greasy. As you stare at your readings, you’re going to find yourself slowly sinking into your chair, and the urge to nap will be almost irresistible.
Plus, losing sleep is honestly pretty unhealthy. Why make things even worse for your body by eating crap? Use whatever ounce of self-control you have left to avoid junk food and eat many small meals instead of a few big ones. If you have to remove some self-control from “not snapping at people” and put it into “eating food that isn’t basically poison,” so be it. You’re a law student. People will (hopefully) understand.
There are healthy ways to deal with cravings. Want something sweet? Treat yourself to non-lame fruits like strawberries, watermelon, or mango. Dip the pieces in honey. Feeling the need for something fatty? Try avocado, Greek yogurt, or peanut butter. Need a salty snack? Roasted and salted nuts are your friend. I’m not going to say that this stuff is just as tasty as junk food because because that’s a blatant lie; junk food is basically cocaine.
Basically, lay off food that will leave you sleepy and snack on the healthy stuff. Once you finish your work, you can celebrate with an entire box of Oreos. (Or cocaine. Whatever, it’s your life.)
Let’s be clear: Not all naps are created equal. “Naps are actually more complicated than we realize,” University of Pennsylvania sleep scientist David Dinges told the Wall Street Journal. “You have to be deliberative about when you’re going to nap, how long you’re going to nap, and if you’re trying to use the nap relative to work or what you have coming up.”
So, what should your naps look like if you’re just trying to slog through some work? What you want to avoid is sleep inertia, i.e. that bleary post-sleep feeling. A 10- to 20-minute nap will make you more alert without leaving you groggy. A 60-minute nap will help you remember facts, but it’s a risky affair, because waking up groggy might tempt you to ditch your work and continue sleeping. A 90-minute nap takes you through a full sleep cycle, and it would help you think more creatively and leave you with minimal sleep inertia. But you probably don’t have time for that, do you? You’re just trying to muddle through.
In all cases, Dinges recommends napping partially upright to make waking up less difficult. Drinking coffee right before napping could also stave off that “where am I, and what just happened?” feeling.