How to Function at Work Without Sleep

how to function at work without sleep Whether you had to pull an all-nighter for work, you’ve got a baby, or you were just having too much fun, the worst part of being up all night is the workday that follows — so you’re lucky that we’ve got tips for you on how to function at work without sleep.

In the past we’ve also covered how to find out why you’re tired all the timehow to nap at work, how to deal with insomniahow to use makeup to fake a good night’s sleep, and how to use the right foods for energy to survive the workday.

Here are 10 tips for how to function at work with no sleep:

  1. Wear a really safe outfit for work. In some fields this may be a navy or gray suit, but it may also be that simple sheath or shift dress you love, or another outfit you’ve worn before and love.
  2. Don’t eat a huge meal for lunch — you’ll probably bring on a food coma. During the day, eat several small, healthy snacks to keep your energy up.
  3. In fact, don’t eat too many simple carbs and sugary foods at all. Too many carbohydrates will likely bring on blood sugar crashes, exactly what you don’t want. Protein is a great food for prolonged energy throughout the workday: nuts, string cheese, etc.
  4. Warn your coworkers that you didn’t sleep well the night before — let them know you might not be yourself and that you’re likely to be cranky and less productive. (This depends on your office and your relationships with your colleagues, of course.)
  5. Go outside as much as possible, even if it’s just a few minutes of standing in the sun (or lack of sun). Walks are even better.
  6. Caffeinate wisely. Here’s an infographic (from the Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee, which I now know exists) of sources of caffeine, ranging from filtered coffee (60 to 135 mg) to tea (20 to 45 mg) to hot chocolate (2 to 7 mg of caffeine). If you’re not a regular coffee drinker, know that a cup of coffee will start to make you more alert in about a half an hour and the effect will last for about four hours. Here’s our recent post on the best teas (and check out the reader comments as well). The types of tea in decreasing order of caffeine content are black, green, and white.
  7. Try to avoid any high-stakes projects. Your decision-making skills and attention to detail will probably not be up to par, and you don’t want to pay for it later if you do something irreversible.
  8. Don’t rush — take your time with your work. You’re already going to be more prone to making mistakes, so don’t make it worse by doing your work too quickly. Double-check your conclusions, calculations, recommendations, etc. Proofread your emails carefully. Consider having a coworker proofread your writing or check your numbers if you’re worried. (This may be something regularly offered by your in-house librarian or Steno team.)
  9. Drink lots of water. Stay ahead of dehydration, which will make you feel worse than you already do. (Bonus: You’ll be forced to get up off your chair for frequent bathroom trips, which will get you moving and boost your energy a bit.)
  10. Take a power nap if possible. We shared lots of tips on how to nap at work a few years ago. Don’t forget to set an alarm!

And, a bonus 11th tip for how to function at work with no sleep:

  1. Feel a little more confident by using Kat’s recent makeup recommendations for faking a good night’s sleep. If you don’t look like death, maybe you can try to pretend you don’t feel like it.

Readers, what are your best tips for being able to function at work the day after an all-nighter? What work mishaps have happened to you after not getting any sleep?

how to function at work with no sleep | How to get through the day at work without sleepPicture credit: Pexels (mug at top); Stencil (pin at bottom).

11 ways to get through a workday with little to no sleep | how to function at work without sleep | ways to get through the workday with no sleep



  1. Anonymous :

    I work in a small center and I am one of the few and probably the most senior woman of colour working in law. I run my own practice – I don’t want to get into the history but I have encountered a lot of racism in town, from both men and women and I might be a bit overly sensitive about this particular issue.

    I work in a niche area and I find that I have come to know a lot more about that area than a lot of local lawyers since that is all I do. For a while it was pretty normal for other women of colour to ask to meet for lunch for help on something or just to talk and I was happy to do that. It wasn’t a huge amount of time being spent, the question was usually something small and they were okay with working with my schedule.

    This week though I’ve had two requests for significant assistance on files from junior, white lawyers. They were both immediate type requests and there was no offer of payment or buying me lunch or even a please. One was someone who I’ve never met who was apparently referred to me. I politely suggested to both that they talk to a more senior lawyer at their firm and one in particular was very offended that I didn’t want to spend an hour for free assisting him.

    I talked it over with another lawyer and they figured I this was something I should be flattered by – that these people see me as an expert and are asking me for advice and I should as a professional courtesy help them out. I instead feel that if they actually respected me they would offer to pay me for my time.


    • Wildkitten :

      It sounds to me like maybe these junior lawyers are seeking you out as a mentor, not as paid help. That said, if you don’t have time to meet with them, don’t do it. They should definitely say please!

      • Anonymous :


        Don’t feel obliged to meet if you don’t have time. And it does sound that they are asking a bit much of you. I would respond by pointing them in the right direction in a polite but brief way. “Unfortunately, with my present workload I’m not in a position to provide assistance on this matter. You may wish to have a look at XYZ case (seminal case that you know off hand because you’re an expert in this) which may provide you with a path forward/starting point”.

    • workingmomz :

      You could pretend like they are asking you to pay for your time. Be like “sure I’d be happy to spend a few hours reviewing the file and advising you on this. I have a standard arrangement when I consult with other firms and our admins can set it up”

    • I’m also in a niche practice and get the occasional call from other lawyers that I don’t know to assist on something. I’m fine with talking for a few minutes off the clock on a discrete issue in the issue of marketing and collegiality, but if it is clear that it is a bigger issue, I’ll either suggest resources tor them to pursue on their own or offer to be a subject matter co-counsel for them. Depending on who the other lawyer is, I can bill their client directly or just bill that law firm for my time (obviously, run conflicts either way). I’m not trying to “steal” their client and I’ve had ongoing referral relationships doing it this way.
      I’d give a junior lawyer the benefit of the doubt. They’ve been tasked with figuring out something that the senior partner doesn’t know, with maybe no more direction than to call so and so and get it done ASAP, and they may not be familiar with how a co-counsel relationship works. Also, they probably aren’t the billing attorney and have no idea what the client is willing to pay. You can push back a little and say that you are happy to help, your rate is x and it will take y hours. See how it goes from there.

      • As the junior lawyer in some of these situations, several things run through my mind, but especially “don’t spend the client’s money.” I have gotten better about stopping the partner before they leave my office or hang up the phone what is okay, but since I’m merely the workhorse in this situation, I never know if it’s okay to do X or ask for Y. So, I would appreciate being told upfront what you are and aren’t willing to do as a courtesy so that I can go back to my partner and say, “I learned Z, but So and So that I talked to said that this could have broader implications, so they will need to research it and it will cost $X dollars.”

        I think part of it is that when you are junior, you have absolutely NO IDEA what you can expect the other person to say, so you don’t know when or if it’s going to cost money you may or may not be authorized to spend. Now, at least in certain situations, I not only understand the question, but I can anticipate what kind of answer I’m going to get, so I know when I may need to ask “if the other Attorney says X, is it okay to authorize them to dig into it further?”

    • They should pay you :

      They should pay for your time. You do not want a reputation as someone who is helpful and does not demand compensation for your work. Because being helpful will lead to repeat non paying clients and referrals of more non paying clients. I have had the same problem with partners and associates asking me to do their work for them. One aggressive woman of color partner kept emailing her urgent requests for help with lengthy fact patterns. Another woman of color had referred the partner to me. Independently, white law firm associates have told me that their partners do not give them training, but do advise them to get work done by any means necessary, including having government attorneys do the work for them.

      These lawyers know that they are trying to get free billables out of you. They are not people looking for mentors. If you have to respond, I would discuss drafting an engagement letter, your rates, etc.

      Good luck! You are not alone. People are always trying to see what they can get away with doing.

      • Anonymous :

        I think this can vary by bar. Op refers to her location as ‘town’. In my smaller city, the bar is fairly collegial. Anything beyond a brief chat (think 5-10 mins) or quick email exchange (have a look at xyz case which is super obvious to me as key case but junior hasn’t heard of) would be billable but smaller contacts to touch base with a local subject matter expert would not be atypical in my area.

    • Blonde Lawyer :

      I agree with others that it depends on the location and local bar. Where I am, it is common to ask another attorney for some free guidance, up to an hour of their time. For example, you take a fairly straight forward family law case and a weird issue pops up. You here senior Jane has dealt with that before. You call her to talk about her case for 20 minutes. She sends you some of the briefs. We have listserves and industry groups here that share all of that kind of stuff. I’m working on a case currently that has an issue with lots of unpublished local cases which our judges actually care about. So, I reached out to attorneys who handle cases like mine (via email) and said if you have any unpublished cases on x, please send me the orders. Not only did they do it, two called to discuss how their case ended up (20 minute calls).

      There is also a general courtesy in my bar that you do some free work to get more paying work. I have a civil case that a weird minor possible criminal implication. I referred my two clients to two separate criminal attorneys for consults on the issue. They were very willing to pay for the time. Those attorneys gave them one hour consults and said they wouldn’t charge knowing I’d refer a bigger case to them in the future.

      I try to remember all that help I got when other people email me or call me up on the verge of a deadline asking for some of my orders.

      Another common occurrence here is sharing interrogatories/discovery requests or depositions of experts. If I have a bridge case, I might call people who recently had bridge cases to see what they requested. I recently had a trial where my expert became public knowledge. Attorneys now call me for copies of that expert’s depo. I had done the same thing prior to that depo so I have a bank of 6 other depos of that expert that I can also share. It is how you build your rep in the bar where I am.

      • Blonde Lawyer :

        One more to add to the list. Recent jury trial before a new judge. I was curious about his preferences, voir dire process all the local know-how stuff. I called an associate at another firm who had been before him recently. He invited me over to chat at his office. I got there and the senior partner joined in because he had also recently had a case there. We talked for about an hour. 40 minutes was about my case. I just wanted ideas on the judge and they ended up giving me all kinds of strategy ideas instead that were super helpful. The other 20 minutes I helped them with info about another new judge I had some interaction with.

      • Anonymous :

        This is a great post and very helpful to the readers of this site beyond this particular post. I will say that I’m wondering if OP is in a position where she has not been a beneficiary of the collegiality of her local bar in the past (she referenced encountering racism) and is now frustrated (quite rightly) that she is expected to extend that collegiality to others. A difficult situation to navigate for sure.

    • Shopaholic :

      I practice in a very niche area in a big city so there aren’t a ton of lawyers that do what we do. There are a lot of calls back and forth asking for favours but usually its with lawyers that already know each other, or I’ll make the request but the partner has suggested who I should talk to and cleared it with them.

      Most people are willing to do a call, spend 15-30 mins helping out but if its anything else, there should definitely be a co-counsel arrangement set up.

      That said, depending on how junior these lawyers are, they may not realize that. Also, it sounds like the one who got offended is probably a jerk so I would just chalk this up to that!

    • It depends on what they asked you to do. You say “significant assistance” so I’m assuming they weren’t just asking you for a verbal run-down of your experience with this practice area. A phone call, even a somewhat lengthy one, would be fine with me if I didn’t have anything pressing I needed to work on. I have dealt a lot with a particular type of transaction and have a couple of times happily fielded calls from friends who wanted 20 minutes of my time to understand how these transactions work. I definitely would have said I didn’t have time to help if they had wanted me to actually write something out for them instead of just chatting about it. That’s where I personally draw the line but I can understand drawing it elsewhere.

      What I’m not sure about is where and how race enters the picture? You don’t mention that the two lawyers who made these requests did or said anything racist so I’m not sure I see why it bore mentioning?

      • Anonymous :

        Sure! My last reply seems to have been eaten so hopefully this goes better.

        My last firm wanted to set my billable rate lower than other lawyers at my call level due to the female and not white thing. So, I’ve been openly told by other lawyers in my community that my time is worth less than that of white male lawyers. That attitude certainly has an impact on the interactions I have with other lawyers who often don’t seem to respect my time. It helps managing my own law firm but I still put up with a lot of nonsense -other lawyers assume the other lawyers working with me or sometimes for me are in charge. I’ve responded to a large extent by not involving myself with the local bar which is probably why I don’t really know who these people are. I have a full practice and I don’t really need referrals from other firms or anything like that so I don’t network much with other lawyers, especially those outside of my area and I don’t really ask anyone for favors.

        Given my experience, the general lack of hiring of women of colour in my area (our numbers are actually going down year by year and neither of these guys works at a firm employing a woman of colour) it’s hard for me not to think that race has something to do with this. I mean, a junior lawyer called me, was irritated I couldn’t take his call immediately and then was incredulous that I didn’t want to drop everything to explain to him what to do with a file step by step from the beginning… it feels like a bit more than this person being a jerk. He acted as though explaining to him how to manage his own file would be the greatest opportunity of my life.

        • He sounds like an @ss.

          I’m sorry you’ve had negative experiences like this. I do think it sounds like you might possibly be resistant to doing anyone favors because of your negative experiences and because you never ask for them. And that’s fine if you don’t want to, it really is. But I don’t think it’s necessarily weird or bad that people ask. Now if they act like jerks when you say no like this guy did, that’s not cool at all. But asking in and of itself I don’t think is objectionable.

          • Anonymous :

            I think you need to be mindful that people who have had certain experiences are going to approach certain circumstances differently than you would.

            I’d probably give a kidney to some of my lawyer lady friends. But I wouldn’t have five minutes to give for free to anyone associated with the law firm I used to work at. And no, I really don’t think women of colour need to be doing free work for white men. I think it’s perfectly fine for us all to say no to that. There are enough obstacles to being able to earn the same salaries as our peers without someone saying we have a professional obligation to work for free.

          • Anonymous :

            completely disagree. assuming someone asks respectfully, and you have the time, why would you decline to extend a professional courtesy based on someone’s race? it’s one thing to seek out mentoring opportunities specifically for someone of your gender/race, as a way of giving back to your community, but to actually say no to doing someone a favor because they are white? sounds like you don’t deserve to be in the profession.

          • Anonymous :

            Disagree. On mobile so I can’t tell if you posted after OP added context but given the history she’s explained I can see why she doesn’t want to help random juniors. If you can’t see because you lack empathy with her situation then you are the one that doesn’t below in this profession.

          • Hey hey. I do pro bono work, I am available to any women of colour in my area (often at all hours) and often women in general in my profession. And sure, I have helped white male lawyers too. Maybe you do more, and good on you for that.

            No, I don’t believe I need to drop everything and offer free help to a random white male lawyer working at a firm with other lawyers who he could presumably ask for help and who then would get paid for their work. No, I don’t believe I need to help someone who doesn’t say please or acknowledge that my time has value. No, I am not a law school or a crash course on my area of law and no, I don’t want to be responsible if someone follows my advice or misunderstands what I say and things go of the rails.

            If anything clearly saying, no, I have my own work to do today, I cannot drop everything and help you right now probably is doing a good thing for other women of colour in my profession.

          • Anonymous :

            Declining to help based on someone’s race is just ew.

          • ;) Declining to provide a valuable service for free because someone assumes your time has no value because you aren’t White is always a good decision.

          • Anon at 4:01 was that directed at me? I’m not sure at what point I implied it was not OK to decline a request for help or to work for free. In fact I explicitly said the opposite.

            What I was trying to say is that I don’t think it’s disrespectful of her time for these two lawyers to have asked for the OP’s help in the first place. She said that she thought the request itself showed a lack of respect, and I’m saying I don’t think it did (other than the lack of please, which, yes, rude). What showed a lack of respect was the response she got from this one guy after declining to help, which it was absolutely her right to do.

          • Anonymous :

            OP, no, just no, you are very very wrong. You are treating people exactly how you don’t want to be treated yourself. It is hypocritical at best.

          • I don’t really see how that’s possible?

            I’m declining to fulfil an immediate request to do an hour of free legal education/crash coursing for someone I don’t know. The person has the option of asking someone at their firm to help them. Or possibly even the option of calling my assistant, asking nicely and setting something up when I am actually available to help. Maybe they could offer to bring me a coffee or something.

            I’m not getting here why I should drop everything and help this person. I have my own work to do, my own commitments and my own deadlines. I’m kinda amazed here- do you drop everything to help other lawyers for free?

    • Not even a please when they’re a junior person with no personal connection asking for a significant amount of time for free? I’m surprised you politely referred them to someone else. I would have had a hard time biting my tongue. It sounds like you were appropriate and they were rude.

      As one of the few women in my field, which has has a culture of assisting other attorneys, I’m happy to donate 15-30 minutes to another attorney. Any more than that and we’d better have a personal relationship or they’d better be appreciative. If they’re snippy, rude, or inconsiderate, they get the bare minimum.

  2. It is scientifically proven (=Mythbusters!) that just lying down will make you feel better, as does even a small amount of sleep. The reason for this is that the lymph nodes in your nervous system (A recent discovery and super awesome!) won’t engage when you are not a) horixontal and b) asleep, thus leading to your brain crying “Moisturize me!” all day.

    • Anonymous :

      Thanks for posting this. I struggle with falling asleep and often have swollen lymph nodes so it’s a good reminder to take care of myself and lie down even when I can’t sleep.

    • This is utter nonsense. But entertaining, nonetheless.

  3. Anonymous :

    A shower is worth two hours of sleep, we used to say.

    If you tend to get migraines, sometimes taking meds prophylactically helps.

    drink like crazy.

  4. Mrs. Jones :

    Stand up and walk around as often as possible.

  5. Anonymous :

    Can anyone recommend where to buy high quality cashmere? Would love to have a caridgan of some sort permanently at my desk for chilly days like today

    • Lord & Taylor and Bloomies have great cashemere sweaters. But you must be prepared to pay for them. I go to Lord & Taylor for vitueally all of my sweaters in NYC, and also go to Nordstrom’s. I MUST stay warm also in the winter b/c I am svelte and onley have extra fat on my tuchus, so if it is not warm, I will freeze. FOOEY!

    • A cashmere wrap from Garnet Hill. Not cheap, but wont break the bank. I have one on right now. To bad you just missed the end of winter sales.

  6. Anonymous :

    Hahahahahahahaha! You said “Steno team.”

  7. This post has really helped me. I guess I am not in the traditional demographic for this website, given that I am a recent Dad, but this was great. I am applying all the tips to get me through the day! spamtest123

Add a Comment

Thank you for commenting. On the off chance that your comment goes to moderation, note that a moderation message will only appear if you enter an email address. If you have any questions please check out our commenting policy.

work fashion blog press mentions