Restless night last night? Everyone gets a bad night’s sleep every now and then.
Your life won’t wait for you to get rested, so you will need all the energy you can get to get through the day. Some of the nation’s top sleep doctors offer advice on how to get through the day after a bad night’s sleep.
1. Caffeine, in moderation
Caffeine can help you when you need a boost of energy, as long as you don’t overdo it, says Joyce Walsleben, sleep disorders expert, PhD, of the NYU School of Medicine.
Two cups of coffee, for example, will give you as much alertness as possible. Drinking more than this probably won’t make you more alert, especially if you drink a lot of caffeinated beverages, says Jeffrey Durmer, MD, chief medical officer at FusionSleep Center in Atlanta.
Part of it is your brain chemistry. When you lack sleep, ‘[sleep hormones] building up in the brain all day and drinking excessive amounts of caffeine is not going to stop this process, ”says Durmer. On the contrary, too much caffeine can make you nervous, he says.
The same goes for over-the-counter supplements that promise to help keep you alert.
“Caffeine and supplements … increase attention and focus and are good from time to time, but are not a substitute for a bad night’s sleep,” says Durmer. If you regularly use supplements to stay awake, you may need to see a doctor to see if you have a sleep disorder.
Energy drinks can do some good when used the right way, but for the most part, they usually do more harm than good, says Michael Breus, PhD, who writes WebMD’s sleep blog. Breus suggests sticking to black or green tea and coffee. Plus, avoid all caffeine after 4 p.m. to prevent problems falling asleep at night, Breus says.
2. Don’t rely on sugar
When you’re sleep deprived, you might be tempted to grab a candy bar. No.
Sugar will give you energy quickly. It doesn’t last, however, and you’ll end up crashing later, says Breus.
Instead, stick to a balanced diet and put more emphasis on high-protein foods like nuts and lean meats, he says. Also, avoid large meals and simple carbohydrates, like pasta for breakfast, to avoid energy dips.
Breus suggests eating a salad with grilled chicken or another lean protein, such as fish with vegetables for lunch and dinner.
For breakfast, Durmer suggests eating foods high in protein like eggs and plain Greek yogurt. If you have a sweet tooth, choose fruit, not a donut. The natural sugar in fruit takes longer to digest than table sugar and won’t cause your blood sugar to rise as high, says Durmer.
3. Take breaks
After a bad night’s sleep, your attention span may drag a little longer than usual. To stay focused, take breaks throughout the day, says Durmer.
- Go for a walk outside. You will have sunlight with the activity. “Movement stimulates alertness in the brain, and sunlight provides your body with natural signals to promote wakefulness,” says Durmer.
- When you exercise, take it easy. Keep it light or moderate, not vigorous, when you are exhausted. You’re much more likely to injure yourself if you exercise vigorously when you’re tired, says Walsleben.
- Take a quick nap, if you have the time. Napping for up to 25 minutes will help recharge your body and mind, says Breus. Taking a nap longer than that will make you more sleepy than you already are. For a supercharged nap, Breus suggests a “nap-a-latte”. Drink a cup of drip iced coffee as fast as you can, then take a 25-minute nap and you’ll be good to go “for at least four hours,” he says. That way, you’ll get all the benefits of a short nap, but wake up just in time for the caffeine to kick in.
4. Simplify your day
Let’s face it, you aren’t at your best when you’re not sleeping well. So lighten your workload as much as possible. By doing less, you can still do quality work without stress, says Durmer.
Let’s say you have five tasks for the day. Cut them down to two or three and focus on doing them really well, says Durmer.
You might also want to not make any important decisions until you’ve rested, says Breus.
5. Avoid driving
Drowsiness while driving is dangerous because it can lead to accidents. Get as far away from the road as possible if you haven’t slept.
If you absolutely can’t carpool or take public transport, take a nap before driving, Walsleben says. When driving, don’t wear your sunglasses because sunlight can make you more energetic, says Durmer. This will not negate your fatigue, so you should always avoid driving, for safety reasons.
Be especially careful when driving in the early afternoon. “Most people naturally drift around 1 or 2 pm, and those who lack sleep will take a bigger hit,” Walsleben said.
6. Get some sleep tonight
When you go to bed tonight, you might be tempted to sleep longer than usual. Moderation, again, is the key here.
Sleeping after a bad night’s sleep is okay, but you’re trying to get your sleep pattern back on track. Sleeping too long can make it more difficult because it changes your normal sleep pattern.
If you’re sleeping, limit it to no more than two extra hours, says Durmer. If you normally get seven hours of sleep at night, aim for nine.
Going to bed too early can also disrupt sleep patterns, says Walsleben. If you’re exhausted and want to go to bed, try waiting about an hour before your normal bedtime.
No matter how tired you feel, there’s no reason to sleep all day because the most restful sleep time you can get is 10 hours, says Durmer.
If you’re exhausted but still have trouble falling asleep, count down from 300 in multiples of three, Breus says. Doing math problems makes it hard to think of anything else and keep your eyes open, he says.