Follow this plan the morning after a sleepless night to avoid a repeat and feel better.
Noisy neighbours, crying babies, money worries, a few too many drinks—whatever is keeping you up at night can make the following day tough. You wake up tired and cranky, wondering how on earth you'll make it through. We've all been there. And for many of us, the answer is: "coffee". But before you dive face first into a triple-shot latte, you might want to understand why you're so exhausted.
Sleep is made up of four stages, each with different benefits, explains Jennifer Martin, PhD, a clinical sleep specialist, professor of medicine at UCLA and Nike Performance Council member:
When you begin to doze off, transitioning from being awake to falling asleep.
Chance of Waking: Very high
A light sleep when your muscles relax, body temperature drops and heart rate and breathing slow down.
Chance of Waking: Still pretty high
The deepest, most restorative sleep, when brain activity slows and your body relaxes, recovers and repairs.
Chance of Waking: Very low
When rapid eye movement (REM) occurs, your brain activity increases, your closed eyes dart around (hence the name), and you dream. Research from Harvard suggests REM sleep is important for memory, while a study from UCSD suggests it can enhance creative problem solving.
Chance of Waking: Still very low
When you get out of bed wanting to crawl right back in, it's probably because you woke up in the middle of a sleep cycle and thus didn't score even one full one. "A lot of people only get to stage one and two of sleep, which doesn't rejuvenate your body the way stage three and REM do", says Dominique A. Brundidge, DO, an anaesthesiologist at Lankenau Medical Center who has worked with ICU patients on preventing delirium through improved sleep. You could have also made it to one of those deeper stages but woken up within it, which can leave you feeling more tired than if you'd risen during a lighter stage, adds Martin. Either way, this lack of deep sleep can sap your energy, mood and performance (which is probably why you're reading this).
The best moves you can make after a sleepless night are ones that help you blast through the day and boost your ability to power down come bedtime. Too tired to deal? Let us walk you through them.
"A lot of people only get to stage one and two of sleep, which doesn't rejuvenate your body the way stage three and REM do".
Dominique A. Brundidge,
1. Find the light.
As in, literally. "Sunlight can help you feel more alive during the day because it helps stabilise your circadian clock and increases alertness", says Martin. As soon as you wake up, open the curtains to let in more light. If you can, work by the window, or try eating lunch or taking a quick walk outside. (P.S. Even if it's grey outside, exposure to natural light can still help, says Martin.)
2. Think like an athlete.
All the things you prioritise to ensure a good training session are extra important now, as they support your body's many functions when it's running on near empty. "Stay hydrated and eat well, because not enough water or nutrient-dense food will exacerbate exhaustion", says Martin. Sip water even when you're not thirsty, and choose lean proteins, whole grains and fibre-rich vegetables at mealtimes, even when you think you may want something greasy.
And don't skip your workout just because you're tired, if you can help it. A morning or afternoon sweat session can amp up your alertness after a bad night's sleep, says Martin. Plus, it might help you sleep better by raising your body temp (which, when it falls later in the day, can make you feel drowsy by bedtime). Before jumping into a hard workout, give yourself a 10-minute warm-up to get your blood moving. If you don't feel motivated to go longer—or if you feel hazy or uncoordinated—call it a day, she says. "It's not worth the risk of injury, so come back to your routine tomorrow".
3. Prepare for sleep.
Cultivate an evening routine that makes you feel comfortable and calm so that you can transition easily into sleepy time. "Avoid thinking about work, do yoga, read a book, have sex", says Brundidge. "Anything to relax the mind is a part of good sleep hygiene". We're not talking how well you brush your teeth here; "sleep hygiene" is a legit term experts use to describe healthy habits and surroundings that promote consistently better sleep.
1. Go grande on the caffeine.
While freshly brewed coffee or tea is generally on the to-do list, fight the urge to size up after a night of bad sleep. Consuming more caffeine than you're used to, especially in the afternoon, can increase your chances of not sleeping well a second night in a row, says Martin. "You're probably better off letting yourself feel tired so you can fall asleep on time", she adds.
2. Eat too late.
Having dinner or dessert close to bedtime may disrupt your sleep, in two ways. Firstly, "foods that cause digestive issues could keep you up at night", says Brundidge. Secondly, eating well after sunset can affect your circadian rhythm, because when your body is being told to eat and digest, it's essentially being told not to prepare for sleep, he adds. Avoid eating foods late in the day that tend to give you heartburn, indigestion or wind, like spicy food or dairy products, and have your last snack or meal at least two hours before bed.
3. Camp out on the sofa.
One minute you're watching prime time TV, and the next you're snoring on the sofa. Sound dreamy? Do. Not. Do. It. "Sleep where you are supposed to sleep", says Brundidge, "in the bedroom, in a bed". Reserving sleep for your bed means you're doing the same thing every night, a repetitive pattern that will positively reinforce sleep in the future, he explains.
Also make sure your bedroom is designed for sleep—after all, it's called your "bedroom". "Turn off the lights and TV, and keep a cool temperature", he says (most experts recommend around 18 degrees). And try to go to bed at your normal time, unless you're yawning and having trouble keeping your eyes open well before then.
Good night, sleep well.
Words: Ronnie Howard
Illustration: Paul Blow