Ways to Perk Up After a Sleepless Night

The only thing worse than a sleepless night is dragging yourself to work the next day. Learn how to cope when you’re sleep deprived with these tips.

Why You’re Not Sleeping Well

In a perfect world, every adult would get somewhere between seven to nine hours of sleep a night — the amount that experts say is needed for maximum health. But that doesn’t always happen. Approximately 65 percent of Americans report experiencing a sleep problem at least a few times each week. But work and family obligations don’t go away just because you’ve wrestled with insomnia the night before. If getting through a day with just a few hours of sleep is inevitable, check out these tips to help you feel better until you can hit the hay.

Prioritize Your Day

When you’re tired, your brain isn’t as good at making decisions. So if you’re heading out for your day after a poor night’s sleep, one of the best things you can do is make a plan of attack. If you list out all of the things you need to get done that day, and in what order, you can increase your productivity. That way, during the day, instead of being bogged down in decision-making and prioritizing, you can just attack the must-do items on your to-do list, and hopefully get home with plenty of time for a good night’s sleep.

Brighten Up

Getting out in the sunshine or around some form of bright light can help you feel more awake, even when you’re sleep deprived. “There’s a nucleus in the brain called the circadian pacemaker that adjusts the sleep-wake cycles,” said Clete Kushida, MD, MPH, a sleep specialist and the director at the Stanford Center for Human Sleep Research in California. “Getting bright light in the morning syncs the nucleus and enables the brain to remain more awake.” A half-hour walk should be enough to get you the benefits of light. If it’s cloudy or raining, a light box, which transmits light that mimics sunshine, can be a good substitute.

Get a Nap

If your day permits it, a short catnap can be a nice pick-me-up and provide you with some extra energy. “Take 20 minutes, maybe during your lunch hour,” says Zoran Grujic, MD, a neurologist and sleep specialist at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, Illinois. “It can actually rejuvenate and decrease that sleep debt that’s been building up.”

But be sure to set your alarm. Naps longer than 20 minutes can cause sleep inertia — a groggy feeling that may leave you feeling even worse than before your nap.

Get Moving

Hitting the gym may be the last thing on your mind when you’re sleep deprived, but getting your blood pumping for a short period of time can have a significant stimulating effect. Just be sure to complete your workout in the morning or early afternoon. “If it’s too close to bedtime, it can prevent you from falling asleep,” said Dr. Kushida. And remember this sleep tip: Maintaining an exercise routine even when you’ve had a good night’s rest is key — studies have shown that moderate-intensity exercise can improve sleep quality.

Try Caffeine (But Not Too Much)

There’s a reason coffee is marketed as a morning drink. Coffee is a stimulant because of its caffeine content, which blocks sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain and increases adrenaline production. Consuming a moderate amount of caffeine provides a temporary jolt, helping you squeeze more alertness out of your day. Just be sure to consume caffeinated beverages in small amounts, particularly if you’re not a seasoned coffee drinker, or you could end up jittery and anxious. And since the stimulating effects of caffeine can last up to eight hours, avoid consuming caffeinated beverages late in the day, since they can keep you from getting to sleep that night.

Cool Off

Warm environments tend to make people feel sleepy. Immersing yourself in cold could have a temporary stimulating effect when you feel sleep deprived. Start your day with a bracing cold shower, suggested Adam Fisch, MD, a neurologist and sleep specialist with JWM Neurology in Indianapolis. “You could theorize that keeping your office cooler could be helpful, too,” he added.

Drink Water

Though staying hydrated doesn’t have a direct effect on wakefulness, it can prevent compounding the effects of insomnia with the annoying physical symptoms that come with mild dehydration, like a dry mouth and lethargy. “If you’re tired already with sleep deprivation and you’re also dehydrated, your ability to focus and your vigilance is going to be down significantly,” Dr. Grujic said. “Being well-hydrated helps with that.” Aim to drink six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day, and drink more if you’re exercising or outside in hot weather.

Jennifer Acosta Scott