One of the rules of sleep hygiene is to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every night. But let’s be real—no one is perfect! And if you’re living a healthy, balanced life, there are going to be nights when you stay up way past your bedtime, mornings where you sleep in, and stretches of time when you’re just not getting enough high-quality sleep.
And while having a night or two where you’re totally off your typical sleep schedule is perfectly normal (it happens to the best of us!), chances are, you’re not going to feel great the next day. And if that one night of “off” sleep turns into a longer-lasting trend, it could lead to a host of both short-term and long-term side effects, including heightened anxiety, depressed mood, and an increased risk for hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
So the question is, how do you recover from the occasional “off” night of sleep—and not only feel more energetic throughout the day, but get back to getting the sleep you need to feel your best and function at your highest level?
Drink plenty of water—and avoid too much caffeine
When you wake up in the morning after a poor night’s sleep, your first instinct might be to grab a cup of coffee. But if you really want to feel more alert and awake, the best beverage you can reach for? Good, old-fashioned H2O.
“Poor sleep can dehydrate you—and dehydration worsens fatigue,” says Vanessa Osorio, certified sleep science coach at Sleepopolis. “Therefore, it’s very important to stay hydrated after a bad night’s sleep.”
If you’re recovering from an off night of sleep, make proper hydration a priority. While there’s no single benchmark for hydration, aiming for eight 8oz glasses of water throughout the day is a good place to start.
And if you do need a jolt of caffeine to get you going, no worries; just make sure not to drink too much or drink it too late in the day. Otherwise, you might find yourself struggling to drift off to sleep when bedtime hits.
“While having a cup or two of coffee or another caffeinated beverage the morning after a bad night’s sleep is fine, overdoing it will just make you feel anxious and jittery—and if you’re depending on caffeine to get you through the day, chances are you are putting yourself at risk for another sleepless night,” says Osorio.
Take a cat nap
If your off night of sleep has you struggling to keep your eyes open, a quick cat nap might help you find the energy you need to power through your day and make it to bedtime.
“A short mid-day power nap, especially after a bad night’s sleep, can actually help you repay some of your sleep debt and speed up your recovery,” says Osorio. “A 15 to 20 minute nap can give you a major boost in energy and improve your cognitive functioning, all while helping you avoid that groggy feeling [many experience after a bad night’s sleep].”
Just make sure to keep your nap short and sweet. “Napping longer than 30 minutes will make it difficult to fall asleep later that night and will just mess up your sleep schedule even more,” says Osorio.
Exercise (at the right time)
When you’re feeling exhausted, a workout might sound like the last thing you want to do. But if you want to start feeling better and more energetic? It could be exactly what you need to do.
The good news? There’s no need to sweat it out at an intense HIIT class or go for a 10-mile run to get the benefits of exercise. “After having a bad night’s sleep, you probably won’t feel like doing an intense gym session, but doing some light exercise will increase alertness and help reduce fatigue,” says Osorio.
Just make sure to workout earlier in the day; otherwise, your workout could make it harder to fall asleep. “When we exercise, we release chemicals like cortisol that help us feel energized—but are also very wake-promoting,” says Dr. Chelsie Rohrscheib, neuroscientist and head sleep expert at Wesper. “If you are struggling to sleep, you should limit your exercise window to the morning or early afternoon so those energizing chemicals don’t affect your sleep.”
Get plenty of natural light during the day…
To feel more energized, get outside and expose yourself to the natural light. “Not only does the exposure to natural light help you feel more awake and energized, but it also helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle—also known as your circadian rhythm—and helps restore balance,” says Osorio. “So getting in as much natural light during the day, especially in the morning after you wake up, will help you feel better and your body recover faster”—and make it easier to get back on your typical sleep schedule.
…and avoid unnatural light during the evening
Soaking up plenty of natural light during the day is great. But in the evening hours, you want to signal to your brain that sleep time is approaching—and that means avoiding unnatural light once the sun goes down.
Or, more specifically, light from your screens (think cell phones, computers, and TVs). The blue light screens emit can mimic the light from the sun, which can throw off your circadian rhythm, making it harder to drift off to sleep.
“Screens are especially problematic because they emit blue wave light, which is similar to the light of the sun,” says Rohrscheib. “This can trick your brain into thinking it is still early and not yet time for bed.”
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.