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How to bounce back after a bad night’s sleep: 9 evidence-based tips from a neuroscientist

To most of us, sleep is a magical, mysterious thing.

And even if we’re up-to-the-minute on the science of sleep and familiar with the importance of Circadian rhythms (our bodies’ internal clock that controls our waking-sleeping cycles) we don't always pay a lot of attention to how (or what) helps or harms our ability to get proper rest.

Most days, when it’s time for bed, we lie down, close our eyes and hope for the best. And, with any luck, we’re rewarded some hours later with enough rest (7-9 hours for most adults) to keep us going for another day out in the world.

But what about when we don’t get a good night’s sleep? What then? Is there some way to save the following day?

Is there some method or technique that can keep us from losing an entire sunrise to sunset to grouchiness, distraction and impromptu naps in front of our laptops?

As it turns out, yes. And that’s excellent news for everyone. Because sleep deprivation is no small matter. It comes with serious, short-term consequences: mood swings, difficulty concentrating, memory issues and a greater likelihood of accidents and conflicts at work and at home. So it’s very relieving that there are evidence-based methods to combat these side effects.

Read on for our best tips to help you salvage the morning (afternoon and evening) after a restless, wakeful night.

Simple methods to save the day (after sleeping poorly)

Many of us sleep poorly occasionally, and according to Harvard Medical School, approximately 30% of adults have occasional or short-term insomnia. Here's what to do the next day.

1. Try not to overthink it.

The more you think about how badly you’ve slept, the worse you’ll feel. If you need to get it out of your system, journal or vent to a friend, and then do your best not to dwell on it.

Overthinking will only stress you out. You’ve survived poor sleep before, with a few smart tricks to help you find some energy; you’ll manage just fine this time, too.

2. Don’t over-caffeinate.

One or two cups to start your day is probably fine, but overdoing coffee and caffeinated beverages will only make you feel jittery and unsettled in addition to feeling tired.

And whatever you do, cut off your caffeine consumption 4-6 hours before bed.

3. Take a cold shower.

You may not like it much, but research shows that standing under an icy stream of water increases your breathing and with it your oxygen intake, which in turn increases heart rate and blood flow and overall energy.

The shock of the freezing spray also triggers a "good stress" shock reaction, causing the brain to release feel-good chemicals.

A black and white image of a dripping shower head to illustrate that a cold shower can help wake you up after a poor night's sleep

@kevinbae via Unsplash

4. Hydrate.

Studies show that sleeping poorly can dehydrate you, worsening the fatigue and focus issues you may already be experiencing due to sleep loss.

So don’t just stand under the shower to wake yourself up, drink plenty of H2 O to replenish your water reserves and improve your attention.

5. Soak up some sun.

As little as 15 minutes of exposure to direct sunlight when you wake up can help you reset your internal clock (which is just the ticket after a night of tossing and turning).

Light puts the brakes on melatonin production (which can make you feel groggy) and boosts your levels of serotonin, which is linked to improved mood and better energy levels.

6. Get moving.

But don’t wear yourself out with anything too high intensity. Go for something more middle of the road, like a brisk walk or a quick pilates session. According to scientists at the University of Georgia, low-intensity exercise can reduce fatigue by up to 65%.

If you prefer a guided activity to a stroll around your neighborhood, try A mindful walk from Foundations.

7. Breathe deep.

Keep fatigue (and stress) at bay with a round of deep breathing. This kind of breathing doesn’t just help you calm down; it also improves oxygen flow in your body and can help boost your energy levels.

Find out more about different deep-breathing techniques in the Foundations Master relaxation program.

8. Listen to some music.

It may sound counterintuitive to insert another distraction into a day when you’re probably already having trouble focusing. Still, according to research from Johns Hopkins University, the tempo and rhythms of music can actually raise lagging attention levels as your body eventually syncs up to the music.

Just make sure it’s something upbeat that won’t do the opposite and lull you into a desktop slumber.

9. Descreen throughout your day.

Give yourself regular breaks from screens (not just your computer, phones and tablets, too) throughout the day. Time away from devices is good for your brain, your mental wellbeing and your eyes.

These breaks will also help keep you from experiencing eye-strain from staring at your screen (which can lead to headaches, and nobody needs that).

What do you do to stay awake and productive after a lousy night’s sleep? Share your tips with us at foundations@koahealth.com. We’d love to hear from you!