How to Recover From a Bad Night's Sleep, According to Experts
Resist the urge to hit snooze
While sleeping in is tempting, it's actually the worst thing you can do, says Sonia Ancoli-Israel, PhD, director of education at the UCSD Sleep Medicine Center: “The truth is, after one bad night of sleep you should change very little in your routine. You should still get up at the same time you do every other morning, even if it's the weekend."
A consistent wake-up time is key for maintaining your circadian rhythms, the patterns in your physiological processes that affect everything from your energy to your immunity, metabolism, even creativity. Sleeping late throws your body clock off for the rest of the day—and when your regular bedtime rolls around, you may not feel tired yet, setting you up for another night of insufficient sleep.
What's more, snoozing for a few extra minutes in the a.m. isn't going to make you feel better, Ancoli-Israel adds. It may actually leave you more dazed than before. (Here's how one Health editor learned to quit the snooze button for good.)
“If you can eat breakfast outside that’s a good start," says Ancoli-Israel. "And if you have time to go for a walk, that’s a great idea," she adds, "just don’t wear sunglasses." The idea is to expose yourself to natural light, which cues your body clock to suppress production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy. As a result, you become more alert.
Sunlight could boost your mood too. It triggers the release of the feel-good hormone serotonin, which may help you feel a little less harried on a hectic morning.
Don't go overboard with caffeine
If coffee is part of your morning ritual, go ahead and sip. But cut yourself off from caffeine by lunchtime. “While coffee may help initially, the effects will not last," says Michael Breus, PhD, a sleep specialist in Los Angeles and author of The Power of When. "So have some to get you going, but don’t binge for the whole day."
Having coffee in the afternoon can make it harder to fall asleep that night: A small 2013 study in the Journal of Clincial Sleep Medicine found that a dose of caffeine consumed even six hours before bedtime could keep a person awake.
Take a 25-minute nap
Collapsing on the couch for an epic afternoon nap seems like the most obvious thing to do to “catch up" on lost sleep. But if you slip into a deep sleep, you may wake up feeling extra groggy. And even worse, a long nap will disrupt your sleep-wake homeostasis, says Ancoli-Israel. “You have to be awake a certain amount of time before you are ready to go to bed," she explains. "When you wake up from a long nap, you start again from zero.” In other words, you won't feel tired by bedtime, which means another night of reduced sleep.
If you need a rest mid-day, take a 25-minute power snooze around 1 pm, the experts say. That's just enough time to leave you refreshed without impacting your nighttime sleep. (If you struggle with insomnia though, skip the nap altogether.)
Counteract the 3 p.m. slump
When you feel energy dipping, a little bit of activity can work wonders: A study published in April in the journal Physiology and Behavior found that 10 minutes of stair-walking boosted energy levels more than the caffeine in a can of soda. So take a trip down to the ground floor and back up again. Or get your blood pumping with a brisk walk around the block.
Don't move up bedtime
By 7 p.m., your body may be begging to hit the sheets—but do your best to stay up, says Breus. Even when you're totally popped, you should stick to your regular sleep schedule. "Because your body is accustomed to going to bed at a certain time, if you go early, you will just lie there exhausted," he explains.
To make sure you're able to doze off at the right time, start prepping a few hours ahead: Power down your electronic devices—or slip on a pair of blue light-blocking glasses—and refrain from eating a large meal or drinking any alcohol.
Get back on track
Returning to your normal schedule as quickly as possible will limit the damage from a lousy night’s sleep. But if poor sleep becomes a chronic problem, you may want to rethink your evening routine (check out these 34 hacks for a more restful night), cut back on caffeine, or talk to you doctor about trying medication.