How to salvage your day after a bad night’s sleep

How to clear the fog

To mitigate these effects, the main thing experts recommend is taking a nap. Not only can it help you feel less sleepy, but it can actually improve your performance on many of the cognitive processes that are impaired by lack of sleep.

To avoid the “sleep inertia” some people feel after napping, try to limit yourself to 30 minutes. “You might not even feel like you fall asleep,” says Kelly Baron, a professor of family and preventive medicine at the University of Utah, who treats sleep disorders. “But even getting a little bit of that light sleep can help your brain get some rest and have a boost in your performance.”

Caffeine can also enhance alertness and cognition. Don’t go overboard, though: too much caffeine can make people feel anxious and jittery and can increase heart rate – all of which you may already be experiencing because of lack of sleep.

Regular exercise has been shown to counteract the health consequences of sleep loss in the long term, and there is some evidence that it improves performance immediately after a bad night of sleep, too. A small 2022 study found that university students who worked out after a night of total sleep deprivation performed better on a test of cognitive control than those who didn’t exercise.

Exposing yourself to bright, natural light is another way to increase alertness, says Soomi Lee, an associate professor of human development and family studies at Penn State University. To get the benefits of both light and exercise, she suggests taking a midday walk.

Doing damage control


Although these strategies can help, they won’t completely offset the effects of a bad night of sleep. If you can, make a few adjustments to your day to help you avoid any serious mistakes.

First things first: if you’ve pulled an all-nighter, don’t get behind the wheel. “If you’ve been awake all night, your performance is as bad as if you’re legally drunk,” says Kenneth Wright Jr, a professor of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado Boulder, who studies sleep.

When it comes to work, Baron recommends you give yourself more time to finish tasks and avoid multitasking. You could also schedule your day around your circadian rhythm. For most people, energy naturally rises in the midmorning, dips in the early afternoon, and then rises again in the late afternoon or early evening. “Do your harder tasks when you’re feeling a little bit better,” she says. “And when you have that lull, which is going to feel even worse when you’re sleep-deprived, try to do something that’s maybe a little bit less cognitively straining.”

If possible, avoid having any important or heavy conversations, since lack of sleep can make you more irritable and emotionally reactive. The experts also recommended not making big life or financial moves. “You may not be able to really strategize effectively about all the pieces of information that are necessary to make a decision,” Wright says.

All that said, the only real cure for a bad night’s rest is to get a good night’s rest the next night.

“The magical solution for sleep loss,” Ben Simon says, “is sleep”.

The New York Times

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