By Dr. Rubin Naiman
Most everybody has experienced at least a night or two of poor sleep. And many millions of us do so on a regular basis. A bad night’s sleep can leave us feeling anxious about making it through the next day. Will we have the energy, the focus, and the emotional wherewithal to do so? Is it even possible to have a good day after a bad night?
Yes, it is. I’ve frequently been surprised by people reporting okay days after seriously sleepless nights. In large part, this is a testament to the human capacity for resilience. But it’s also a direct result of using sensible strategies to manage the day after.
1. Adjust your attitude. Begin by accepting and even forgiving last night’s sleeplessness and today’s sleepiness. Judging yourself about poor sleep will only further sap your energy. Can you think of a time when you or someone you know did all right despite little sleep? Stay open to that possibility. Let family, friends, or coworkers know you had a rough night and ask for their support.
2. Go with the flow... and slow with the ebb. Like all living things, humans are biologically programmed to ebb and flow through cycles of energy and rest throughout the day. Our energy levels will naturally fluctuate even after a good night’s sleep. And, of course, these fluctuations will be more pronounced after a challenging night. Use energy when it flows and let yourself slow and rest when it ebbs. Resisting or actively battling waves of tiredness will only squander more of the limited energy we have. When we yield to our need for rest, we’ll likely experience a refreshing buoyancy.
3. Plan to procrastinate. When our energy is compromised, it makes sense to minimize any and all non-essential activity. Get clear on your objectives for the day and let yourself put off until tomorrow anything that doesn’t absolutely need to be done today. Yes... this is a day when procrastination can actually be helpful. As Ellen DeGeneres once said, “Procrastinate now — don’t put it off!”
4. Get creative. Ebbing energy does not necessarily mean you’ll be drawn to sleep — it’s simply an invitation to rest. In rest we become less focused and attentive. We loosen our rational hold on the mind, allowing it to meander, get dreamy, and be more creative. When feasible, engage in activities that call for creativity. Highly creative individuals such as Thomas Edison and Salvador Dali actually facilitated their creativity by intentionally depriving themselves of sleep.
5. Follow your usual routine. Get up and out of bed at your typical rising time and set your sights on adhering to a normal schedule. Prepare for your day as you usually do, get some gentle exercise, and have regular, healthful and light meals. A cup or two of green tea might be helpful. It has only one-fifth the caffeine of a cup of brewed coffee and also contains L-theanine, a naturally soothing compound. And make sure to stay hydrated.
6. Light up your day. Get exposed to bright light for about 30 minutes as soon as possible after rising. Morning light energizes us and improves our mood by boosting serotonin levels. It also resets our circadian clock, contributing to better sleep in the future. Even on a cloudy day, it’s significantly brighter outdoors than in a well-lit room. If you can’t get out, brighten your indoor space as much as possible by allowing light through windows and turning on electric lights.
7. Avoid ups and downs. Try to stay away from energy spikes caused by excessive caffeine, energy drinks, or sugary foods. Although consuming these might temporarily increase our energy, doing so inevitably triggers a rebound of sleepiness. Unless it’s essential, try to avoid going down for a nap. Napping will likely draw you into deeper stages of sleep, leaving you with sleep “drunkenness” and potentially disrupting your circadian rhythms. And avoid using alcohol to slow down before bed. It can interfere with the quality of our sleep and dreams.
8. Breathe briskly. If you need to boost your energy and alertness at any point during the day, consider using a stimulating yogic breathing technique known as the Bellows Breath. With your mouth closed, inhale and exhale rapidly through the nose with very short in-and-out breaths of equal duration. Imagine your belly is a bellows pumping one to three full breaths per second. Limit this practice to rounds of 15 seconds to begin with and gradually increase it by 5-second increments to a maximum of one minute. (Check with your physician prior to using the Bellows Breath if you have any health concerns.)
9. Be extra careful. Maybe it goes without saying that certain precautions are in order. It’s now common knowledge that even minimal sleep loss can impact our physical and mental abilities. Even during periods of energy flow, our reaction time and judgment are compromised by poor sleep. Exercise due caution in all matters that require careful attention, especially driving and operating machinery.
10. Finishing your day. Take time to wind down and relax in the evening. Eat a light dinner and stick to your regular bedtime. Of course, your chances of sleeping better the night after are improved because absence does, indeed, make the heart grow fonder. Let this heightened awareness of sleep’s value strengthen your resolve about systematically doing all you can to heal your sleep. Promise yourself that you will make healthy sleep a priority.