Sleepless Night? Here’s How to Recover After Little Sleep

by | Updated: November 10th, 2022 | Read time: 4 minutes

You know the feeling: dread over how your day is going to unfold because you didn’t sleep much the night before.

There’s a thread of hope; usually the first hour or two go okay. Invariably though, things slide downhill after that. And if you got no shut-eye or are in serious sleep debt, your dip toward doom happens as soon as your feet touch the floor.

Here are a few ways to make your day more manageable and, perhaps, score a victory or two.

A Woman in Bed Covers Her Eyes With Her Arm While Holding a Cup of Coffee, Looking Sleep Deprived.

Sleep Deprived? Here’s How to Have a Productive Day of Recovery.


Drink water when you wake up.

That’s a standard rule of good health regardless of how much slumber you clock. Your hydration level draws down when you sleep — or when you toss and turn for up to eight hours.

Water is especially helpful today because a lack of sleep makes you want to eat more than usual. Plus, dehydration makes you feel sleepy, which you already are, so why double down on it? Drinking water will temper your gluttony and misery. Make sure it’s water you’re reaching for, not a sugary beverage, which will spike your blood sugar and make you crash (in addition to wreaking havoc on your health in other ways).

Follow the light.

Follow the day’s light, literally — another standard rule of good health.

Your body’s natural clock wants you awake when it’s light out and dialed down when it’s dark. Morning light, especially early-morning light, sets up your circadian rhythm for that. Your brain uses light to reset. Later in the day, avoid the light we’re all so desperately addicted to: the pixelated kind glaring from electronic devices.

Take it easy.

Manage your energy. You don’t have much of it. This is an ideal time to move in slow motion, something many of us never put into practice (props if you do).

Like I said earlier, your initial stab at the day will be decent. This has to do with chemicals your body produces and human sleep rhythms (and it’s why you feel tired in the afternoon, even when well-rested). So if you must do something high octane, do it early, when you’re most likely to be successful — though with some caveats (more on that next).

Be tentative.


Here’s how that looks: Take a gentle walk, and put off a hard workout. Skip risky sports. You’re going to feel far worse if you careen off a cliff while mountain biking.

If a night of thin sleep hits during your annual adventure trip, “Seize the day!” is probably all you (think you) hear in your sleepless state. So be cautious: Opt for a one-pitch climb a grade or two below your on-sight level, and do it early in the day, when your energy is highest and you’re bound to prevail. Success when you feel crummy, even if it’s slight, will make you feel less crummy — and you’ll dodge what could have been a life-threatening mistake on that gorgeous granite face.

Be an airhead (because, today, you kind of are).

Become master of the mundane and easy.

Here’s how that looks: Organize your desk, sweep the floor, weigh the merits of baths over showers and vice versa. Mainly and mostly: Avoid making big decisions or tackling huge projects.

Right now your memory is jumbled, you’re less alert, and you’re more likely to get stressed by challenges you’d otherwise shrug off. Without being properly rested, your perception is skewed, as countless studies show.

Play nice.

Keep a low profile, and steer clear of potential arguments.

Bad sleep means you’ve got a bad temper. Well, maybe not bad, but certainly worse than it would be if you’d gotten a full eight. You feel moody because right now you are moody, and being moody means you’re more likely to butt heads with people, even people you usually get along with.

Channel a yogi.

Do a few rounds of breath-work.

Even if you have the flexibility to follow an underwhelming, albeit approved, approach to your day, a little boost can serve you well.

Slow, complete breathing will heighten your focus without making you anxious. It regulates your nervous system. Two accessible exercises I’ve written about (and taught for ages) can help you feel better as you move through the day: three-part breathing and alternate-nostril breathing.

Reconsider your mode of transportation.

Don’t drive.

Given your judgment is impaired when you’re sleep deprived, one of the best things you can do to keep yourself going until you next hit the hay is to actually keep going. You can’t keep going if you’re in a  gurney (or worse) post-car wreck.

Studies and statistics on hospital visits the day after daylight savings — when we lose just one hour of sleep — show increased crashes (and heart attacks, by the way). And studies on driving while sleepy in general show people are more accident-prone when they’re tired.

If today is a work day, work from home if you can, or get someone to drive you to and from work. Skip errands that require a motor vehicle. And know that biking to your job isn’t necessarily safer, especially if your route runs alongside car traffic — or the side of a cliff.

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