How to Perform Well the Next Day After a Lack of Sleep

It’s dawn and your alarm is ringing. You pull yourself out of bed and make your way to the kitchen to start your morning routine. The only problem: you barely slept the last night and feel far from 100% this morning.

Everyone experiences insomnia or disrupted sleep from time to time, whether it’s the result of a late night out with friends or a busy workload that stopped you from falling asleep at the time you had originally aimed for.

Performing well the day after a bad night’s sleep is difficult. You’re less focused and attentive, which makes working at full speed difficult. You’re also tired and drained of energy, making it tough to even get through the day.

Luckily, it’s possible to ride it out and make it through the day after a bad night of sleep without sacrificing too much performance. If you’ve woken up after a lousy night’s sleep, try these six tips for a more alert, healthy and productive day.

Start the day with a high-protein breakfast with lots of complex carbs

When you’re feeling tired and short of energy, it can be tempting to reach for a high-sugar cereal in the morning. It can be even more tempting to switch on the gas and look into the fridge for a pack of bacon and some fresh eggs.

While we might gravitate towards fatty foods when we’re hungry, it’s best to eat a breakfast that’s rich in protein and complex carbs. This is because fatty foods tend to be more difficult to digest, which can slow their release of energy.

Make sure your breakfast contains a reasonable amount of protein – 30 grams is a good target – from eggs, lean meat or fish. Complement this protein with a source of high quality carbohydrates like porridge, brown bread or pasta.

Eating a light breakfast in the morning can leave you starved of energy, while a high-fat breakfast can cause digestion issues. Prioritise protein in the morning to ensure your day begins with sound nutritional foundations.

Help yourself to a cup or two of coffee, but try not to overdo it

As you no doubt already know, coffee will make you feel more awake and alert. Help yourself to a cup or two of coffee with breakfast, but try to avoid taking in too much caffeine at once.

There’s a point of diminishing returns with caffeine, at which the side effects of an extra cup of coffee become obvious and the benefits negligible. For most people, it isn’t wise to drink more than two cups of coffee after getting out of bed.

According to Joyce Walsleben, PhD, you’ll achieve peak alertness after two cups of coffee. Consuming any additional caffeine will give you all the side effects without any of the benefits of caffeine consumption.

Make sure you get some sunlight, fresh air and plenty of water

Did you know that sunlight can make you feel more awake and alert? Sunlight is one of several things your body’s internal clock uses to determine when it feels energetic and when it feels tired, making it important to get some sunlight exposure.

Once you’ve taken a shower and eaten breakfast – plus the maximum of two cups of coffee – go for a walk outside. The fresh air and sunlight will brighten up your mood and help your body’s circadian rhythm adjust to the daytime.

Fill a water bottle before you go walking and try to drink at least a pint of water in the hour after you wake up. This is especially important if you consumed alcohol in the previous 24 hours, which can leave you dehydrated after sleep.

Avoid loading up on sugar – you’ll crash a few hours later

Feel like something sweet? When you’re tired and short of energy, sugar provides a great short-term energy boost that can make you feel like you almost got a full night of sleep.

This energy boost, however, comes at a cost. Loading up on sugar and other simple carbohydrates after a night of bad sleep will make you feel better temporarily, but you will experience a crash in energy levels within an hour or two.

This is because simple sugars are very quickly metabolised by your body and used as a source of energy. Avoid eating any simple sugars, whether from energy drinks or sweets, until you’ve consumed some protein and complex carbohydrates.

Try a nap (or a caffeine nap) early in the afternoon to recharge

You’ve made it to 3 pm and successfully completed most of your work. Well done – it’s tough to work hard after a bad night’s sleep. The only problem is that you feel really tired, largely because your lack of sleep is starting to catch up with you.

While it’s very tempting to take a long nap to recharge, doing so can disrupt your sleep patterns and make falling asleep at night more challenging. Stick to a short, quick nap of 30 minutes or less to recharge without feeling too rested.

One great way to temporarily recharge is by using a caffeine nap. Drink a small cup of coffee, then take a 20-30 minute nap. Your waking time will match the time that the caffeine affects your body, giving you a serious afternoon energy bots.

Try to finish important work as early in the day as possible

Many people don’t feel tired for the first few hours after a bad night’s sleep. If you feel relatively good in the morning, it’s important that you take advantage of your energy levels, since they probably won’t last until the afternoon.

Try to finish all of your important work during the morning – preferably before 12 noon. This way, you’ll have the most difficult tasks of the day out of the way before your energy and alertness begins to decline in the afternoon.

If you have really difficult work to complete, try working on it just after you return home – or to the office – from your walk. This way, the combination of sun exposure and fresh air will give you an hour or two of peak daytime productivity.