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How to Survive a Sleepless Night

Lara Vargas

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If you’ve recently struggled through a sleepless night of tossing and turning, then you’re likely feeling extra sleepy and frustrated. You’re probably tempted to push the snooze button, drink copious amounts of coffee, and sluggishly drag yourself through the day. But none of those things will help make you feel any better.

When you are plagued with poor sleep, handling your fatigue properly can help you shake those sleep troubles fast and get back to a normal sleep routine. To help you better battle daytime sleepiness, we’re sharing our go-to tricks for fixing your sleep schedule.

1. Go Outside

One of the easiest ways to give yourself a dose of energy is to step outside. Sunshine helps reset your biological clock. It stops your body from producing melatonin, the hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycle. Take a quick walk, eat your lunch outside, or set up your work station near a window if possible.

2. Exercise

Exercise improves circulation and boosts your mood. Be sure to take it easy, though—a strenuous workout requiring maximum effort may deplete your energy levels. A short jog or brisk walk is enough to get your blood pumping and help you remain alert throughout the day.

3. Eat Small, Regular Meals

Eating small meals every few hours will help keep your energy levels up. Resist the urge to devour a big plate of food, as this can end up making you even more tired and sluggish. Alternately, not eating at all will make your glucose levels drop and also result in low energy.

4. Avoid Carbs and Sugar

Foods full of carbs and sugar may give you an immediate jolt of energy, but they’re quickly digestible and will leave you hungry and unsatisfied. Instead, opt for foods high in protein like fish, chicken, eggs, and bananas. Fill your plate with leafy greens and veggies, and snack on healthy fats like nuts and avocado, too. These foods will help you stay full longer and give you sustained energy throughout the day. At night, we recommend incorporating some foods for sleep into your dinner.

5. Take a Hot and Cold Shower

Alternating between hot and cold water during your shower has an energizing effect and wakes your body up. Known as contrast hydrotherapy, the mixing of cold and hot water causes blood vessels to alternate between dilating and constricting, ultimately increasing blood flow and improving energy. Contrast hydrotherapy has even been shown to help fight off the common cold and boost the immune system. For the best results, spend two to three minutes bathing with the water as hot as you can tolerate, and then quickly turn it to very cold for 15 seconds. Do this three to four times, ending the cycle on cold.

6. Drink Lots of Water

Fatigue is one of the main symptoms of dehydration. When operating on little sleep, drinking enough water and staying hydrated is key to resisting daytime fatigue. In fact, one study even shows that shorter sleep duration is associated with inadequate hydration. Avoid this by kicking off your morning with a big glass of water and drinking plenty more throughout the day.

7. Drink Coffee

While coffee will help wake you up and keep you alert, you only need one to two cups, even after a sleepless night. Drinking large amounts can have an adverse effect, making you jittery and unable to focus, and can end up negatively impacting your sleep schedule.

8. Power Nap

A quick snooze can definitely help you recharge, but be careful not to fall into a full-on slumber. A short 15- to 20-minute nap earlier in the day is all you need. Research suggests that brief naps (five to 15 minutes) have almost immediate benefits that can last up to three hours. Napping much longer than that may send you into a deep sleep, making it hard to wake back up and leaving you feeling groggy when you do.

9. Don’t Make Big Decisions

Leave making big decisions to a day when you feel more rested. Sleep is critical for memory and when we’re tired, the way we perceive things can be skewed. A 2016 report published in the Journal of Sleep Research even found that sleep-deprived people were more likely to create misleading or false memories about certain events. Other research suggests that sleep deprivation can affect the functions of our brain that rely on emotional information. Making big decisions, especially emotional ones, are best made on days when we’ve had proper sleep and our mind is clear.

Why Sleepless Nights Happen

Understanding what causes sleeplessness and knowing how to prevent it can save you from some of the unpleasant side effects of sleep deprivation. While some contributing factors are simply too much caffeine, an extra busy week, or the inevitable effects of jet lag, others can be more serious. Things like stress, anxiety, and even sleep disorders like chronic insomnia and sleep apnea can all contribute to sleepless nights. Managing sleep problems not only helps you avoid short-term daytime fatigue, but it also helps you mitigate serious health problems that stem from chronic sleeplessness.

The Health Impact of Getting No Sleep

According to one resource from the American Thoracic Society, reducing your sleep time by just one hour affects your thought process and reaction times the following day. While the short-term effects usually disappear in a day or two, the long-term effects of many sleepless nights can be much more serious.

Short-Term Impact

Feeling drowsy and irritable are the most obvious signs of sleep deprivation. But it doesn’t stop there. Often, simple tasks seem nearly impossible to complete because you’re low in energy, having trouble focusing, and lacking motivation. Additionally, the area of our brain responsible for evaluating information and problem solving is negatively impacted. All these factors can contribute to bigger issues like poor work performance and mood disorders.

Long-Term Impact

Over time, sleepless nights can result in a decrease in growth hormones which, in children, affects weight gain and can stunt growth. Other long-term problems include a higher risk of chronic diseases. In fact, adults that sleep less than six hours a night have a 48% greater chance of developing heart disease and a 15% greater chance of stroke.

When we don’t get the proper amount of sleep, our bodies have a harder time processing glucose. This in turn can increase our chances of developing type two diabetes and experiencing abnormal weight gain. Sleep deprivation can also lead to chronic fatigue, affecting performance and day-to-day tasks, along with depression and mood changes. It’s also been shown that acute sleep deprivation lowers our tolerance for pain and could be a contributing factor in chronic pain conditions, as well.

How to Prevent a Sleepless Night

There are simple things you can do every day to prevent a bad night’s sleep. Follow these suggestions for better sleep health and overall wellbeing.

Keep a Regular Sleep Schedule, Even on the Weekends

Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is how we keep our circadian rhythm in check. Our circadian rhythm is our “internal clock,” regulating when we sleep and wake, among other things. The best way to keep this system running smoothly is to follow a regular sleep schedule. Pick a bedtime and wake-up time and stick to it (this means even on weekends and during vacations). Following a daily routine will get your body’s internal clock accustomed to a schedule, making it much easier to fall asleep and wake up.

If you must sleep in, try not to exceed one extra hour. Drastically shifting your sleep or wake time, even on a single night, can have a domino effect on the rest of your week and make it difficult to get back on track.

Set Up Your Bedroom for Sleep Success

Making your bedroom a place that encourages relaxation and rest is another way to ensure sleep quality. Since blue light from electronic devices can keep us awake and alert, avoid using things like tablets, phones, and laptops prior to bed. Turning off bright lights and closing window coverings will also help signal to your body that it’s time for sleep.

Likewise, when it’s time to wake up, open the curtains to let light in or go outside to enjoy your morning cup of coffee. Sunshine lets our bodies know it’s time to wake up and take on another day. And, when your alarm goes off, resist the urge to hit snooze—if you push through those first few minutes of waking up, you’ll be better off in the long run.

Also, research shows that rapid temperature change and sweating during sleep significantly decreases sleep quality. Curb this by maintaining a consistently cool bedroom temperature. Be mindful of your bedding as well; choose a light, breathable material like cotton to promote airflow.

Avoid Caffeine Seven Hours Before Bed

Caffeine can stay in our systems for up to seven hours, keeping us alert and awake. To make sure your sleep is not affected, avoid coffee and other caffeinated drinks at least seven hours prior to your bedtime.

Maintain an Exercise Routine

Research has shown that moderate aerobic exercise, like easy jogging or yard work, increases the amount of slow-wave, or deep sleep, sleep you get at night. Those that take up moderate exercise for even just 30 minutes a day are likely to notice a difference in their sleep the very first night.

The timing of your workouts impacts sleep as well, so try to aim for morning or mid-day workouts. Exercise increases your body temperature and raises your levels of alertness, meaning it can sometimes cause difficulty in falling asleep if done close to bedtime. If an evening exercise is your only option, shoot for a workout time at least two hours before going to bed.

Conclusion

Skipping out on some much-needed slumber can have adverse effects, both immediate and long-term. When a sleepless night happens, being mindful of the things you do the next day can help set you up for future sleep success. Learning how to prevent sleepless nights altogether though is even more crucial for overall wellbeing. Poor sleep quality is a contributing factor in many chronic diseases and health conditions and greatly affects our physical and mental wellness. Simple daily habits like sticking to a regular sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine, and easy exercise, can all help prevent a bad night’s sleep and ultimately aid in good health.

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