If you have a really bad sleep here are 10 tips to help you get through the day and get a better sleep the next night.

Technically one night of having a terrible sleep will impair your strategic and complex decision-making ability. Impair means that it will be reduced, it doesn’t mean that you have none. There are things you can do to get through your day better and set yourself up for a chance at a better sleep the next night.

You will likely feel tired, have mood swings, and be generally irritable. Accordingly, you might feel inclined to overdo whatever normally comforts you like sugary snacks or drinks, complaining, avoidant behaviours… in other words, you won’t be operating at your best.

As a father of 4 and having had challenging corporate jobs, I consider myself to be a bit of a ‘lack of’ sleep expert. But I also look to neuroscience, studies on military test subjects, and other evidence-based strategies to augment my understanding and to find proven ways to optimize performance on a lack of sleep. Is there something you can do about it to lessen the effects of a bad sleep and have a chance at better sleep the next night?

Yes, read on for 10 tips:

  1. Acknowledge it. Be a matter of fact about it and not dramatic, don’t paint yourself as a victim, don’t sabotage your entire day, just acknowledge that you might be tired today.
  2. Eat well. Eat a balanced, healthy, and non-sugary diet. A good general approach, but fight the urges today.
  3. Get outside early and often as you can. There are other benefits to getting fresh air, to being in nature or outside, but getting early natural light will help set you up for a night of better sleep.
  4. Have your normal amount of caffeine (unless it comes in sugary drinks). Don’t overdo the coffee. If you normally have a cup or two in the morning, then all good. Limit caffeine after lunch if possible. It has a half-life and you don’t want to lose sleep the next restorative night.
  5. Have a power nap, if that fits in your schedule. 10 to 20 mins max. before 3 pm might give you a boost to your afternoon without impacting your sleep.
  6. Exercise. This is one of the best things you can do, but so many people make excuses not to after a bad night of sleep. I’ve had some of my best workouts after a terrible night of sleep. Besides, it will help balance your mood, make it easier to sleep the next night, and it reinforces two important concepts. One, is you aren’t a victim. Two is that you love and are kind to yourself.
  7. If you can easily reschedule high concentration, memory, and strategic thinking work to the next day, fine, not a bad idea. A great theory, but in practice, I’ve never found that work, school, or life demands to stop or revolve around my delicate life. Putting extra checks and balances into your systems isn’t a bad idea today. Have others check your report before you send it to your boss or read your essay before you hand it in. Not a bad idea anyway.One BIG word of caution. If you are operating a vehicle or machinery or doing things that might put others at risk, take necessary precautions or avoid it altogether. Don’t drive when you might fall asleep. It is NEVER worth it.
  8. Get on top of your problems. If worry is what caused the lack of sleep, how did that work out for you? Did it make your problems better or worse? Enter the vicious cycle! Chances are your worries are a big tangled overwhelming hairball. I’ve been there and I totally get it. Time to triage and be smarter – before bedtime tonight. Take a piece of paper and make 4 sections. Write down (physically write down) your worries, uncertainties, problems, guilt, regret into the category that fits the best:
    A. Not urgent/important, out of your control
    B. Urgent/important, out of your control
    C. Not urgent/important, in your control (going forward)
    D. Urgent/important, in your control (going forward)

    Guess what?
    is where you should be focussing your energy. Not in an aimless bundle of worry, but in concrete steps that you can take to better yourself or your position.Write them down. Order them. Write down the information you need to get to better control or understand the situation. Take charge. You’ll probably figure out that worrying all night isn’t going to solve this problem for you. You’ll also figure out that you can only do what you can do, that having a plan, and following that plan is your best course of action. It is empowering and productive. 

    You’ll also figure out that worrying about the past, things that are happening outside your control, or are minor – not exactly the most productive, healthy, or best use of your limited time. It is taking energy and focus away from what is immediate, urgent, and important, so let it go.

    This is all easier said than done, but it is possible. It takes practice. It does benefit from writing it down. Don’t just do it in your head. You might think it is the same, but it isn’t. I use a project management app to capture and track my tasks that are urgent, important, or many and minor. Generally, if the task can be done in a minute or two, I just do it. A link to the app I use (affiliate link) ClickUp 

  9. Time to be smart in your lead up to bed. Avoid the alcohols, sugars, junk food, drugs…your cravings will be up, your justification will be going in overdrive. Have some yogurt, oatmeal, and berries. Have a glass of milk. But stay away from the garbage. Turn off the screens, open a book. Before bed, pull out your worry list and make sure you feel like you’ve captured what is on your mind. Have your attack plan for tomorrow understood and written down. Look back on your day, take stock of what went well, and what didn’t. This isn’t a time for harsh judgement, but it is a time for learning.
  10. There. You did it. One night of bad sleep isn’t going to hurt you. Or 2 or 5. But if you need to make some structural changes in your life to get more sleep, then by all means. Sleep is good for mind and body. I don’t know that it needs to be 8 hours, maybe 7. If you are getting 6 or less, you should be trying to get more for sure. When it is time to turn out the light, let sleep find you.If you are hyper focussed on getting 8 hours of sleep, are trying SOOO HAAARRRDD to do everything right, pressuring yourself to sleep, anxious about sleep, worried if you don’t get enough sleep, well that’s your problem right there. Do what you need to do during the day. Do what you can leading up to bedtime. And that is all you can do. Then let sleep find you. If it doesn’t tonight, it will tomorrow. Just let it go. Ironically, that is how you will find it.

Bonus tip:

Guilt, anxiety, worry and a long shopping list of negative feelings are important and healthy. Sure, they might keep you up at night, but you need to listen to them. They are nature’s way of telling you that it is time to make some changes. Something isn’t right. Understanding yourself, your values, and be better at playing to your strengths is really important and leads to great things. Don’t get caught up on the feelings themselves. But by all means, look deeper to understand what they are trying to tell you and turn that into a plan for change going forward. A topic for another day.

I hope you find these ideas helpful and feel free to share with anyone who might be interested. The price is right and I greatly appreciate your support.

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Be well. 

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