Tech + Health
05.09.14 5:00 PM ET
Short on Zzz’s? 15 Research-Backed Sleep Hacks
By Perry Santanachote for Life by DailyBurn
We know the realities of life make it sometimes impossible to get eight hours (or even half that) of sleep every night. Oh, what we’d give for a few extra hours in the day! More than one-quarter of Americans are stealing those precious hours from their slumber, and are paying a steep price for it. Skipping out on sleep can cause weight gain, emotional irritability, motor skill impairment, mild to moderate cognitive impairment and a weakened immune system. Note: Chronic deprivation has much more serious symptoms and you should seek a medical professional if you suffer from insomnia.
Excuses are endless for not sleeping enough: stressful jobs, school projects, social engagements, parenthood, etcetera and etcetera. We know. And while we don’t condone skimping out on zzz’s on a regular basis, once it’s done there’s still another full day to get through. These tips are no substitute for a good night’s sleep, but they’ll at least help you perk up and get through the day.
Day-After Sleep Hacks
1. Eat Breakfast
A healthy breakfast refills energy stores and resets your body clock to keep you going throughout the morning hours. Your best bet is scrambled eggs, the whites of which stimulate orexin, a neurochemical released during REM sleep that regulates wakefulness. Eat them with whole-grain toast (an unrefined carb for fast energy) and a side of berries (high in the antioxidant anthocyanins, also shown to boost energy levels).
2. Get Moving
“Working out feels counterintuitive because you don’t want to when you’re tired,” says Janet Kennedy, Ph.D, clinical psychologist and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor. “But getting your heart rate up will make the rest of your day much easier to get through.” Exercise can increase your energy levels by 20 percent and the boost in endorphins help lift your mood. Keep in mind that a high-intensity workout can be more draining than invigorating when you’re running on empty, so save the CrossFit and SoulCycle sessions for another time. Opt for a brisk 20-minute walk around the park to get your blood pumping. Its effects can last up to two hours afterward.
3. Cool Off
In addition to freshening up your face and body, showers can help stimulate the circulatory system and metabolism. Turning the water cold for the last five minutes can increase your metabolic rate and “shock” both your mind and body into a more awake state.
4. Drink Caffeine
Consuming 200 to 300 milligrams of caffeine — the amount found in a tall cup of Starbucks coffee or a shot of espresso — can make you more energetic and alert. Just avoid that bottomless cup. “Excessive caffeine tends to backfire and just makes you feel worse,” says Kennedy, “and stop sipping after noon, or you’ll risk another sleepless night.”
5. See Red
When you’ve got the didn’t-get-enough-sleep blues, grab a crimson hued shirt or buy some red flowers for you desk. Seeing the scarlet color can actually trick your brain into making your muscles move faster and work harder, giving you a burst of energy when you need it most.
6. Avoid Sugar
You may be craving the sweet stuff big time, but reaching for soda or sugary caffeinated drinks like Red Bull will lead you to crash. Hard. When you stay up late, your insulin and blood sugar levels already fluctuate more than normal, and adding more sugar to the mix will only make it worse. The same goes for simple carbohydrates and starches. “Instead, go for things that give you energy in a more sustained way, like fruit,” says Kennedy.
You know the drill: 64 ounces, two quarts, eight cups. However you measure it, make sure you drink water until your pee runs clear. Ample fluids keep energy-fueling nutrients flowing through your body, whereas dehydration will worsen fatigue and your ability to concentrate.
8. Start Sniffing
Aromatherapy research shows that the scent of peppermint or rosemary can help sharpen your cognitive abilities, at least temporarily. Dab a little essential oil on your wrists and whiff away.
9. Bat Your Eyelashes
Nothing gets the heart rate up like a little harmless flirting. Just an innocent smile or compliment can pump you up when you’re feeling sluggish. According to Your Amazing Brain, the act releases stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which get your heart racing and cause a euphoric feeling. Enamored people also have high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which stimulates the brain’s pleasure center, boosting energy and lessening the perceived need for sleep (and even food!).
10. Eat Smart
By eating smaller meals more frequently, you will maintain a steady dose of energy instead of experiencing food comas. But what you eat counts, too. Opt for salmon, which has lots of omega-3 fatty acids that strengthen brainpower. Take it with complex carbs and vegetables to help combat the effects of lost sleep on your waistline, and finish it off with fruit. Juicy oranges will pep you right up!
11. Soak Up Some Sun
Sunshine helps boost levels of vitamin D, and research suggests that adequate amounts may play a role in sustaining energy by enhancing the activity of mitochondria (the batteries of your cells). Bright light also helps set your body’s circadian rhythm, by suppressing melatonin and releasing cortisol and other hormones that keep you alert during the day. “The morning is when your body needs that signal the most,” says Kennedy. “Be sure getting outside is one of the first things you do.”
12. Stretch It Out
Tap your inner yogi and get stretching. Forward bends stimulate the sympathetic nervous system by allowing energy to flow through the spinal column while increasing blood and oxygen flow to the heart and head — kind of like a head rush without the dizziness. Bonus: Yoga has also been shown to boost immunity, fight food cravings, and more.
13. Power Nap
If you need to sneak in some zzz’s, limit your nap to 30 minutes, which is just enough to reset the system and get a burst of alertness and increased motor performance. Longer naps will take you into the deep-sleep stage and leave you feeling groggy instead of energized upon waking up. Kennedy also says to avoid napping after 2 p.m. and always set an alarm.
14. Get Social
Not only will a mental break revitalize you, but every social interaction is also an exchange of energy. Just make sure it’s with the right kind of high-energy people (enthusiastic, not frenetic). Socializing has also been shown to improve cognitive functioning. Even a small chat can increase clarity and focus. There’s also a link between positive social interactions and levels of orexin, the neurochemical that wakes you up in the morning.
15. Turn Up the Tunes
Studies have found that up-tempo music can make you feel more energetic and put you in a better mood. So blast some Lady Gaga, whip your hair, sing out loud, and get your energy soaring. One song, three minutes — that’s all it takes.