Why a Bad Night’s Sleep Isn’t the End of the World

Don’t let exhaustion ruin your day. Here’s how to recover when you wake up feeling like you didn't get your best night of sleep.

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We've all been there — tossing and turning, staring at the ceiling, and counting the hours, thinking, “If I could just fall asleep right now, I’d get this much sleep before the alarm goes off.” A restless night's sleep happens to everyone from time to time. Whether it’s caused by stress, a noisy neighbor, or just a random case of insomnia, a poor night's sleep can leave us feeling groggy, irritable, and unproductive.

Thankfully, a bad night of sleep doesn’t have to affect how you feel the next day. It’s important to understand the causes of your bad sleep so you can learn what to do to triage, as well as triggers to avoid so you can feel great the next day regardless of the quality of your Zzz’s.

The health effects of a rough night's sleep

Getting a less-than-ideal night's sleep once in a while may be an annoyance, but persistent sleep issues can create lasting health impacts.

Chronic (ongoing) sleep deprivation can contribute to:

If you regularly get poor sleep, it's probably time to chat with your healthcare provider. Look out for some telltale signs, like dealing with chronic insomnia (trouble falling asleep or staying asleep), feeling more tired during the day, experiencing mood swings, consistently feeling anxious, sudden shifts in your sleep routine, or symptoms like abnormal weight gain, a snoring habit, or a case of all-day sleepiness that you think could be due to poor sleep. Your provider can help you dig into root causes, suggest fixes or lifestyle tweaks, and, if needed, connect you with a sleep specialist for some extra insights.

What can cause poor sleep?

To understand the ways to bounce back from a bad night’s sleep, it’s necessary to understand some common underlying causes that stop us from getting a solid seven to nine hours in the first place. Here are some of the most common causes of poor sleep:

Poor sleep hygiene

Since sleep hygiene primes you for sleep, it makes sense that not having good sleep hygiene would lead to worse sleep. Poor sleep hygiene can look like irregular sleep schedules, inconsistent bedtime routines, and a lack of sleep-promoting habits, all of which can contribute to sleep disturbances.

Environmental noise

External factors like loud neighbors, street noise, or snoring partners can hurt your sleep, causing you to wake up frequently at night. The World Health Organization reports that nearly 25% of people worldwide have their sleep disrupted by environmental noise.

Electronic devices

About 29% of Americans surveyed by U.S. News reported scrolling on their phones before bed, which has become one of the biggest bad bedtime habits to kick (especially in millennials and Gen Z). The blue light emitted by phones, tablets, and computers before bedtime can interfere with melatonin, the sleep-regulating hormone, by delaying your body’s production of it. If those devices continue to emit light, they can also affect your overnight sleep.

Uncomfortable sleeping environment

An uncomfortable mattress, a room that’s too hot or cold, or uncomfortable bedding can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep.

Irregular schedules

Humans aren’t designed to be awake at night, as our circadian rhythm relies heavily on sunlight. Shift work, jet lag, or changes in your daily routine can throw off your circadian rhythm, making it challenging to maintain a regular sleep schedule.

Stress and anxiety

Stressful life events, work pressures, or personal worries can keep your mind racing at night, making it difficult to relax and fall asleep.

Other causes can include medical conditions like sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, chronic pain, medications, or hormonal imbalances, though these issues may be more likely to cause reoccurring sleep issues.

All hope for a good night’s sleep isn’t lost. Here are some tips and strategies to banish the things causing you a bad night's sleep and get the most out of your day. These healthy tips can help you bounce back after a night of poor sleep and teach you what to avoid that might make things worse.

Best ways to bounce back after a bad night’s sleep

Get some sunlight

Exposure to natural light can help reset your body's internal clock by signaling to your . Spend time outdoors in the morning or during breaks to signal to your body that it's time to be awake. This can also boost your vitamin D levels, as recommended by Vika Rutkowski, an integrative health practitioner.

Stay active, but avoid intense workouts

Engage in light to moderate exercise throughout the day to improve your energy and mood, as advised by Nicole Moshfegh, a licensed clinical psychologist in Los Angeles. Activities like walking or gentle stretching are ideal, but avoid strenuous workouts when overly tired, as they can lead to exhaustion and increase the risk of injury.

Stay hydrated

After a night of poor sleep, it's essential to stay hydrated, as dehydration can increase fatigue and tiredness. Drink water throughout the day to maintain your energy levels. The amount you should drink is 15.5 cups for men and 11.5 cups for women, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Caffeinate in moderation

While that extra cup of coffee may be tempting, anyone who had a poor night’s sleep should be cautious with caffeine intake. Excessive caffeine can lead to jitters and worsen sleep disturbances. As Moshfegh advises, limit caffeine consumption, especially after lunch or in the afternoon. Try sticking with one cup after lunch and not too close to bedtime.

Eat balanced meals

Fuel your body with balanced meals rich in whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables. “Have a balanced breakfast as the first meal of the day. We are literally breaking a fast when we eat the first meal of the day, and what we put in our body affects our performance during the day and our sleep that evening,” says sleep coach Stephanie Hewitt. “Our goodnight sleep actually starts with breakfast.”

Power nap strategically

A well-timed power nap can provide a quick energy boost without disrupting your nighttime sleep, but naps should be used judiciously. Moshfegh says napping could interfere with the coming night’s sleep, so she suggests not napping unless you find yourself needing it to remain safe. If a nap is necessary, aim for a 20- to 30-minute nap early in the day. Be sure this nap is no later than seven to eight hours from your bedtime so you have enough time between when you wake up from the nap and when you go to bed for the day.

Practice mindfulness and relaxation

Moshfegh suggests engaging in relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, guided imagery, or progressive muscle relaxation. These practices can be any relaxing technique you enjoy, like yoga, to help reduce stress and improve your ability to manage the results of sleep deprivation.

Don’t stress

Dwelling on the fact that you had a bad night's sleep can lead to anxiety, making it harder to concentrate during the day. Practice stress-reduction techniques like the ones mentioned above and try not to focus on your lack of sleep.


After a rough night, a challenging day might feel even more daunting. When possible, take some pressure off and simplify your tasks, decrease your schedule, and ease into the day the best you can. This will help make it feel less daunting. Reduce as many stressful tasks as you can. After all, sleep deprivation can create issues with impulse control and affect relationships, so it’s best to limit the impact that poor sleep could have on your work or personal life. Ensure that you have a quality sleep space.

Do not take your bedroom for granted. If you’re consistently getting poor sleep, take a look around the environment where you get good sleep. Try to eliminate clutter or loud colors so the space itself promotes relaxation. Look around for electronics that might emit noise or light that interrupt your sleep. And, of course, ensure that your mattress, pillow, and bedding give you the support and comfort you need. If you find yourself tossing and turning or feeling hot or sticky, it may be time to swap things out.

Avoid these potential triggers

Some of the standard “go-to” habits many of us rely on after a rough night's sleep can actually worsen how we feel. These triggers can increase the fatigue and fogginess you’re already experiencing rather than improve things. Negative triggers can also mess with your body's ability to relax and go into sleep mode. Avoiding these will give you a better shot at getting back on track after a lousy night's sleep, helping you feel more awake and focused as you tackle the day ahead.

Junk food

Avoid heavy or greasy foods, especially close to bedtime, as not only is your digestion system slower when sleep-deprived, but these foods can disrupt digestion and affect your sleep quality. Additionally, while sugary snacks and energy drinks might provide a brief energy boost, they often lead to subsequent crashes, leaving you even more tired.


Alcohol can interfere with your sleep cycle and make you feel more tired the next day, particularly when consumed in the evening. Hewitt notes that alcohol may help you fall asleep but can hinder your ability to stay asleep because it interrupts sleep patterns, melatonin production, breathing, and several other aspects of sleep.

Long naps

While short power naps are beneficial, extended daytime naps can really hurt your nighttime sleep pattern. It's best to avoid them.

Overloading on screens

Exposure to screens, especially before bedtime, can hinder your ability to fall asleep. Our brains perceive the blue light emitted by screens as daylight, which can disrupt the circadian rhythm.


Nicotine should never be used, but as a stimulant, it can be especially harmful when you’re tired, as it revs up the body but leaves you craving and crashing later. Nicotine can hinder sleep and lead to insomnia. “It can increase your cortisol level, the stress hormone, which can also compromise your sleep,” says Rutkowski. She adds this is true for cannabis, stimulants, and other illicit drugs as well.

Snooze button

As hard as it might be, try to avoid hitting the snooze. Hitting that button doesn’t actually give you 10ish minutes of extra sleep — it just disrupts your sleep cycle. By the time you fall back to sleep and the cycle begins again, the alarm is going off. You need a full hour to get through the cycle and gain anything from it. All this does is increase the broken sleep pattern you just spent the night fighting. Instead, calculate the latest time you can get away with waking up and set the alarm for that time.

A night of poor sleep doesn't have to spell disaster for your day ahead. By avoiding energy-sapping behaviors and embracing healthy practices, you can effectively minimize the impact of a restless night and set yourself up for a more alert and productive day. Consistent good sleep habits are key to recovering from sleepless nights and achieving better sleep overall. If sleep issues persist, consider consulting a healthcare provider for further guidance and support.