Julia Guerra

By Julia Guerra

mbg Contributor

Julia Guerra is a health and wellness writer reporting for mindbodygreen, Elite Daily, and INSIDER.

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June 30, 2023

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If you’ve ever spent a night lying awake in bed, tossing and turning as the number of hours before you have to wake up dwindles, you know that you won’t feel your best the next day. When you don’t clock enough quality shut-eye, your energy, ability to focus, and overall mood can take a major hit.

Fortunately, there are ways to feel better after a bad night’s sleep. If you’re determined to turn that frown upside down, listen up.


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How does bad sleep affect you?

Sleeping is your body’s way of repairing and recovering so it can perform like a well-oiled machine. It’s less an act of lounging and more so a tool for your brain at large. 

“Sleep clears toxins and waste that build up across the day. It also refines neural connections and prioritizes those we use often (as well as new information),” explains Major Allison Brager, Ph.D., a neuroscientist involved in the U.S. Army’s Holistic Health and Fitness System specializing in sleep.

Sleep is also vital for replenishing your physical and neural energy, Brager notes, and allows the neuron clusters that make up our nervous systems the opportunity to take turns going “offline.” In other words, not sleeping well can affect all of your mental faculties, affecting how you feel and operate both mentally and physically. 

That being said, board-certified sleep specialist Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., affectionately known as the Sleep Doctor, tells mbg it does take more than one night of poor sleep to majorly affect your quality of life. It can, however, leave a mark on your mood and productivity the next day. Here are some expert-approved tips to handle the lingering sleepiness.

6 ways to improve mood and performance after a night of bad sleep:

1. To state the obvious, have some coffee

According to sleep expert and author of From Fatigued to Fantastic Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., because the phytonutrient caffeine from coffee shuts down the sleep molecule called adenosine, therefore allowing you to more fully wake up, it’s totally fine to keep your morning coffee fix on the schedule. However, Breus stresses that over-caffeinating can have an adverse effect on sleep (especially for those who metabolize caffeine slowly), so you want to keep to your normal caffeine intake.

And while it’s famous, caffeine isn’t the only energizing compound in your tool kit. “While caffeine might be the most widely studied and ancient energizing nootropic we can leverage for cognitive performance and a mood lift, don’t forget other key botanicals with research evidence for mental alertness and mood balance, like ginseng and guarana,”* explains Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, mbg’s vice president of scientific affairs.


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2. Prioritize protein & health fats

A lack of sleep equates to a lack of energy, and a lack of energy will often lead to hankerings for unhealthy foods. But while processed snacks pumped with sugar will provide the energy you crave, such options are only a temporary fix. They nearly always lead to a crash after consumption because your body’s natural response to these types of foods is to pump enough insulin to combat the rapid spike in blood sugar.

Live Love Sleep adult sleep coach Zeke Medina, Pharm.D., recommends reaching for snacks that have healthy fats or proteins that will keep blood sugar steady. “My favorites are mixed nuts, veggies with hummus, or anything with whole wheat and nut butter,” Medina tells mbg.

3. Get some sun

Brager tells mbg that during times of unrest throughout her deployment, she relied on sunrises and sunlight radiating off the desert sand to keep her awake and feeling refreshed. “Our sleep system ‘resets’ through early morning light exposure,” she explains of the shining rays’ benefits on the human body. After a night of inadequate sleep, try to absorb as much sun as possible before and throughout your day (even if it’s just through a window) to help you stay alert.


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4. Try a power nap

If you can power through the day despite running on low steam, great. If not, authors of Generation Sleepless Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright of The Happy Sleeper tell mbg taking a cat nap that lasts longer than five minutes but no more than 30 minutes can combat sleepiness and improve emotional regulation. “Try to be judicious about napping, though,” the duo warns, as it can “perpetuate the cycle of too little nighttime sleep.”

5. Walk it off

Don’t give in to the temptation to laze around all day after a bad sleep. Easier said than done, we know, but Brager says staying active will be much more beneficial. Moderate exercise, like walking, promotes wakefulness, increases blood flow, and isn’t so strenuous that you’ll want to sleep afterward, she tells mbg.


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6. Go to bed at your normal time

One of the key pillars to excellent sleep hygiene is to maintain a regular sleep schedule. So even though you clocked in a bad night’s sleep the night before, and you might be tempted to say good-night a few hours early to catch up on sleep, Medina says doing so would be a mistake.

“Your circadian rhythm is anchored by your original bed- and wake time,” Medina tells mbg. “Therefore, try your best to go to bed at your original time every night, which ensures better-quality sleep.”

The takeaway

It’s not unusual to have a bad night’s sleep once in a while, but you don’t have to wake up on the wrong side of the bed because of it. Combat the urge to lean into that negative energy by sticking to your everyday routine as closely as possible given the circumstances, eat a diet rich in protein and healthy fats to keep you energized throughout the day, and head outdoors for a natural mood boost.

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.