As a certified holistic chef, it’s humbling to admit that one major aspect of health continues to elude me: sleep. I've battled insomnia for the last 10 years, trying every Western, Eastern, prescription, OTC, and home remedy imaginable. Some work for spats of time, but ultimately, I’ve accepted that my sleep is consistently inconsistent.
I’ve also become fed up with the innumerable articles, books, and expert opinions about the importance of sleep. The people who benefit from this barrage of literature are those who can sleep well but just don’t make or have the time. For us insomniacs, it’s all just salt in the wound. Trust me, no one understands the importance of sleep better than an insomniac.
That's why I’ve decided to approach my sleep struggles with a new tactic. Instead of spending precious energy on fixing my sleep during the night, I’ve turned my attention to the best ways to manage my sleeplessness in the morning.
Through research and ample personal experience, I’ve gathered countless tips for optimizing productivity and happiness when I’m suffering from exhaustion. I certainly don’t advocate skipping your zzzs if you can help it, but I've also learned that poor sleep doesn’t need to ruin your life.
Following these suggestions won’t make your fatigue disappear completely, but it can seriously combat the damage and help you get through your day.
1. Veto coffee.
Don't shoot the messenger. Coffee has the tendency to jack up our stress hormones, which exacerbates the less-than-ideal condition of exhaustion. Cortisol responses to mental stress, exercise, and meals following caffeine intake in men and women. Lovallo, W., Farag, N., et al. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2006 Mar; 83(3): 441–447. Plus, coffee can suppress appetite, encouraging you to rely on its "fake"form of energy instead of real nourishment from food. Coffee, hunger, and peptide YY. Greenberg JA, Geliebter A. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2013, Jan.;31(3):1541-1087.
If you're die-hard about having it, drink a small cup paired with a healthy fat or protein. Adding a little almond or coconut milk can also mitigate some of the jittery effects.
2. Make this refreshing concoction instead.
OK, this is technically something to do the night before, but I swear by it. In the evening, steep 2 cups of hot water with your favorite herbal tea, add the juice from one half of a lemon, and 1 to 2 drops stevia (optional). Refrigerate overnight, and this cooling, hydrating beverage will invigorate you in the a.m.
Caffeine isn't the only way to be energized. Check out the uplifting benefits of some of my favorite herbal teas:
- Ginger's “zing” factor wakes up your senses.
- Licorice has been shown to replenish the adrenals, which can increase energy.
- Rosehip and gingko can also have a rejuvenating effect.
3. Blast your favorite upbeat music.
When you wake up, switch your phone off the airplane mode setting (that you should be using while you sleep!) and hit play on your favorite Spotify jam. When you’re feeling crummy, hearing a song you love can instantly boost your mood and put a reluctant smile on your face. It’s like getting tickled, but in your ears.
4. Take a shower and finish with 30 seconds of cold water.
If you can bear it, a short stint in a cold shower will get your blood flowing and increase your alertness. Bonus: Cold showers have also been shown to improve your tolerance to stress and boost circulation. Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression. Shevchuk NA. Medical hypotheses, 2007, Nov.;70(5):0306-9877. Possible use of repeated cold stress for reducing fatigue in chronic fatigue syndrome: a hypothesis. Shevchuk NA. Behavioral and brain functions : BBF, 2007, Oct.;3():1744-9081. And really, you can do anything for 30 seconds!
5. Eat within an hour of waking up.
When you’re wiped out, your body is automatically in a state of stress, pumping out cortisol and adrenaline to make up for a natural lack of energy. Sleep loss results in an elevation of cortisol levels the next evening. Leproult R, Copinschi G, Buxton O. Sleep, 1998, Mar.;20(10):0161-8105. Waiting too long to eat is going to force those hormones to work even harder, and this is a one-way ticket to carb cravings, foul moods, and energy crashes all day long.
6. Make a blood sugar-friendly plate.
If you nail these guidelines when choosing your breakfast, you’ll have sustained energy to power your sleepy self through the morning.
- Keep sugar content moderate to low, even the natural kind from fruit and honey.
- Add healthy fats from foods such as avocados, coconut, or grass-fed butter.
- Include protein from pastured eggs, organic nut butter, grass-fed lean meats, or quality protein powders.
- 2 pastured eggs fried in grass-fed butter with a side of leftover veggies
- Smoothie with 1/2 avocado, 1/2 frozen banana, handful of spinach, splash of vanilla extract, 2 to 3 drops stevia, 1/3 cup almond milk, 1/2 cup water
- Apple sprinkled with cinnamon and dipped in almond butter
- 3 tablespoons chia seeds mixed with 1 cup light coconut milk, 1 teaspoon honey, and set overnight. Top with berries in the morning.
7. Fake it 'til you make it.
I know it can seem like an impossible task to put on makeup when you can barely stop yawning long enough to brush your teeth, but it’s worth it! Blow dry your hair, put on a blazer, spritz your favorite scent—whatever makes you feel fly. When I take the time to put myself together, looking the part (even if you don't feel like it) can help bolster flagging spirits.