These days, it seems like productivity has been misnamed as a virtue, and how little sleep you get is almost a badge of honor. But there’s no hiding how tired we all are. More than one-third of us sleep less than the recommended seven to nine hours a night, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it’s having real consequences.
The good news is that you can make up for lost time — quickly. Recent studies have shown that just three to four nights of more sleeping in (yes, sleeping in) can make up for sleep debt and reduce our tired sighs.
Have you ever had an energy guide that recommends you to sleep, eat, and exercise without compromising your weekend? Well, ours does. Follow this flexible three-day guide to reset your energy.
As tempting as it is, avoid staying out late on Friday and hit bed at 11 p.m. Before you fall asleep, set a timer to go off in 10 to 11 hours.
When to wake up: 10 a.m.
Even though you’re waking up at 10 a.m., getting 10 to 11 hours of shut-eye is still sleeping in! One study found that one hour of sleep debt requires almost four hours of sleep for recovery. So sleep in — but not too long. You’ve got food to eat and a body to move!
What to eat today
- Add vegetables to your meals. Start the weekend with a veggie-filled meal. One of the best ways to improve your diet is to add vegetables to every meal, according to Leah Groppo, a clinical dietitian at Stanford Health Care. Groppo also recommends letting go of any strict diets. “It’s important to fuel your body. Any kind of diet that restricts calories aggressively is not a sustainable plan, and it’s not good for energy,” she says.
- Take a water bottle with you. Or keep a glass of water next to you all day. Proper hydration helps improve your energy and your metabolism. Even mild dehydration can impact your mood and leave you feeling fatigued.
- Stick to one glass. You may fall asleep easier with a few drinks, but alcohol disrupts your sleep pattern and can leave you struggling to fall back asleep in the middle of the night. A glass (or two for men) is all right. Just make sure you polish it off a couple of hours before bed.
What to do today
- Don’t check your email. Take the weekend completely off to help decrease stress and recover from physical and emotional exhaustion. Research has shown that you’ll catch up faster and bounce back better if you fully disconnect from work.
- Hit the gym. Try walking, a gentle bike ride, or yoga for low-intensity exercise. If you’re looking for something that gets your heart rate up a bit more, cardio at a conversational pace (where you can hold a conversation while exercising) or strength training is a good place to start. Just a little bit of exercise will help you feel more energized throughout the day, fall asleep faster, and sleep longer.
- Clean your bedroom. Your sleep space matters. A messy room can leave you feeling stressed and anxious, which isn’t ideal for restful sleep. But it’s more than what you can see. Dust can reduce your sleep quality and cause headaches, congestion, and itchy eyes or throat come morning. Give your room a quick tidy up.
When to sleep today: 11 p.m.
Set a timer to wake you up in 9 to 10 hours. You’ll still be sleeping in on Sunday, but just a little less so that you can get used to waking up with only seven hours of sleep later on.
When to wake up: 8 a.m.
With nearly 10 hours of sleep for two days, you should already feel more energetic, but don’t take it as a sign of full recovery. Research shows it takes at least three days to totally go back to normal. So stick to our guide for two more days!
What to eat today
Choose veggies and whole foods today, but also really focus on limiting foods with added sugar and artificial ingredients.
- Go easy on the caffeine. You don’t have to go cold turkey, but limit yourself to 1 to 2 cups and switch to caffeine-free herbal tea after 2 p.m. to prevent interrupting your sleep tonight.
- Eat to beat fatigue. Refuel with foods that beat fatigue, like whole fruits, nuts and seeds, and sweet potatoes. High-protein snacks like jerky, trail mix, and hummus are also a great place to start.
What to do today
- Meal plan for the rest of the week. Save yourself time and brain power by sketching out what you’ll eat this week to avoid skipping meals or grabbing takeout. It can be helpful to buy everything you need for the first few days and pack your lunch the day before so you’re all set to go.
- Avoid the temptation to nap. Naps can disrupt your circadian rhythm, or your internal clock. If you just can’t keep your eyes open any longer, Rachel Salas, MD, an associate professor of neurology specializing in sleep medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine, recommends keeping your nap to 20 to 30 minutes maximum and only indulging before 3 p.m.
- Stretch or go for a walk. Gentle exercises, like stretching or walking, can help you sleep better and fully relax. Yoga in particular can help you de-stress, relieve anxiety, improve your mood, and feel less tired. And you can do it in the comfort of your own home!
When to sleep today: 11 p.m.
- Make time to unwind. Prep for bedtime with an unwinding activity like gentle stretching, reading a book for a few minutes, or taking a bath or shower. You have to let your brain know that bedtime is coming, according to Salas. A consistent bedtime routine that starts 15 to 60 minutes before bed can cue your brain it’s bedtime.
- Try a white noise machine or ear plugs. If you’re still having trouble falling asleep, even simply turning on a fan can help. (Parents, you’ll have to be careful to ensure that you can still hear your kids.) Blackout curtains or a sleep mask can also make a big difference in how well and deeply you sleep.
When to wake up: 6 a.m.
Depending on when you need to be up for work, waking up at 6 or 7 a.m. will still provide you with the much-needed seven to eight hours of sleep. Don’t hit the snooze button! If you need a little help, get out of bed and start making your morning coffee. Just be careful not to overdo it. Caffeine can’t fix a bad night’s sleep.
What to eat today
- Have breakfast — don’t skip meals. While it’s important to only eat when you’re hungry, skipping meals can leave you exhausted (and perhaps unpleasant to be around). Follow the meal plan you worked out on Saturday. Be sure to keep your body fueled throughout the entire day, even if you’re busy.
- Opt for a lighter lunch. People who eat a lot at lunch tend to have a more noticeable dip in energy in the afternoon. Avoid fatty foods like french fries, chips, and ice cream. Studies have found that people who sleep less tend to eat more calories, especially from fat, and feel less alert in the afternoon.
What to do today
Other than work, there are a few habits you picked up over the weekend that you can slip into your day.
- Go for an afternoon walk or get a workout in. Exercise can reduce fatigue from an overworked brain, according to a 2016 study. If you can, schedule the day’s workout around lunch or in the afternoon to get the brain-boosting benefits when they matter the most. But it also doesn’t really matter what time you exercise, as long as you do it. Studies have found that evening exercise won’t ruin your sleep.
- But prioritize sleep over hitting the gym. Most researchers also agree that how well you sleep is healthier than making the time to exercise. So if you don’t have time for the gym, rest. (Don’t binge Netflix past your bedtime, though.) Improving your sleep tonight may help you hit the gym tomorrow.
When to sleep: 11 p.m.
Most people’s circadian rhythm is set to go to bed around 11 p.m. and wake up around 7 a.m. “Even if you are getting enough sleep,” says Salas, “if it’s not in line with your circadian rhythm, you can actually function like a sleep-deprived person.”
- Hit the hay a bit sooner. If you had a hard time waking up today, you may want to sleep a little earlier. Set your alarm to make sure you’re getting at least seven hours of sleep.
- Don’t use screens an hour before bed. The bright, blue-hued lights that come from smartphones, TVs, and even lamps signal to the brain that it’s daytime and time to wake up. If you’re really in a crunch, try to dim the lights just 15 or 30 minutes before going to bed.
When you wake up, remember that you spent the last three days recovering. Third time’s a charm, and now’s the time to start living.
For the rest of the week
- Get at least seven hours of sleep each night.
- Eat balanced foods throughout the day.
- Incorporate exercise into your routine.
- Limit alcoholic drinks and sugary foods.
Sleeping is charging yourself with energy
There are a lot of habits you can change to have more energy throughout the entire day. In general, you’ll know if you’re getting enough sleep if you can:
- wake up easily without an alarm clock (or someone acting like one)
- don’t feel tired or sleepy during the day
- don’t sleep longer on the weekends than you do on weekdays
But if you’re still feeling tired or having difficulty sleeping soundly, it’s time to talk to your doctor. Waking up tired after several full nights of sleep can be a red flag that you may have a sleep disorder or something else going on entirely, according to Salas.
No amount of food or caffeine can make up for missing out on much-needed rest. But if your low energy levels are because of little sleep, then sleep in! It’s better to catch up on your Zzz’s than force a fatigued you to sloth through a new routine.
Mandy Ferreira is a writer and editor in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s passionate about health, fitness, and sustainable living. She’s currently obsessed with running, Olympic lifting, and yoga, but she also swims, cycles, and does just about everything else she can. You can keep up with her on her blog and on Twitter.