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Bounce Back After a Bad Night's Sleep

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More No-Sleep Casualties

Your Job

Ever notice how days seem to drag when you're most tired? Sleep-deprived people take longer to complete routine tasks and are less productive than those who sleep soundly, according to a study in the Journal of Vision. (Only anecdotal evidence suggests that it takes the clock longer to reach 5:00 p.m. when you're zonked.) "A bad night's sleep wreaks havoc on the prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain responsible for creativity and innovation," explains Christopher Barnes, PhD, a sleep and ethics researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle. "When you're sleeping, those brain cells regenerate, so you function optimally the next day. When you cut that process short, performance suffers."

Wake-up call: Napping, even for 10 to 20 minutes in your car on your lunch break, is the best way to mitigate the effects of a poor night's sleep and help you regain focus, Barnes says. If you don't drive to work (and falling asleep in the bathroom stall isn't an option), the next best thing is to organize your day around your body's circadian rhythms. Schedule creative projects and tasks that require brainstorming for the morning, when you tend to be most alert. Tackle routine to-dos -- the ones you can do in your, um, sleep -- at 3:00 p.m., when your energy nosedives.

Coffee also helps, because caffeine can boost concentration and mental alertness, according to a study in the Indian Journal of Social Science Researchers. Plan your java fix for when you need the most brainpower. Coffee's effect is strongest 30 minutes to three hours after your first cup. Be careful not to drink it too late in the day because lingering effects of caffeine could prevent you from nodding off at night, says Jeffrey Mechanick, MD, an endocrinologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. Big meeting at 4:00? Take a 10-minute walk directly beforehand to get the blood flowing and bring oxygen to your brain, says Joyce Walsleben, PhD, a professor of sleep medicine at New York University. Fog lifted!

Your Relationship

Lack of sleep can turn you into a serious Medusa. Without sufficient shut-eye, brain chemicals like serotonin don't have time to replenish, making you irritable and moody, Walsleben says. It's no surprise, then, that sleep-deprived couples have a tough time valuing and expressing appreciation for their significant other the next day, according to a recent study from the University of California, Berkeley. "When people feel taken for granted, it makes them angry and unwilling to give," says Mira Kirshenbaum, PhD, a relationship therapist and the author of I Love You, But I Don't Trust You. "That can build resentment in an otherwise loving relationship."

Wake-up call: You can't control brain chemicals, but you can quash the tendency to point out the negative, Kirshenbaum says. Make it your goal to notice thoughtful gestures when you're short on sleep, like whether he brought you coffee or called to wish you luck before a big meeting. The more you focus on the positive, the more you'll find, and the more you'll value your partner, she says. On mornings when you're both tired, play a game to see who can be most thoughtful. It sounds silly, but the point is to make you both less cranky and more caring. Last, the day after a bad night's sleep is not the time to have difficult discussions or talk about feelings or grievances, Kirshenbaum says. Catch some zzz's, then tackle the tough stuff.

Your Judgment

When you're groggy, so is the imaginary angel on your shoulder, and the devil gets full rein. The prefrontal cortex of the brain that regulates self-control (and tells you not to friend your ex on Facebook or have one more drink) gets thrown out of whack, Barnes says. The result: Those who are sleep deprived are more likely to have less self-control, take greater risks, and focus on the reward rather than the danger.

Wake-up call: Take a walk and think it over. Ten to 40 minutes of physical activity improve self-control and reinforce inhibition, according to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Researchers speculate that exercise increases blood and oxygen flow to the prefrontal areas of the brain, snapping you back to your normal-thinking self. Or try this trick that fosters good decision making: Tell yourself what you will or won't do and why (such as, "I will not click on that e-mail from Gilt because I'm saving for a vacation") and you'll be more likely to stick with your goal. Know, too, that friends can help when you're short on self-control. Enlist a trustworthy pal to help keep you accountable by telling her, "I want to have only one glass of wine or cookie tonight" or "Don't let me spend more than $50 at the mall today." Finally, ask yourself, Will I regret this tomorrow? If the answer is maybe, then sleep on it.

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11/20/2013 10:08:35 AM Report Abuse
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11/18/2013 05:59:38 PM Report Abuse
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11/4/2013 08:54:23 AM Report Abuse

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