How to Sleep Your Way to More Natural Energy

Want to boost your natural energy? Read on for tips to increase your energy naturally and learn why this particular aspect of sleep is the secret to success.
Reviewed by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
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Monday morning: You’re slumped in your chair staring at your computer screen, already feeling sapped of energy — and it’s only 9:30. As you squint your eyes and try to will yourself into feeling more energetic, a colleague taps you on the shoulder: “Hey, are you OK? You look terrible.”

You know you’re exhausted, and everyone around you knows it too. It might seem obvious to you that sleep is the answer to your problem. But there’s more to it than that. The true secret to success (i.e., natural energy) is the one-two punch of lowering sleep debt and working with your circadian rhythm.

Keep reading to understand why sleep debt and circadian rhythm are the keys to how you feel during the day, how to design your day for optimal productivity, and more. 

How the Two Laws of Sleep Affect Daytime Energy 

Natural energy: A hand reaches for an alarm clock

When it comes to being your best self during the day, it turns out nothing matters as much as the two laws of sleep: sleep debt and circadian rhythm. This two-process model of sleep regulation was developed by sleep scientist Alexander Borbély who theorized that we sleep and wake based on the interaction between our sleep debt and our circadian rhythm. 

  • Sleep debt: This is the running total of the hours of sleep you’ve missed, as compared to the number of hours of sleep your body needed over the past 14 days.  
  • Circadian rhythm: This is the internal body clock that tells every cell in the body when to be active and inactive during a roughly 24-hour period. At Rise, we call it your energy schedule because it predicts when your body is ready to perform and when it wants to rest.

The key to feeling more awake and energetic is learning to leverage the two laws of sleep. By minimizing your sleep debt and working with your circadian rhythm, you’re more likely to feel rested and productive. 

What Does Sleep Debt Have to Do With Daytime Energy?

Natural energy: A woman stretches her arms as she wakes up

If you don’t put enough gas in your car, you won’t have the fuel to get where you want to go. This somewhat simplistic illustration is one way to think about the effects of not getting enough sleep — or carrying a high sleep debt. For a more detailed explanation, let’s look at the opposite side of the spectrum. 

If you were sleep debt-free — i.e., getting the precise amount of sleep your body needs every night — each day you'd experience a normal buildup of sleep pressure. Inside the brain, sleep pressure is the gradual accumulation of adenosine, an organic compound that decreases arousal and causes drowsiness. At bedtime, sleep pressure hits its peak and you hit the sheets. When you get your ideal amount of sleep, the brain purges itself of adenosine, resetting the pressure balance to zero for the next day.

On the other hand, when you’re sleep-deprived, instead of getting a full adenosine purge, you carry over the leftover adenosine to the next day. This leftover adenosine compounds the negative effects of sleep loss, and your energy levels take a hit.

It makes sense that paying down sleep debt can help you reclaim your energy. But how do you pay down debt? 

  • Determine how much sleep you need each night. (The RISE app will calculate this for you.)
  • Keep a consistent bedtime and wake time that accounts for this sleep need.
  • Supplement your sleep with afternoon naps when you need to minimize your sleep debt.
  • Sleep in later when needed, but only if you have no other options —  and ideally for no more than an hour past your usual wake time. Another option is to go to bed earlier for a few nights.

Circadian Rhythm: Why You Should Go With the Flow

RISE app screenshots showing energy peak and dip times

If you woke up at 3 a.m., it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect that you could just jump up and go for your regular morning run and start your day with no problem. Most of us understand and accept the natural energetic limitations of our nighttime sleeping hours. But what you might not realize is that those hours are just one part of a bigger picture: your energy schedule, or circadian rhythm. 

If you zoom out and look at all 24 hours of the day, what you’ll see is a wave of energy peaks and dips that represent your circadian rhythm. The RISE app shows the timing of your personal energy levels as they go up and down throughout the day. While the timing of these peaks and dips is different for everybody based on their unique chronobiology (and can change for the same person from day to day based on light exposure and other inputs), the pattern goes like this: 

  • Wake up: You may feel groggy for up to 90 minutes after waking (this is what’s known as sleep inertia).
  • Morning peak: You will feel more alert, focused, and energetic.
  • Midday dip: Your energy usually decreases in the early afternoon.
  • Evening peak: With this second wind comes more energy and focus.
  • Wind-down: As sleep pressure builds, you begin to feel less alert.
  • Melatonin Window: This is the best time to go to bed, as this is when your brain is releasing the most melatonin it will all night. 

Bottom line: It is natural for energy to ebb and flow throughout the day. As much as you might like to be running on all cylinders with maximum energy all day long, that’s just not natural or realistic. However, you can use your peaks and dips in energy to your advantage. 

Design Your Day According to Your Natural Energy Levels  

Two people ride bikes in the morning

People have a lot to say about time management. (A search on came up with 60,000 titles on the subject.) At Rise, we think energy management is what’s actually important. If you keep your circadian rhythm in mind as you plan your day, you may be able to schedule certain tasks and activities so that the energy required will match with your body’s natural energy levels at that time. For many people, employing this strategy turns out to be a transformative way of unlocking productivity.

For instance, if you have an important meeting that falls during your midday dip, try to move it up a couple of hours so that it coincides with your morning peak instead. You will be more alert, better able to focus, and have a higher tolerance for stress.

Here are some ideas on designing a workday for optimal productivity:

  • Morning ramp-up: If morning coffee or tea is your thing, have a cup while you check email or plan the day. Get some sunlight with a walk or exercise outdoors. All of these activities help curb the expected post-wake-up grogginess of sleep inertia. But this is not the ideal time for important meetings or high-stakes tasks since during this time of grogginess your decision-making and reaction times are negatively affected.
  • Morning peak: Take advantage of your high energy and cognitive capacity to do work or tasks that require high levels of focus, physical  performance, or emotional resilience. For example, write an important paper or presentation, work with your team on solving a complex problem, perform a complicated task or procedure, meet with a challenging client, or have a difficult conversation or meeting. 
  • Midday dip: Catch up on administrative tasks like paying bills or cleaning up your desktop — things that require less brainpower. If you're at home, this is a good time to work out or do household chores. (It’s also the best time of day to take a nap, if you need to pay down sleep debt.)
  • Evening peak: Knock out another project or task that requires a high level of focus or effort, spend quality time with your loved ones, get the kids ready for bed, or use this time to do something proactive that will set you up to be extra prepared or productive the following day.  
  • Evening wind-down: Do things that will help put some distance between you and your work or the stress of the day. Put away screens and electronic devices in favor of unplugged, relaxing activities like taking a hot shower or bath, reading, journaling, or meditation. If you prefer to stay plugged in, use blue-light blocking glasses when looking at your screens.
  • Melatonin Window: The most important thing to do at the time of your dim light melatonin onset (DLMO), the scientific term for the onset of this phase of your circadian rhythm, is go to bed — preferably in a room that's cool, dark, and quiet

Medical Conditions and Nutrition Can Affect Energy Levels

A person puts a fork in a bowl of healthy food

If you’re consistently meeting your sleep need and keeping your sleep debt low, but you still struggle to find enough energy to get through the day, seek medical advice from your doctor or another trusted source to rule out any serious underlying conditions or problems with your immune system. 

Fatigue and lack of energy may indicate thyroid disease or anemia. Profound fatigue is also a common complaint of patients with autoimmune diseases including celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. And unstable blood sugar and conditions like diabetes and hypoglycemia can cause extreme fluctuations in energy levels.

If there are no serious health problems, low energy levels may be attributable to subpar nutrition. When you think of food as an energy source, the importance of making good choices is magnified. Finding the right balance of macronutrients — carbohydrates, protein, and fats — is important for wellness and energy. Some people do well on a high-protein diet and try to avoid carbs; others focus on whole grains like brown rice and quinoa. But it’s always a good idea to consult a doctor or certified nutritionist to recommend the best foods for you and your health and energy goals. 

As a rule of thumb, it’s better to choose nutrient-dense whole foods like vegetables, leafy greens, and fruit over sugary or processed foods. If you think your diet may be lacking in essential vitamins and minerals — such as magnesium, folate, B vitamins, vitamin C, or other antioxidants — you might want to ask your doctor if adding a supplement could give you better energy outcomes or improve your overall health.

Not All Energy Boosters Are Created Equal

A woman drinks a bottle of water

Besides sleep and good nutrition, exercise is by far one of the best natural energy boosters you’ll ever find. If you exercise regularly, you’ve probably experienced the endorphin rush that usually comes in the middle or toward the end of your sweat session. 

Exercise can help increase blood flow, delivering more oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and improving cardiovascular function. Better heart and lung health equals more energy to do the things you want and need to do. Regular physical activity can also make it easier to get the sleep you need, which will help you feel more energetic. 

In addition to this virtuous sleep-energy cycle, exercise also has other energy-specific health benefits including weight loss. If you’re overweight or obese, it takes a lot of energy to carry around all those extra pounds. It can even be exhausting. Getting down to a normal weight can make you a more energy-efficient organism.

And what’s one of the most potentially problematic categories of energy boosters? Energy drinks. Without even addressing their sugar content, the fact that so many of these popular beverages are pumped full of large amounts of caffeine means they can pose significant health risks, especially when consumed in large quantities. Excess caffeine can give you more than jitters. It has also been associated with heart rhythm disturbances, high blood pressure, anxiety, and, of course, sleep problems. 

For most people, drinking a cup of coffee or green tea for a little pick-me-up  is a perfectly safe — and often effective — way to use caffeine to combat fatigue. Just keep in mind, since caffeine blocks the effects of adenosine, consuming caffeine later in the afternoon or evening may disrupt your sleep. The RISE app can help you here by reminding you when you should start avoiding caffeine during the day.

Thankfully, there is one energy-boosting beverage that’s safe to put on an all-you-can-drink list: water. But even those of us who know hydration is important don’t always drink water as much as we should. Because studies show that being even mildly dehydrated can negatively impact mood and energy levels, you might want to consider making your water bottle your constant companion.

Common Sense + Good Timing = Natural Energy

Natural energy: A woman raises her hands toward the rising sun

Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and drinking plenty of water can give your natural energy a boost. But the true key to having more energy during the day is keeping your sleep debt low by getting the sleep you need and following the flow of your circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is the often-missing piece that you may be less familiar with, but it’s a valuable energy secret that can make a big difference to your daily life.

The RISE app will help you tackle both sleep debt and circadian rhythm. With the app, you will know your sleep debt number, allowing you to take steps to reduce it. You will also know the exact timing of your peaks and dips in energy, so you can anticipate the fluctuations and use them to your advantage.

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Try 7 days free

The power behind your next best day

RISE makes it easy to improve your sleep and daily energy to reach your potential

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