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[en] We have analyzed the coupling of ultraintense lasers (at ∼2x1019 W/cm2) with solid foils of limited transverse extent (∼10 s of μm) by monitoring the electrons and ions emitted from the target. We observe that reducing the target surface area allows electrons at the target surface to be reflected from the target edges during or shortly after the laser pulse. This transverse refluxing can maintain a hotter, denser and more homogeneous electron sheath around the target for a longer time. Consequently, when transverse refluxing takes places within the acceleration time of associated ions, we observe increased maximum proton energies (up to threefold), increased laser-to-ion conversion efficiency (up to a factor 30), and reduced divergence which bodes well for a number of applications.