Waking up is hard to do. Some of us night owls have always struggled to get the early worm, preferring to sleep through the sunrise and drink our morning coffee in wonder at those people who are up before dawn for their morning run.
But, waking can be difficult for people who go to bed at a reasonable hour too. Feeling sluggish in the morning even after coffee is common. According to one 2020 study, 65% of Americans rarely wake up rested and energized and daytime tiredness negatively affects 75%of respondents’ productivity.
Getting enough sleep is one major way to tackle daytime lethargy and morning grumpiness (check out our best techniques to fall asleep fast). But feeling refreshed in the morning isn’t only about what you do the night before. Below are seven tips on how to wake up less exhausted and grumpy and more rested.
Waking is controlled by two processes, the wake/sleep homeostasis and your circadian rhythm. Homeostasis means the longer you stay awake, the greater your body feels the need to sleep. Your circadian rhythm, however, causes highs and lows throughout the day of wakefulness and sleepiness. Adults are generally most tired between 2-3 am and 1-3 pm (which is why we all want an afternoon nap). Getting plenty of sleep helps balance the lows with the highs and allows you to be less groggy when you wake.
Your circadian rhythm is controlled by an area of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), located in the hypothalamus. This area is sensitive to light and dark signals received from the eyes. The SCN triggers the release of cortisol and other hormones that wake you in the morning, as well as melatonin in the evening.
Here are some tips to help you become an early bird and wake more easily and less befuddled in the morning.
It takes time to build habits and create a routine, but starting small can help lead to larger changes.Here are a few minor tweaks that may help start the day.
Get up at the same time every day. The first change to try is waking up at the same time every day, even on your days off. You may not like getting up at 6 am on a Saturday, but rising early on your days off will help you feel less tired on workdays. It will also ensure you’re sleepy around the same time each night. Working on sleep consistency helps you reset your internal clock, so you aren’t exhausted every morning.
Let the sunshine in. When you get up, open the curtains and let the morning sun revive you. You may notice you’re more tired on gloomy mornings. This is because the blue light of morning boosts alertness for the same reasons you want to avoid blue light in the evening. If you use blackout curtains or blinds in your bedroom, open them up in the morning and let in sunlight. If you don’t want to wake a partner, step outside into the sunlight for a moment or sit in a sunny room.
Water. Splash cold water on your face and drink water before caffeinating. Cold water causes an immediate sympathetic reaction meant to startle you away from a possible threat. Your adrenal gland releases adrenaline to jolt you into alertness.
Water may also help you wake up more than your choice of morning caffeine. Two 2019 studies showed that hydration helped improve mental performance and dehydration negatively affects short-term memory and attention, so drinking water in the morning after fasting for 8 hours may help boost mental performance even without caffeine.
Finally, a warm (not hot) morning shower may boost alertness by raising your body temperature gradually.
Stretch. There are dozens of morning yoga routines on YouTube (here’s my favorite) that only take 5-10 minutes and give your whole body a good stretch to get your heart pumping and increase your body temperature. Even if you’re not into yoga, stretching your arms above your head and touching your toes can get the morning juices flowing.
Now that your new routine is set, here are a couple things to avoid.
Plenty of us wake in the morning with our phone alarms and immediately begin checking texts, social media, emails, etc. But, this may do more harm than good.
Your brain has been busy all night moving through different states of sleep to file away memories and prepare your body for the next day. At that first alarm, it slowly switches from delta waves of deep sleep to theta waves of drowsy wakefulness–you’re awake but not very good at processing information. Scrolling in the morning can force your body to skip over the theta waves and bull straight into wakeful, alert beta waves.
However, you need that theta state, it’s where we have ideas and visualize plans and actions. Additionally, checking work emails or social media may trigger your stress response and put you on edge or in a bad mood while you’re still half asleep.
So, when the alarm sounds, turn it off, get up and put the phone down.
Going along with not looking at your phone, don’t hit the snooze button either. Pressing snooze and going back to sleep tells your body that it’s OK to begin another sleep cycle. If you do this multiple times, your brain and body will get confused. You may be groggier than you would be if you’d gotten up with the alarm in the first place. Set the alarm to a realistic time and just get up.
In addition to nailing down your morning routine, there are some things you can do during the day that will help you wake up the next morning.
You don’t have to do it first thing in the morning, but going for a walk or even sitting outside for 5-15 minutes (more in the winter) will get you some Vitamin D. This helps you absorb other minerals, boosts your immune system, aids the production of blood cells and strengthens bones. Sunlight also helps decrease anxiety by boosting serotonin, letting you stay calm and focus. Plus, there are all those benefits of morning sunshine we mentioned above.
Go for a run while you’re outside, go to the gym or do an at-home workout. Exercise increases endorphins and raises body temperature, which might be why those morning people are so chipper before we’ve gotten out of bed. Doing a 40-minute aerobic workout at any time of the day except right before bed will help you sleep better, thus enabling you to wake up easier.
If you’re especially grumpy when you wake up, give yourself as little to do in the morning as possible by getting it all done the night before. Before you go to bed, prep the coffee machine, make the lunches and find the kids’ shoes. Get your work bag ready and put your keys and transit pass with it. Prepare so you only have to do the bare minimum the next morning.
Finally, if setting your blaring alarm makes you dread mornings, try a silent alarm.
Waking up to an obnoxious noise can have a number of unintended consequences. Loud audio alarms may cause high blood pressure and increased heart rates. They can also add anxiety to the existential dread of waking up. There are several benefits to a silent alarm, including decreasing sleep inertia.
WHOOP 4.0 includes an updated Sleep Coach with haptic alerts that wake you using gentle vibrations on your wrist for a more pleasant experience than a blaring alarm.
The Sleep Coach gives you three options to help you plan your sleep so you can wake at the optimal time based on your sleep needs. Set the haptic alert for the exact time you need to get up, to wake you when you’ve reached your nightly sleep goal, or to wake you when you’re “in the green” and optimally recovered.