How to Wake Up Without Feeling Sluggish

Updated 04/17/19

In our never-ending list of things we dislike, waking up early is right up there with airplane snorers and the end of summer Fridays. It’s not so much the early wake-up call, though, as it is the groggy, zombie-like state that comes with it. You know the feeling: that sluggish, exhausted “I’d give up my life savings to sleep for 10 more minutes” state of alertness (or rather lack thereof) that usually accompanies early mornings—or, like, every morning.

By now, we’ve mastered how to fall asleep more quickly, so why shouldn’t we also know how to wake up bright eyed and bushy tailed? To help us in this quest, we enlisted Dr. Britney Blair, psychologist and sleep expert at SleepRate (an app that aims to help people sleep better), to show us the light (literally, it turns out). Keep scrolling to find out all the things you should do to wake up feeling more alert! 

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Sleep Inertia

First things first—before you figure out how to kick your morning grogginess to the curb, you should understand why you feel that way. “Most people are sluggish when they initially wake up due to something we call sleep inertia,” Blair says. “Sleep inertia is that period of time—it typically ranges from 30 to 60 minutes—immediately after waking that your body feels heavy and your brain a bit foggy. Some people might also feel a bit grumpy.” Yes, yes, and yes—that all sounds exactly like the range of our morning emotions.

But here’s something new: Blair says that though most people experience a short period of sleep inertia, it might be more intense for night owls than for morning people. (Don’t cry, night owls—we’ve got some tricks to help you become more like a morning person.)

So basically, sleep inertia happens to everyone and is completely normal—but there are some things you can do to decrease the length of time and how intensely you feel it. Here are a few… 

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Brighten Up

Here’s a challenge: Each time your alarm goes off this week, get up and fling your curtains open to let light in. Why? “Getting bright light first thing in the morning can be super helpful in anchoring your biological clock to a regular time,” Blair says. “Ultimately, this will lead to more morning alertness and less-intense sleep inertia.” If you’re lucky enough to sleep in a room with lots of windows, try sleeping with the blinds slightly open so daylight can filter in naturally—you might even wake up before your dreaded alarm.

Speaking of alarms…

Wake Up Consistently

You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who actually enjoys the sound of an alarm—but Blair says your best alarm is your internal clock. “If you consistently wake up at the same time every day using an external alarm, you may find that after a few weeks, your body will naturally wake you 10 to 20 minutes before your alarm sounds,” she says. And yes, this—unfortunately—includes weekends. As for the type of alarm sound that’s most conducive to beating the a.m. haze, Blair says it’s really up to you. “Some people enjoy an alarm that isn’t loud or obnoxious, while others need the volume and annoyance to get out of bed,” she says.

“Use whatever alarm helps facilitate you waking at the same time every day—weekday and weekend.” Ready for some more tips? Here you go…

Contrary to popular belief, Blair says that it isn’t actually as important that you’re going to bed at the same time every night as it is to give your brain and body time to unwind before bed—30 to 60 minutes is ideal. “The most important thing you can do in order to wake up feeling refreshed is to make sleep a priority,” she says. “The best rule of thumb would be to stop working, doing housework, and using electronic devices at the same time each night in order to give your brain and body time to unwind.” After you’ve had 30 to 60 minutes to unwind and prepare for sleep, you can head to bed—but only if you’re feeling sleepy.

If you try to force yourself to go to bed before you feel tired, it can result in difficulty falling asleep and a groggier morning.

Ice Cube said it best: Check yoself before you wreck yoself. This applies to the quality of your sleep, too. If you’re following all of these above rules and still find yourself waking up super exhausted and groggy, you might need to talk to a healthcare professional. “If you snore chronically, have frequent nightmares, or jerk or move around excessively in our sleep or just before getting to sleep, you may be at risk for a sleep disorder than can impact sleep quality,” Blair says.

As much as we wish we ate dinner right at 6:30 p.m. each night, that usually isn’t the reality. However, if you find yourself starving before bed, resist the urge to stuff your face. Instead, Blair says to try a small snack, like a piece of fruit, cup of yogurt, or handful of nuts, instead. These will soothe your hunger without causing your digestive system to work extra hard in the middle of the night, when you should be resting and recuperating.

Yet another annoying thing stress is doing to your body? Affecting your sleep, that’s what. “Check in with yourself and determine how stressed out you are on any given day,” Blair says. “If you feel you are running hard with little downtime, consider taking a ‘time-out’ before bed to give your mind time to unwind.” We suggest meditating or doing one of these easy stress-relieving tricks. Be in touch with yourself and promise to do something soothing before bed to ease your mind (and increase your morning alertness) if you’ve had a particularly stressful day.

Will you try these tips? Click here to find out the best sleep conditions, according to science

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