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Why we’re *so* much more tired in the mornings now, according to a sleep doctor

Mary Grace Garis

Mary Grace GarisMay 11, 2020

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Photo: Getty Images/Igor Ustynskyy

I have an ambitious alarm set every morning for 7 a.m., and I’m not really sure why anymore. Now, I routinely snooze several times, because, well, why not? I don’t have to commute to workI don’t need to shower (if I don’t want to), and I definitely don’t need to put pants on. But even with these time-savers pushing my wakeup call later, I’m really struggling with getting out of bed part, and I can’t figure out why I feel so much fatigue in the morning.

This fatigue in the morning isn’t an uncommon quarantine mood, and there are several logical reasons to explain it. First is that all of our negative emotions and worries related to these pandemic times are weighing us down, under the covers and otherwise.

“Stress is extremely draining and can lead to fatigue,” says Shelby Harris, PsyD, sleep-health expert and author of The Women’s Guide to Overcoming Insomnia. This is because, “when we’re undergoing chronic stress, we often have higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. High levels of cortisol often lead to increased fatigue, depression, and anxiety.” In a chicken-or-the-egg situation, depression and anxiety—which Dr. Harris says are on the rise—can also cause fatigue.

“When we’re undergoing chronic stress, we often have higher levels of cortisol, which often leads to increased fatigue, depression, and anxiety.” —sleep expert Shelby Harris, PsyD

In addition to your general stress-induced fatigue, Dr. Harris says a reason you may have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning could be that you’re simply not getting enough quality sleep at night. Pandemic worries can uniquely compromise our sleep hygiene in a few ways. For starters, the aforementioned stress and anxiety surrounding COVID-19 could make it difficult to fall and stay asleep. Next, many people are on their screens closer and closer to bedtime, and whether you’re scrolling to digest more updates from this ‘infodemic’ or using your devices to distract from it (have you binge-watched Normal People yet?), screens are a big no-no for quality sleep.

Furthermore, “Many of us have shifted to later bedtimes [in general],” says Dr. Harris. And as any college student will confirm, staying up late will certainly play into early-morning grogginess.

The other ways your lifestyle has changed on account of stay-at-home orders could also be responsible for snooze-filled mornings, says Dr. Harris. For instance, we’re all, for the most part, a lot more sedentary than we normally are, which can counterintuitively make us more tired. Additionally, we might not be getting as much exposure to light, which research shows helps keep us energized and our body’s circadian rhythm in check. Without it, we run the a greater risk of falling into a sloth-like, fatigue-ridden state.

Because there’s such a potpourri of problems that could be fueling your fatigue, it can be difficult to correct. But, says Dr. Harris, you can take one thing at a time to work out the root issue.

“If you’re stressed, not getting good-quality sleep, and not getting enough light, pick one thing to improve upon for the week,” says Dr. Harris. “Make a note, for example, of getting as much light as possible. If that’s not enough, then work on stress reduction. If that’s not enough, really work to target sleep through more structured behavioral interventions like cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia.”

And the next time you find yourself wondering how it’s possible that you’re so tired every morning, know that you’re not alone—this is a mentally exhausting time. Sure, once you can identify probable root causes of your sunrise sleepiness, you can triage those underlying situations, but still, don’t beat yourself up if you hit snooze once, twice, or even three times.

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