Healthy Sleeping Habits

How To Wake Yourself Up When That Early-Morning Fatigue Is Real

Mary Grace Garis

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If the last few months spent in quarantine at home have made you feel like you’re basically melting into the mattress, I feel you. For so many of us who love the comfort of our own bed and sleeping in, the notion of going full Snow White and sleeping in indefinitely is kind of tempting given that we’ve gotten explicit instruction to stay at home. In that case, though, knowing how to wake yourself up becomes an imperative life skill. I mean, spoiler alert, but at some point, even Snow White herself woke up and started her day.

While knowing how to wake yourself up may seem as easy as, you know, opening your eyes, in real life, actually getting out of bed can take some real effort for myriad reasons. To get more detail about what, exactly, makes waking up in the morning difficult in the first place, followed by strategies you can apply to make it happen, keep reading for a sleep-doctor-approved guide.

What causes difficulty waking up in the morning so difficult in the first place?

Well, let’s start with the “duh,” answer first: if you stayed up until 3 a.m. last night, scrolling through videos of Timothée Chalamet speaking French (or whatever it is you do), then, yes, there’s a good chance you may feel leaden the next morning and have trouble waking up.

“Ideally, we all wake up spontaneously in the morning, but for a number of reasons, this is often not the case,” says Nate Watson, MD, co-director of the University of Washington Medicine Sleep Center. “The most common cause of difficulty waking up is sleep deprivation—your body wants more sleep, but you are forcing it out of bed. This causes some difficulty.”

“The most common cause of difficulty waking up is sleep deprivation—your body wants more sleep, but you are forcing it out of bed. This causes some difficulty.” —sleep doctor Nate Watson, MD

The good-bad news is that plenty of us don’t get “enough” sleep. Many of us know that the ideal number of hours is 8, but the 2019 Philips Global Sleep Study pointed out that across the globe, people are getting an average of 7.8 hours on weekdays, 6.8 on weekends. Those figures might even feel laughable to you, especially if you’ve been tossing and turning recently, due to pandemic anxiety or any other number of reasons to feel worried about the state of the world. Whatever the cause of your sleeplessness, though, taking stock of how much sleep you get nightly is the first step toward helping you be able to wake yourself up.

Of course, if you’re in an almost bearlike state of hibernation every day, and hours sleeping are not an issue, that might be something to look into. Dr. Watson shares that untreated sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea can also cause difficulty waking in the morning. Or, the issues could be simply be that your wakeup is timed at an inconvenient part of your sleep cycle. “Waking out of a deep non-REM (NREM) sleep stage or N3 sleep is associated with ‘sleep inertia’ which can make it difficult to wake up,” Dr. Watson says.

This intel also pertains to your midday snoozing habit: When you time-block your power naps, keep the duration to under 20 minutes, before you enter stage three of the sleep cycle. Doing this will keep you from getting that gross, groggy feeling that’ll have you hitting “snooze” again and again and again.

5 signs you might not be getting enough sleep (no matter how many hours you’re clocking in)

To reiterate, the simplest potential cause of you not being able to wake up in the morning is just not getting enough sleep. And while we popularly subscribe to 8 hours being the “right” amount of time, the notion of “enough” sleep is kind of subjective. According to Roy Raymann, PhD, chief scientific officer at SleepScore Labs, there are five signs to look for that tell you that you’re not getting enough sleep, no matter how many hours you’re clocking in. Because if you ultimately need a different amount of sleep than the general guideline prescribes, you might well have a hard time understanding how to wake yourself up in the morning.

1. You feeling fatigued

This is defined as having low energy, not feeling like yourself, and truly feeling worn down. It’s not even so much a sleepiness thing; with fatigue, you more so feel like you’re chronically running on a quarter tank of fuel, ready to putter out.

2. You have poor cognitive performance

You’re in a sort of brain fog all day, unable to perform at your full potential. You find yourself “making mistakes, having slower reactions, lapses of attention, poorer concentration, and/or a short attention span,” says Dr. Raymann.

3. You have compromised memory function

Put directly, you find it more difficult than normal to memorize and/or recall facts and memories.

4. You’re irritable

Ah, yes, that classic, “I haven’t had my first cup of coffee” feeling. Notice if you’re always angry, first thing in the A.M., and if you find it harder to read the emotions of other people.

5. You have certain food preferences

If you find yourself leaning for more calorie-rich, high-fat, high-carbohydrate meals than you normally do, Dr. Raymann says that might be a telltale sign of a lack of sleep.

3 tips for how to wake yourself up if getting out of bed feels impossible

So now that you know how important getting enough sleep is (and different signs you haven’t done it) for making sure you’re able to wake yourself up, here are a few strategies you can try once you’re actually well-rested.

1. Reconfigure your schedule

If you can, try to designate a week when you go “alarmless” to see what time you naturally wake up. “Go to bed when you feel tired and wake spontaneously,” Dr. Watson says. “This will result in the best waking experience possible.”

2. Invest in a light lamp

Humans legitimately need light in order to promote wakefulness. “A dawn simulator can help, particularly in the winter months, as it gradually lightens the bedroom and helps a person wake,” Dr. Watson says.

My personal best friend in the winter is Sunlight Inside’s Bottled Sunshine ($199), a lamp that mimics natural light and shakes me out of bed when I have a big case of the I Don’t Wannas. If midday grogginess gets you down, a light-therapy desk lamp can keep you energized, and the Lumie Vitamin L SAD Lamp ($99) should provide an appropriate jolt.

3. Let apps sense when it’ll be the best time to wake you up

“Some apps, such as SleepScore, have a smart alarm that will awaken you within a designated time period when it senses you are in a lighter stage of sleep, thereby easing your entry into the day,” Dr. Watson says. You can also look to the Sleep Cycle app on Apple Watch, which times your sleep schedule for when you’d be in those lighter, earlier stages. What essentially matters is that your alarm goes off when you’re not in that tough-to-shake NREM sleep.

Look, I understand that getting yourself out of bed each morning can be a real struggle when the alternative is the sweet embrace of soft sheets and slumber. But if the separation between you and waking up on your own is a matter of not getting enough sleep, hopefully you can now troubleshoot shifting your habits. You’ll be well-rested, wide-eyed, and ready to go.

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