Nothing feels worse than your alarm clock going off when you’re not ready for it. You hit the snooze button once, twice, or quite a few times, only to keep waking up feeling tired.
And even when you do drag yourself out of bed, you go about your morning routine with fatigue that lingers long into the day and the urge to grab the strongest energy drinks out there.
If this is you, we’ve got the answer. Below, we’ll explain the two biggest things that make a difference to your energy levels in the morning: sleep debt and circadian alignment. Then, we’ll cover how you can get these two things right and other ways you can battle morning grogginess, also known as sleep inertia.
Are you often waking up from a night’s sleep and immediately feeling like you need hours more in bed? Here’s what could be causing your tiredness.
Sleep debt is the measure of how much sleep you owe your body. It’s compared against your sleep need — the genetically determined amount of sleep you need — and tallied over 14 nights.
If you haven’t been meeting your sleep need, you’ll have built up sleep debt, and this debt will make you feel tired as your body simply hasn’t had enough sleep.
You’ll feel tired in general when you’ve got a lot of sleep debt, but when you’re recovering from sleep loss, sleep inertia, or that grogginess you get after waking up, will feel more intense.
Getting eight hours of sleep may not be enough — despite what the common recommendation says. That’s because everyone’s sleep need is different. One study revealed an average sleep need of 8 hours 40 minutes, plus or minus 10 minutes or so, but 13.5% of the population may need 9 hours or more sleep a night.
For a quick and accurate way of working out your sleep need, turn to the RISE app. RISE uses your phone use behavior and proprietary sleep-science-based models to work out your individual sleep need and give you a number to aim for in hours and minutes.
RISE can also work out how much sleep debt you’re carrying. While having zero sleep debt is great, it’s also an unrealistic goal. We recommend keeping sleep debt below five hours to maximize your energy levels.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep need.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep debt.
Your circadian rhythm, and not living in sync with it, is another reason you may be waking up feeling tired. This rhythm is your internal biological clock that runs on a roughly 24-hour cycle. It dictates things like when you feel tired, awake, and when your body produces certain hormones.
You may be out of sync with your circadian rhythm if:
Your energy levels naturally fluctuate throughout the day as part of this circadian rhythm, so if you wake up during a circadian low point, you’ll feel more tired than usual.
Plus, if you wake up at an odd time that your body isn’t used to getting up at, you could be waking up halfway through a sleep cycle in a deep sleep phase. This makes you feel much groggier compared to waking up during other sleep phases.
What’s more, your body temperature fluctuates throughout the day and night with your circadian rhythm, and research shows if you wake up when your body temperature is at its lowest — usually around 4 a.m. depending on your bedtime and chronotype — you’ll suffer from more grogginess.
If your sleep debt is low and you’re living in sync with your circadian rhythm, there’s another reason you're waking up tired: sleep inertia.
Sleep inertia happens even when you’ve had enough sleep. It’s caused by adenosine, a natural compound that builds up in your system all the time you’re awake.
As it builds throughout the day, the urge to sleep will get stronger, also known as sleep pressure. When you sleep, adenosine is purged from your system, essentially resetting the process for the next day. This is part of the homeostatic process, or the balance between sleep and wakefulness.
However, when you wake up, there are still some traces of adenosine left in your system. You’ll probably feel the effects for about 60 to 90 minutes and may feel disorientated, sleepy, and brain foggy.
Sleep inertia doesn’t just make you feel sleepy, though. You won’t be performing as well as you usually do, both mentally and physically.
One 2019 paper even said:
“Sleep inertia is of great importance as the associated performance impairment can be equivalent to, or greater than, that observed after up to 40 hrs of sleep deprivation.”
You can learn more about sleep inertia here.
Heads-up: Lifestyle factors could also be the cause of fatigue. Be sure to exercise regularly, keep stress low, and eat a diet full of whole grains, complex carbs, and healthy fats to maintain overall health and wellness. If you think a sleep disorder or underlying medical condition could be the reason you’re feeling tired, seek out medical advice.
Want to wake up feeling less tired each day? Here’s what to do to reclaim your mornings.
If you’ve got sleep debt, the first step to getting more energy in general and lessening sleep inertia in the morning is to pay some of this back.
While the jury’s still out on whether it’s possible to pay back chronic sleep debt — the kind that’s built up over many months and years — research shows you can pay back acute sleep debt, the short-term kind you’ve built up over the last 14 nights.
You can catch up on sleep by:
Sleep hygiene can also help you meet your sleep need night after night. The behaviors include things like avoiding caffeine and large meals too close to bedtime; getting natural light in the morning and avoiding light come evening; and keeping your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet.
You can learn more about sleep hygiene here and RISE can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits to help you stay on top of them all.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications.
Even if you’re getting enough sleep, being out of sync with your circadian rhythm can make you feel sleepy when morning rolls around. And being in sync has health benefits, too, as research shows circadian misalignment increases your risk of everything from heart disease to obesity to cancer.
You can live in sync with your circadian rhythm by:
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up a daily Melatonin Window reminder.
Natural light signals to your brain that it’s time to be awake. It suppresses melatonin and resets your circadian rhythm for the day, and research suggests it could improve how sleepy you feel when you first wake up.
It also boosts production of the hormone cortisol, which helps you feel more alert, and serotonin, which boosts your mood.
Aim to get at least 10 minutes of natural light as soon as possible after waking up. And if it’s cloudy outside or you’re getting your light exposure through a window, aim for 30 minutes.
If you need to wake up when it’s dark outside, consider using a dawn simulator. More research needs to be done into dawn simulators, but studies suggest they can reduce sleepiness and perhaps even improve performance upon awakening.
And the morning is the perfect time to enjoy a cup of tea or coffee, as caffeine lasts in your system longer than you’d think and it can easily disrupt your sleep if you drink it too late in the day.
You learn more about how long caffeine lasts here. You can also use RISE to see your unique caffeine cutoff time each day. RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their limit caffeine reminder.
Not a coffee or tea fan? Grab a glass of water, at least. The very act of drinking water can help you feel more alert and hydration keeps you feeling your best and can even help you get enough sleep each night, and therefore more energy each day.
Exercise isn’t just good for your weight loss, it can help fight morning fatigue, too.
Working out triggers your body into releasing cortisol to make you feel more alert, serotonin to boost your mood, and endorphins, or “feel-good hormones.” It also increases blood flow to the brain.
A 2021 study looked at how exercise impacted sleep inertia and compared high-intensity exercise, low-intensity exercise, and no exercise. It found high-intensity exercise reduced sleep inertia the most.
The best part? The participants only exercised for 30 seconds. So, even if you don’t have time to get to the gym before work, you can still use a short burst of physical activity to shake off that post-sleep grogginess.
Plus, regular exercise can improve your energy levels in general throughout the day and even help you sleep better each night. And that’s not even mentioning the general well-being and mental health benefits.
So, start your day with some physical activity, and bonus points if you can work out outside in natural light.
Sleep inertia is, unfortunately, a fact of life. Even if you get enough sleep each night and line this up nicely with your circadian rhythm, you’ll still feel a little groggy when you first wake up.
You can check RISE to see how long your morning grogginess is expected to last — we call this your “grogginess zone.” This way, you know when you can expect your energy levels and mental performance to pick up.
While you wait, use this grogginess time to do simple tasks — like emails, admin, or writing up your to-do list — get some exercise or natural light, or spend the time doing a relaxing morning routine.
And if you have an important task or event you need to be “on” for, consider waking up 90 minutes before it to give yourself enough time to shake off the grogginess. Just be careful you don’t build up too much sleep debt with the earlier wake-up time. Go to bed a little earlier to make sure you’re still meeting your sleep need.
We cover steps you can take to meet an earlier bedtime here.
More on the best times to go to sleep and wake up for you here.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to see their upcoming energy peaks and dips on the Energy screen.
Your chronotype is your natural tendency to sleep and wake up earlier or later — you may have heard the terms early birds and night owls, although many of us are somewhere in between.
And out of all the people who struggle with energy in the morning, night owls have got to be the ones having the hardest time. They don’t just have a preference for sleeping in, though. Night owls are biologically wired to go to sleep and wake up later than early birds.
Plus, if you’re a night owl who has to get up early, you’re more likely to have sleep debt (perhaps you struggle to fall asleep early enough to meet your sleep need) and social jet lag (perhaps you indulge in a long lay in when the weekend rolls around, messing up your body clock), which only adds to your morning grogginess.
As well as paying down sleep debt and adding exercise and natural light to your morning routine, you can work to shift your circadian rhythm earlier, so you’re not so out of sync with it.
Before you do this, first ask yourself if you have to wake up early. If you have a strict 9 a.m. start time at work or kids to get ready for school, then the answer is obviously yes.
If your wake-up time is more flexible, however, consider honoring your chronotype and waking up later. This doesn’t make you lazy or less productive than morning people, and you should feel more energy by working with, not against, your body clock.
For those night owls who want more energy in the mornings, here’s what to do:
You can learn more about how to reset your circadian rhythm here.
If you’ve got high sleep debt or you’re living out of sync with your circadian rhythm, you’ll inevitably feel tired each morning. But, even when you get a good night’s sleep and this sleep is lined up nicely with your body clock, sleep inertia can still make you feel groggy for up to 90 minutes after getting out of bed.
Make yourself a cup of coffee, get some exercise, and bask in natural light to help overcome grogginess. Use the RISE app to pay down sleep debt and sync up with your circadian rhythm to maximize your energy levels in the morning, and check the app to see how long your morning grogginess will last, so you can make the most of the time.
You’ll feel tired when you wake up if you’ve got sleep debt or you’re not in sync with your circadian rhythm. Sleep inertia is also at play. This makes you feel groggy after waking up, even when you’ve had enough sleep. Get natural light, drink some coffee, and exercise to help shake this off.
You can boost your energy by lowering your sleep debt and syncing up with your circadian rhythm. Naps, a healthy diet, and exercise can all help boost energy, too.
You can get more energy naturally by focusing on your sleep. Find out your sleep need, lower your sleep debt, and sync up your sleep-wake times with your circadian rhythm to boost your energy levels. Other natural energy boosters include naps, coffee, exercise, and cold water showers.
If you feel sleepy in the morning and awake at night, you may be out of sync with your circadian rhythm, or body clock. This happens if you’re a shift worker, you have social jet lag (you go to sleep at different times at the weekend compared to during the week), or you’re not honoring your chronotype (like if you’re a night owl who has to get up early).
If you haven’t had enough sleep, it’s hard to feel energized in the morning. But caffeine, natural light, exercise, and cold showers can help. Work to catch up on sleep when you can through naps or sleeping for longer the next night.
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