Waking up early in the morning isn't everyone's favorite thing to do — except for the morning people, maybe. Many of us, though, can probably relate to hitting snooze rather than getting right out of bed.
But rise and shine doesn't have to be the start of an ultra-sleepy morning routine. While it's true that we can't wake up and feel amazing immediately, there are things you can do to jumpstart your body and feel human ASAP.
Below, we look at proven tips on how to wake up, as well as the two cornerstones of waking up well, feeling good, and having energy throughout the day — sleep debt and circadian rhythm.
If you've heard of sleep inertia, you know it's impossible to wake up in the morning and instantly feel good. Unlike some ads proclaim, we don't jump out of bed brimming with energy.
Instead, your body undergoes sleep inertia the moment you wake up. It's an integral aspect of your sleep cycle, thanks to the lingering effects of adenosine (a chemical in your brain that induces drowsiness).
Morning sleep inertia is a period of sleepiness and reduced cognition. In the RISE app, we call it your "grogginess zone.”
Morning sleep inertia is invariably linked to low energy levels, which can last up to 90 minutes. That's why RISE offers a sleep quality check-in 1.5 hours after you’ve woken up. It’s a more accurate estimate of how you're feeling that day.
Since sleep inertia is synonymous with poor decision-making, cognition, and performance, we recommend putting off your most important work until you're clear of the grogginess zone. Try not to schedule vital tasks that require peak cognitive functioning during this window of time, say a job interview or an important conversation with a loved one.
If scheduling your workday isn't within your control, wake up earlier than usual to give your brain enough time to get up to speed. Set your alarm clock at least 90 minutes before the task. To compensate for the new wake-up time and not build up sleep debt, go to bed earlier the night before or bring forward that day's bedtime routine. Short afternoon naps also help pay down your sleep debt and counter daytime sleepiness.
The truth about sleep inertia is, it's an inescapable part of the human sleep cycle and happens to everyone.
You should also know sleep inertia will manifest no matter if you’ve had enough sleep or not. Whether last night was your best sleep ever or you’ve woken up several times in the middle of the night, you’ll likely still feel groggy in the morning.
Of course, sleep inertia won't be as intense if you have low sleep debt as when you’re sleep-deprived.
Morning sleep inertia may be inevitable, but there are ways to minimize it. Below, learn the techniques for how to wake up in a way that sets you up for a productive day.
Let it be said that not hitting snooze when you really want to is one of the hardest things in life. Yet, that act of self-discipline pays off when you want to wake up and feel good as quickly as possible.
Drockling — repeated hitting of the snooze button — encourages sleep fragmentation and increases daytime sleepiness. Instead of kicking off the heavy cover of sleep inertia, you may be intensifying and prolonging its effects.
Rather than give in to the urge to snooze, we recommend placing your alarm clock far from your bed, preferably at the other end of the room. This encourages you to get out of bed in the morning when it goes off.
Science also shows replacing the conventional beep with melodic sounds may help reduce sleep inertia to wake up better.
Still, it's important to pay down your sleep debt when you can. RISE calculates the exact amount of sleep your body needs, which varies from person to person thanks to your unique biology. Catch up on lost sleep by going to bed earlier. If that’s not doable, sleep in on your weekends and days off. As long as you wake up within an hour of your regular wake time, you'll still be keeping your circadian rhythm steady for better sleep overall.
The takeaway here is to use your best judgment based on how much sleep debt you currently carry and how you feel during the day.
Bright light — natural light is best — signals to your internal clock that it's time to wake up in the morning. Exposure to sunlight suppresses melatonin production, making you less sleepy in the morning.
Plus, warm sunshine gently raises your core body temperature, which is another circadian cue to wake up.
Lastly, bright light boosts your body's concentrations of cortisol (a hormone that encourages alertness) and serotonin (a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and will later convert to melatonin when sleep is needed). This infuses you with feel-good vibes to start your day on a positive note.
P.S. — If sunlight isn't available when you wake up, research shows artificial dawn light significantly downplays sleep inertia.
If you Google "how to wake up," caffeine almost always pops up in the search results. But is there any truth to it?
According to science, caffeine blocks the adenosine receptors in your brain and protects you from the worst of sleep inertia. So yes, a cup of coffee (or two) helps you wake up as quickly as your biology allows.
Unfortunately, caffeine also has long-lasting effects as it stays in your system for up to 10 hours. RISE's Limit Caffeine reminder helps you track how late you should stop drinking coffee to prevent it from disrupting your sleep routine.
Regular exercise doesn’t just keep your body fit and healthy; it also diminishes sleep inertia to wake you up more quickly. In fact, research indicates exercise is an important circadian cue to fine-tune your internal clock. Plus, working up a sweat is the best way to increase your body temperature and shake off the last of the grogginess.
Pro Tip: Combine your workout with sunlight to get the best of both circadian cues. Go for a morning stroll outside or relocate your exercise mat to the backyard.
Another option to help you wake up in the morning is to take a cold shower.
Scientific literature indicates cold water spikes your heart rate, blood pressure, and metabolism to wake up your cells. A small study also discovered that cold water has anti-depressive abilities to put you in a better mood.
Pro Tip: If you aren't up to dunking your body under freezing cold water first thing in the morning, splash some on your face instead.
Now, let's take a closer look at how sleep debt and circadian rhythm independently — and synergistically — influence your wake-up and feel-good process.
Sleep debt directly relates to sleep inertia, and ultimately, your ability to wake up in the morning and feel great as soon as humanly possible.
Your sleep debt is a running total of how many hours of sleep you've missed relative to your sleep need over the past 14 days. To better explain sleep debt's influence on your morning routine, we'll use the following scenario of what happens during high sleep debt.
High sleep debt worsens sleep inertia. Not only is it more difficult for you to wake up in the morning, but you may also feel groggier for longer. The negative impacts of high sleep debt also extend to the rest of the day — your energy dips feel more profound, contributing to reduced productivity and increased moodiness.
To feel as good as you can in the morning (and throughout the day), keep your sleep debt low. RISE clues you in on your running sleep debt to ensure you're getting the right amount of sleep each night.
Besides getting enough shut-eye, a consistent sleep schedule is also integral to minimizing sleep debt. This is where your circadian rhythm comes into the spotlight.
Your circadian rhythm influences your chronotype, sleep habits, and energy fluctuations, all of which majorly contribute to how you feel when you wake up.
Think of your circadian rhythm as an internal clock that tells you when to sleep and when to wake up. In other words, it determines your chronotype — whether you’re a morning person, a night owl, or somewhere in between.
Work, school, and other societal demands are common disruptors of our natural circadian rhythm, resulting in circadian misalignment. Late sleep times and early wake times inevitably raise your sleep debt to unhealthy levels.
Inconsistent bed and wake times — coupled with modern stressors and prolonged light exposure — throw your dim light melatonin onset (DLMO) off-balance. The DLMO indicates the start of your Melatonin Window, which is when your brain secretes peak levels of the hormone melatonin to promote sleep, making it the best time for you to go to bed. Missing or shifting your DLMO means you have less melatonin to work with, which increases sleep latency and fragmentation, making it harder for you to fall asleep and stay asleep. As a result, you accumulate more sleep debt. Eventually, your physical health and psychological wellness also deteriorate.
Going against your biological clock and inborn sleeping preferences ultimately makes you feel more tired than if you had adhered to them. After all, your circadian rhythm dictates how much energy you have and when you have energy during the day.
The solution: Work with your circadian rhythm and chronotype to avoid circadian misalignment, and keep sleep debt low. In other words, try to sleep when your body tells you to. A consistent sleep schedule is key to circadian alignment. If you're new to the concept of circadian rhythm, you may not know how to track your optimum sleep and wake-up times. This is where RISE comes in handy.
RISE uses science-based research, recent sleep-wake times, and daily activities to estimate your personal Melatonin Window.
How it works:
Once you’ve learned how to wake up and feel good as soon as you can, you’re all set to take on the day with your most energetic self. It all starts with the two laws of sleep: managing sleep debt and playing by the rules of circadian alignment. Follow the tips and tricks throughout this guide for better sleep tonight and more energy tomorrow.
When in doubt, RISE is there to illuminate every step of your way.
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