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How To Wake Yourself Up: 20 Science-Backed Tips

Feeling sleepy? The best ways to wake yourself up are reducing sleep debt, aligning with your circadian rhythm, and getting some natural light and exercise.
Published
2022-04-29
Updated
13 MINS
Man walking outside trying to wake himself up

Whether you’re trying to wake yourself up in the morning, shrug off grogginess after a nap, or just trying to feel less drowsy at your desk, there are times when you need to perk yourself up. Luckily, there are plenty of science-backed ways you can give yourself an energy boost. 

Read on to learn 20 tried-and-tested tips to improve your energy levels. Plus, we share how you can reduce tiredness to begin with by focusing on the two things that impact energy the most: sleep debt and circadian rhythm.

20 Ways to Wake Yourself Up  

1. Keep Your Sleep Debt Low 

The most effective way to have more energy each day? Keeping your sleep debt low. 

Sleep debt is the measure of how much sleep you owe your body over the last 14 nights. This is compared to your sleep need, the genetically determined amount of sleep you need each night. While the average sleep need is 8 hours 10 minutes, plus or minus 44 minutes or so, 13.5% of the population actually need 9 hours or more sleep a night. 

The RISE app calculates your sleep need, so you can start aiming for this amount of shut-eye each night. It then works out your sleep debt, so you know whether you need to pay some back. We recommend keeping your sleep debt below five hours to maximize your energy each day. 

If you find you’ve built up a lot of sleep debt, you can pay it back by: 

By focusing on reducing sleep deprivation this way, you’ll naturally reduce daytime sleepiness, so you won’t have to worry about waking yourself up, as you’ll be reaching your energy potential each day. 

2. Ride the Wave of Your Circadian Rhythm 

RISE app photo showing times when your energy is at a peak and when it is at a low.
The RISE app will predict your natural peaks and dips in energy each day. 

Your circadian rhythm is your internal biological clock. It dictates your energy levels over a roughly 24-hour cycle, and these naturally fluctuate throughout the day. We feel less energy when we first wake up, during an afternoon dip, and then as our body winds down before sleep. 

Keeping sleep debt low will make these energy dips shallower, meaning you’ll feel better when they happen. But you can also learn how to make the most of them. 

Instead of trying to wake yourself up during your natural dips in energy, you can see when they’ll happen (in the RISE app this is shown in the Energy screen) and then schedule less demanding tasks for this time — think emails, admin, or even a nap. You can then do more demanding tasks — writing, sales calls, presentations — when you naturally have more energy in the day. 

3. Embrace Sleep Inertia

Sleep inertia is the term for that groggy feeling we all get right after waking up. Even though you may feel tired, sleep inertia is not necessarily a sign you haven’t had enough sleep that night. 

It’s caused by adenosine, a sleep-promoting chemical in your brain. Adenosine builds up during the day, eventually making you feel sleepy. Your brain then purges it as your sleep. However, when we wake up, there’s still some of it in our system, making us feel drowsy. 

You can reduce the amount of sleep inertia you feel by keeping sleep debt low and working with your chronotype — whether you’re an early bird, night owl, or somewhere in between. 

If possible, give yourself enough time in the morning before you have to do any demanding tasks. For example, give yourself 90 minutes to wake up, have breakfast, and get some exercise and natural light before having to perform mentally at work. 

4. Align with Your Circadian Rhythm 

RISE app photo showing how much sleep debt you have.
The RISE app will tell you the best time to go to sleep each night.

Even if sleep debt is low and you’re not in a natural energy dip, you may feel groggier than you’d like to be if you’re not aligning with your circadian rhythm. That’s because some of the primary hormones responsible for how awake you feel — melatonin and cortisol — may be produced at the wrong time for your daily schedule. 

For example, if you have low cortisol levels in the morning, you won’t feel as alert as you’d like to be. You can learn more about what causes high and low cortisol levels here

The timing of your circadian rhythm changes each day based on things like meal times and light exposure, as well as your chronotype. 

If possible, align your sleep schedule with the best times to go to sleep and wake up for you. In the RISE app, you’ll see a Melatonin Window, a roughly one-hour window of time when your brain will be producing the highest amount of the sleep hormone melatonin it will all night. Go to sleep during this time and you’ll find it much easier to fall and stay asleep, therefore getting the right amount of sleep for you and feeling more awake the next day.

5. Have a Consistent Sleep Schedule 

You may be experiencing social jet lag if you regularly stay up later on the weekends than during the week. 

Going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day helps to regulate your circadian rhythm, maximizing how much energy you feel.

Make sure you can fall asleep at around the same time each night by following healthy sleep habits (also called sleep hygiene). 

Sleep hygiene includes:

  • Dimming the lights and wearing blue light blocking glasses 90 minutes before bed
  • Having a relaxing bedtime routine that includes winding down with relaxing activities like reading, journaling, or yoga 
  • Keeping your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet 

This will not only help you feel sleepy at your desired bedtime, it’ll also help you sleep better by reducing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and how often you wake up in the night.

6. Get Natural Light 

Bright light exposure — especially from the sun — suppresses melatonin in our brain, making us feel less sleepy. Sunlight also boosts cortisol and your core body temperature, giving you an energizing boost.

So, to wake you up in the mornings and set your circadian rhythm for the day, you should aim to get at least 10 minutes of natural sunlight as soon as possible after waking up. 

Light can also help you feel more awake throughout the day, too. If possible, get outside for a break or work by a window. The next best thing is getting artificial light, either from a light box, overhead lighting, or getting blue light exposure from electronic devices. 

7. Drink Coffee

RISE app screenshot showing you what times to limit caffeine.
The RISE app will tell you when to have your last coffee each day.

Coffee is the go-to way to stay awake — and for a good reason. Caffeine blocks the adenosine receptors in our brains and, temporarily at least, stops us feeling the urge to snooze. So, you can get a caffeine boost from a cup of coffee to perk you up. 

Not a coffee lover? You can also get a caffeine boost from: 

  • Black tea
  • Green tea 
  • Chocolate — the darker the chocolate the more caffeine it has. 

Top tip: Caffeine lasts in your system for 10 hours, so be sure to limit it to earlier in the day. The RISE app can tell you the best time to stop drinking coffee based on your circadian rhythm. 

8. Exercise

Exercise not only increases your heart rate and body temperature, it floods your body with endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine, putting you in a better mood while feeling more awake.  

You can combine the energy-boosting benefits of movement and light by getting outside for a work out and some fresh air. Even a 10-minute walk has been shown to reduce fatigue. If you can’t get outside, try a few jumping jacks or simple stretches. 

Top tip: Just like with caffeine, exercising too close to bedtime can disrupt your sleep, so be sure to schedule your workout earlier in the day. Try working out in the morning to give you enough energy for the rest of the day.

9. Take a Nap 

Taking a nap can reduce the amount of sleep debt you have, boost cognitive performance, and help you feel more awake. 

However, you should aim to keep your nap to under 90 minutes or you’ll risk sleep inertia. Power naps of just 10 minutes have been shown to boost energy levels without any grogginess afterwards. 

Top tip: Timing is everything when it comes to naps. Be sure not to nap too close to bedtime or you risk not feeling sleepy enough come bedtime. Instead, nap in your afternoon dip in energy. RISE can tell you when this is each day. 

10. Drink a Glass of Water 

Research shows even being mildly dehydrated can increase levels of fatigue. And, perhaps more surprisingly, drinking water even if you’re not thirsty can increase how alert you feel. 

So, reach for a glass of water if you’re feeling drowsy, and be sure to keep hydrated throughout the day. 

Bonus: just the act of getting up and walking to get water — and then later to use the bathroom — will wake you up, too. 

11. Eat a Healthy Snack 

As tempted as sugary snacks are as a way to stay awake, they come with the inevitable sugar crash. Opt for healthier snacks that don’t spike your blood sugar levels. 

Healthy snack options include a small portion of: 

  • Fruit
  • Nuts
  • Peanut butter 
  • Yogurt
  • Dark Chocolate 

12. Take a Cold Shower 

Nothing jolts you awake like icy water. Step into a cold shower to increase your heart rate, blood pressure, and metabolism to wake yourself up. This is an easy one to incorporate into your morning routine, or to do if you feel sleepy while working from home.

Working from the office? Try splashing your face with cold water, instead. 

13. Try Aromatherapy 

Certain smells can actually make you feel more awake and alert, so try using essential oils whenever you need an energy boost. 

Try these scents to increase alertness: 

But avoid these scents as they can increase drowsiness: 

14. Skip the Chewing Gum

Several studies have found chewing gum can help to boost your memory, attention, and  processing speed, but it may not be doing your energy levels any favors. One study found chewing gum actually decreased levels of alertness, so skip the gum if you’re feeling tired.  

15. Play Your Favorite Music

A 2004 study found listening to “excitative music” after a nap decreased sleep inertia regardless of whether participants liked the music or not. However, when participants listened to music they did like, it reduced sleepiness even more. 

So put on your favorite tunes, and if you end up dancing along, even better! 

16. Engage Your Brain During Monotonous Tasks 

A 2008 study looked into ways to make truck drivers feel more awake during long drives. The researchers found engaging in a trivia task — where drivers had to answer multiple choice questions — actually increased their levels of alertness. 

So, if you’re trying to wake yourself up while doing a monotonous task, like folding laundry, and you don’t have trivia questions to hand, try engaging your brain by having a stimulating conversation or listening to a thought-provoking podcast.

17. Have a Conversation 

Get your brain working by engaging in a conversation to wake yourself up. Bonus points  if this conversation is a challenging one — like trying to solve a work problem.

If you’re falling asleep at work, getting up and physically walking over to colleagues for a chat — instead of sending a Slack message — can give you the energy boost from movement, too. 

18. Resist the Snooze Button 

If you’re trying to wake yourself up in the morning, hitting the snooze button for an extra five minutes of sleep is not the answer. You’ll be increasing the amount of sleep inertia you feel when you finally drag yourself out of bed. 

Focus on getting the ideal number of hours of sleep for you, and then getting up as soon as your alarm clock goes off. Although, that’s easier said than done, we know. 

Remember sleep inertia is natural, so nobody jumps out of bed feeling awake and alert as soon as the alarm sounds. Be sure to slowly ramp up into your day by giving yourself about 90 minutes before you need to be “on.” 

Really not a fan of mornings? We’ve covered how to become a morning person here. 

19. Take a Few Deep Breaths  

Taking a few deep breaths can boost the oxygen levels in your brain, lower your blood pressure, and improve circulation, helping you feel more awake. 

It sounds calming — and it is — but it can also help you feel refreshed and revitalized. 

Deep breathing and meditation have also been shown to improve attention and creativity, so it’s an ideal activity to do before diving into a challenging task.  

20. Give Your Eyes a Break

If you’re looking at a screen for long periods of time, set reminders to step away and give your eyes a break. Not only will this reduce the chance of eye strain, it’ll reduce the feeling of fatigue, too.  

Many experts — including the American Academy of Ophthalmology — recommend the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, you should look at something at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds. 

Bonus: Taking a break and switching tasks can also help keep your brain alert if you’re doing monotonous tasks like reading a long report. So, if your schedule allows, build in breaks to give your eyes — and brain — a break.  

Stop Trying to Wake Yourself Up 

So, those were 20 science-backed ways you can give yourself an energy boost. However, if you’re tired (pun intended) of always trying to wake yourself up, you should look at long-term solutions, instead of quick fixes. 

Lowering your sleep debt, getting a good night’s sleep by maintaining good sleep hygiene, and syncing up with your circadian rhythm will maximize how much energy you feel each day. The RISE app takes the guesswork out of all of these things, so you can boost your energy levels and enjoy feeling and performing your best day after day.

Summary FAQs

How do you wake yourself up when you’re tired?

You can wake yourself up when tired by getting natural light, taking a nap, exercising, having a cold shower, or playing your favorite music.

Why is it so hard for me to wake up?

You’ll find it hard to wake up if you have high sleep debt or if you aren’t aligned with your circadian rhythm. Get more sleep to pay down sleep debt, and use a tool like the RISE app to schedule your day with your circadian rhythm. 

How do you wake yourself up quickly?

The quickest ways to wake yourself up include getting natural light, taking a cold shower, doing a burst of exercise, and playing your favorite music.

How do you wake yourself up when you’re tired at work or studying?

Wake yourself while working or studying by drinking water, eating a healthy snack, or playing music. If you can take a break, get some exercise and natural light to boost your energy levels.

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About Rise
Rise is the only app that unlocks the real-world benefits of better sleep.

Instead of just promising a better night, we use 100 years of sleep science to help you pay down sleep debt and take advantage of your circadian rhythm to be your best.

Over the past decade, we've helped professional athletes, startups, and Fortune 500s improve their sleep to measurably win more in the real-world scenarios that matter most.

Rise Science is backed by True Ventures, Freestyle Capital, and High Alpha; investors behind category winners Fitbit, Peloton, and Salesforce Marketing Cloud.
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