8 Reasons You’re Waking Up Tired and What To Do About It

You may wake up tired due to sleep inertia, sleep debt, or being out of sync with your body clock. Improve your sleep hygiene to get more energy.
Updated
2023-05-17
14 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Jamie Zeitzer, PhD, Rise Science Scientific Reviewer
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We bring sleep research out of the lab and into your life. Every post begins with peer-reviewed studies — not third-party sources — to make sure we only share advice that can be defended to a room full of sleep scientists.
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Why You’re Waking Up Tired and What To Do About It

You may wake up tired due to sleep inertia, sleep debt, or being out of sync with your body clock. Here’s what to do to wake up feeling less groggy and get more energy throughout the day:

  1. Improve your sleep hygiene
  2. Lower your sleep debt
  3. Get in sync with your circadian rhythm
  4. Give yourself a morning buffer to get over sleep inertia
  5. See a doctor to address a sleep disorder or medical condition

The RISE app can help you by guiding you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits, keeping track of your sleep debt, and predicting your circadian rhythm each day.

Is there anything more frustrating than getting a full night’s sleep only to wake up feeling tired when your alarm clock goes off? And if you can resist the snooze button and pull yourself out of bed, you may feel slow and sluggish all morning — or worse, slow and sluggish all day.  

While some degree of tiredness is normal in the morning, there are some changes you can make to wake up feeling less groggy and get more energy throughout the day. 

Below, we’ll dive into the common reasons you’re waking up tired and how you can use the RISE app to solve them.

Advice from a sleep doctor:

“You’re probably waking up tired because of sleep inertia. That’s the natural groggy feeling you get when you first wake up. Try getting out in natural sunlight, doing some exercise, or drinking a cup of coffee to shake it off.”

Rise Science Medical Reviewer Dr. Chester Wu

Why Do I Wake Up Tired?

Here’s why you may be feeling tired first thing in the morning. 

1. Sleep Inertia 

The most common reason you’re waking up tired is sleep inertia. Sleep inertia is the groggy feeling you get when you first wake up. It can last anywhere from 15 minutes to about two hours, and it’s totally normal, even if you’ve had enough sleep. 

Sleep inertia is no joke, though. A 2019 paper said the performance impairment from sleep inertia is the same as or worse than 40 hours of sleep deprivation. 

Symptoms of sleep inertia include: 

  • Sleepiness 
  • Disorientation or brain fog
  • Lowered cognition  

Symptoms of sleep drunkenness, a more severe form of sleep inertia, include: 

  • Confusion 
  • Slowness
  • Lack of coordination 

Sleep drunkenness can last up to four hours. 

Sleep inertia is thought to be caused by adenosine, a chemical that naturally builds up in your brain all the time you’re awake and dissipates while you sleep. When you wake up, there are still traces of adenosine in your system making you feel groggy. But this is just one theory — more research needs to be done. 

How long does it take to get over sleep inertia? It’s different for each of us. 

Research suggests night owls may take longer to get over sleep inertia than early birds. One study found it took early birds 10 to 20 minutes to show improvements in their cognitive performance after awakening, whereas it took about 30 minutes for night owls to show improvements. 

Many studies on sleep inertia are done in the lab, but one of our sleep science advisors, Dr. Jamie Zeitzer, who’s also co-director of the Center for Sleep & Circadian Sciences at Stanford University, has studied sleep inertia in the real world. 

His research found sleep inertia lowered people’s cognitive performance (measured through speed of keystrokes and click interactions on a search engine) during the first two hours after waking. 

We’ve covered more on how to combat sleep inertia here. 

2. Sleep Debt

RISE app screenshot showing how much sleep debt you have
The RISE app can tell you how much sleep debt you have.

 

Sleep debt is the running total of how much sleep you owe your body. It’s measured against your sleep need, the unique amount of sleep you need each night. When you don’t meet your sleep need, you build up sleep debt, and this can leave you feeling tired when you wake up. 

Even if you got a full night’s sleep last night, sleep debt from the last two weeks could still be hanging over you causing morning tiredness. 

Sleep debt can make sleep inertia feel worse, and it can leave you feeling tired all day. 

To find out if you’re carrying sleep debt, turn to the RISE app. RISE can also calculate your individual sleep need — which may be longer than you think. One study suggests the average sleep need is 8 hours 40 minutes, plus or minus 10 minutes or so, but 13.5% of the population may need nine hours or more sleep a night.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep need and here to view their sleep debt.

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3. Being Out of Sync with Your Circadian Rhythm 

Your circadian rhythm is your body’s internal body clock. It runs on a roughly 24-hour cycle and dictates things like your sleep-wake cycle, body temperature fluctuations, and hormone production. 

When you’re in sync, you’ll feel sleepy and alert at the right times. But it’s all too easy to get out of sync. 

You may be out of sync with your circadian rhythm if you: 

  • Work night shifts
  • Have social jet lag — or go to bed and wake up at irregular times 
  • Are at odds with your chronotype — like when a night owl has to get up early

When your sleep patterns are all over the place, your alarm clock is more likely to ring while you’re in the deep sleep stage of sleep, which will make you feel groggy. 

And as your energy levels fluctuate as part of your circadian rhythm, if you wake up during a low point, you’ll feel more drowsiness than usual.  

Being out of sync also means your cortisol levels, your body’s stress hormone, will be high and low at the wrong times. You want higher cortisol levels in the morning to help you feel alert, and lower in the evening to help you fall asleep. Lower cortisol in the morning could be making it feel like you’ve not yet woken up. 

Even something simple like sleeping in for longer than usual can cause you to get out of sync and wake up feeling tired. This is known as recovery sleep, and research shows it can make sleep inertia worse — even though it’s a good thing you’re catching up on sleep. 

4. Poor Sleep Hygiene 

Sleep hygiene is the set of daily habits you can do to get more restful sleep.

When you’ve got poor sleep hygiene, you may struggle to drift off and wake up throughout the night. All this makes it harder to keep your sleep debt low, adding up to more morning fatigue. 

Poor sleep hygiene includes: 

  • Not having a regular sleep schedule
  • Not getting light exposure first thing in the morning and getting too much light in the evening 
  • Drinking coffee and alcohol, doing intense exercise, and eating large meals too close to bedtime 
  • Having a bedroom that’s too hot, bright, or noisy  

More on how to fix all this soon. 

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5. Not Getting Enough Exercise 

We all know exercise is good for our health, but it can also impact our morning energy levels. 

Exercising during the day can help you fall asleep at night, so you can keep your sleep debt low and energy levels high. 

And a 2022 study found morning alertness was linked to how much physical activity participants did the previous day. The more daytime physical activity and the less nighttime activity participants got, the more alert they felt the next morning.

Expert tip: Avoid intense exercise within an hour of bedtime as this can keep you awake. We’ve covered more on the best time to work out here, and RISE can tell you when to skip late workouts. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their avoid late workouts reminder.

6. You’re Not Eating a Carb-Rich Breakfast 

Maybe you grab a snack on the way out the door or skip breakfast altogether, either way, your breakfast could be contributing to your morning tiredness. 

The same 2022 study we mentioned above found what participants ate for breakfast was linked with morning alertness, independently of sleep duration and exercise. 

The results showed a breakfast rich in complex carbohydrates like whole grains and fruit was linked to higher morning alertness. On the flip side, a high-protein breakfast was linked to lower alertness. 

Need breakfast ideas? We’ve covered what foods give you energy here.

7. Sleep Disorders

A sleep disorder can make it hard to get the sleep you need at night. This can leave you feeling tired come morning. 

Sleep disorders that can cause you to wake up tired include:

8. Medical Conditions

An underlying medical condition could be the reason you’re waking up tired. 

These include: 

  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) 
  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Mental health issues like depression and anxiety  
  • Heart disease 
  • Chronic fatigue 
  • Diabetes 

You might also be waking up tired because your period, pregnancy, or menopause is messing with your sleep, and therefore your next-day energy levels. 

And some medications come with tiredness as a side effect including: 

A Sleep Doctor’s Take 

For an expert’s take on why you’re waking up tired, we asked our sleep advisor and medical reviewer, Dr. Chester Wu. 

“You’re probably waking up tired because of sleep inertia. That’s the natural groggy feeling you get when you first wake up. Try getting out in natural sunlight, doing some exercise, or drinking a cup of coffee to shake it off.”

How to Wake Up in the Morning and Not Feel Tired?

Sleep inertia may be normal, but there are plenty of things you can do to wake up feeling more alert. 

1. Improve Your Sleep Hygiene 

RISE app screenshot showing you when to get and avoid bright light
The RISE app can tell you when todo 20+ sleep hygiene habits.

Good sleep hygiene will make it easier to fall asleep and meet your sleep need each night. It’ll also reduce how often you wake up in the night, to help you get better sleep overall. 

Here’s what to do: 

  • Get bright light first thing: Light in the morning tells your circadian rhythm it’s time to be awake and alert. Aim to get at least 10 minutes of light as soon as possible after waking up and 15 to 20 minutes if it's overcast or you’re getting light through a window. 
  • Avoid light close to bedtime: Light suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin. Dim the lights, try avoiding screens before bed, and put on blue-light blocking glasses about 90 minutes before bedtime (we recommend these).
  • Avoid caffeine, large meals, intense exercise, and alcohol too late in the day: Check RISE for when to avoid each one daily.
  • Keep your sleep environment dark, cool, and quiet: Aim for 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, use blackout curtains, and wear earplugs and an eye mask
  • Make your sleep environment as comfortable as possible: That includes finding the best mattress, sleep position, and pillow position for you. 

To stay on top of sleep hygiene, RISE can tell you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day at the right time for your circadian rhythm, which makes them more effective.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications.

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2. Lower Your Sleep Debt 

Pay back any sleep debt you have to boost your energy levels. We recommend keeping sleep debt below five hours to feel your best.

You can pay back sleep debt by:

  • Taking naps: Check RISE for the best time to do this. 
  • Going to bed a little earlier. 
  • Sleeping in a little later: Sleep in for only an hour or so to avoid disrupting your circadian rhythm. 
  • Improving your sleep hygiene: Follow the tips above to improve your sleep hygiene, so you fall asleep faster and wake up less often during the night, getting more sleep overall. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep debt.

3. Get in Sync with Your Circadian Rhythm 

Keep your body clock running smoothly for more morning energy. Here’s how:

  • Keep a consistent sleep pattern: Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same times, even on weekends. 
  • Eat meals at roughly the same times: And avoid eating at night or too close to bedtime. 
  • Go to bed during your Melatonin Window: This is what we call the roughly one-hour window of time when your body’s rate of melatonin production is at its highest. Melatonin primes your body for sleep, so going to bed during this window will give you the best chance of falling and staying asleep. 

RISE predicts your circadian rhythm each day and shows you when your body naturally wants to wake up, wind down for bed, and sleep, making it easier to plan your day and sync up. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to see their circadian rhythm on the Energy screen.

4. Give Yourself a Morning Buffer to Get Over Sleep Inertia

The RISE app can tell you how long morning grogginess is expected to last.

Remember, sleep inertia is normal. To plan for it, give yourself about 90 minutes in the morning before you need to be “on.”

It can help to have a morning routine you look forward to that doesn’t involve too much mental energy. You can plan this in the RISE app. 

For example, you could: 

  • Go for a walk 
  • Get some exercise
  • Enjoy a cup of coffee
  • Eat a high-carb breakfast  
  • Do easy tasks like household chores or writing a to-do list 

As part of your circadian rhythm prediction, RISE can tell you how long your morning grogginess is expected to last each day. You can then plan your morning to match.

Want more science-backed advice? We’ve covered how to have more energy in the morning here, including how night owls can wake up feeling more alert, too.

When Should I See a Doctor About Waking Up Tired?

Waking up slightly tired is normal, even when you’ve had enough sleep. But if this tiredness lingers throughout the day or seriously affects your mornings, it may be worth speaking to your healthcare provider. 

Try paying down sleep debt, getting in sync with your circadian rhythm, and improving your sleep hygiene first. If morning tiredness is still a big problem after several weeks, it may be worth getting tested for a sleep disorder or an underlying health condition.  

Wake Up With More Energy   

Waking up feeling slightly groggy or tired is just part of the human experience. It’s called sleep inertia. Sleep inertia will feel worse, however, if you’ve got sleep debt, you’re out of sync with your circadian rhythm, or you didn’t do much exercise the day before. Poor sleep hygiene can also make it hard to get the sleep you need at night, and therefore the energy you want each morning. 

To boost your morning alertness, try improving your sleep hygiene to get a good night’s sleep, lowering your sleep debt, and getting in sync with your circadian rhythm. 

The RISE app can help you by guiding you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits, keeping track of your sleep debt, and predicting your circadian rhythm each day. Even if you can’t escape sleep inertia altogether, RISE will tell you how long you can expect this morning grogginess to last, so you can plan your day to match.

And you could have brighter mornings sooner than you think: 80% of RISE app users feel more energy within five days.

Summary FAQs

Why am I waking up tired?

You’re most likely waking up tired because of sleep inertia, the natural grogginess you get when you transition from being asleep to awake. It can take 15 minutes to two hours for sleep inertia to dissipate. Coffee, exercise, and morning light exposure can help wake you up faster.

Why is waking up so hard?

Waking up can be hard because of sleep inertia, the natural grogginess you get when you transition from being asleep to awake. Sleep debt, being out of sync with your circadian rhythm, a sleep disorder, or an underlying medical condition could also be to blame.

Waking up tired after 10 hours of sleep

Most likely, you're waking up after 10 hours of sleep because you don't know your sleep need, you're getting less sleep than you think, you've got sleep debt, or you're out of sync with your circadian rhythm. A medical condition may also be to blame.

Waking up tired every day

You’re most likely waking up tired every day because of sleep inertia, the natural grogginess you get when you transition from being asleep to awake. Sleep debt, being out of sync with your circadian rhythm, a sleep disorder, or an underlying medical condition could also be to blame.

How can I stop waking up tired?

To stop waking up tired, improve your sleep hygiene, lower your sleep debt, and get in sync with your circadian rhythm. You can decrease sleep inertia, or morning grogginess, by getting natural light exposure, exercising, or drinking a cup of coffee.

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