Constantly feeling groggy in the morning? Can’t function without your morning cup of coffee? Feeling sleepy during the day and wanting to chug an energy drink a bit too often?
Don’t worry; this article has got you covered!
It’s no secret that not getting enough sleep can be detrimental to health. It also impacts your mood, motivation, and productivity. You don’t want that; we don’t want that, so let’s talk about how to wake yourself up.
First, we’ll take a look at the basics of sleep theory and then move on to our tips. They are divided into advice that raises your energy levels in the long term and quick tips that provide an immediate boost when you need to be awake and ready as soon as possible.
Here’s the table of contents if you want to skip the theory and dive right into the tips.
Basic sleep theory
Humans, as well as any other living organisms, have multiple biological clocks. They are our innate timing devices composed of specific molecules that help us carry out essential functions and processes.
Biological clocks produce circadian rhythms and regulate their timing. Circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioural changes that follow a daily, 24-hour cycle. Although circadian rhythms are endogenous (built-in, self-sustained), they respond to environmental cues such as light and darkness.
Our sleep-wake cycle is one of the most important and well-known circadian rhythms. As the name suggests, it determines our sleep patterns and lets our master clock know when it should produce more melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy.
It also lets the master clock know when it’s time to wake up. Your body prepares to wake up an hour or so before you awaken. The process involves changes of your body temperature, blood pressure as well as serotonin and cortisol levels.
When you wake up naturally, the master clock tries to time it so that it happens during a period of light sleep.
When you’re on a regular sleeping schedule, your body knows when it should prepare for sleep and when it should wake up. That’s why a properly aligned circadian rhythm promotes restorative and quality sleep.
Now, if you’re using an alarm and if your wake-up time varies from day to day, you’ll often wake up during a period of deeper sleep, and you’ll end up feeling groggy.
Research shows that no one just pops out of bed ready for action. We all go through a transition phase called sleep inertia. However, if you wake up during light sleep and on your regular schedule, sleep inertia can last only a few minutes. Otherwise, it can last up to 30 minutes or even longer.
Insufficient sleep doesn’t cause just longer sleep inertia but also nightmares, sleepwalking, and excessive sleepiness during the day. It can affect your mood, productivity, physical health, and more. Even if you think you’re getting enough sleep, pay attention to these signs - they might indicate that you need to adapt your sleeping schedule:
- tired or heavy eyes,
- constant yawning,
- brain fog,
- difficulty thinking or staying on task.
Another interesting thing that research suggests is that your biological clocks can have natural preferences for day or night that show up in our DNA. Some people are predisposed to early wake-ups, whereas others naturally sleep later. Being a morning person or a night owl is therefore not entirely dependent on your habits. We’ll talk about this a bit more later, but if you’re curious about your genetic predisposition, you can take our DNA test.
Okay, enough theory, let’s move on to advice on how to wake yourself up!
To coffee or not to coffee?
Let’s address this big question first. Some people can’t or don’t want to start their day without a hot cuppa. Some people also drink coffee anytime they get sleepy.
While coffee can certainly wake you up, it can also negatively impact your sleeping schedule. It’s also possible that drinking coffee doesn’t give you the desired energy boost. What’s up with that?
Ah, one could write a whole article about coffee and caffeine. Wait… we already did! If you’re interested in the pros and cons of drinking coffee, possible coffee alternatives, why it might not affect you and much more, read our extensive article about caffeine. It’s filled with interesting facts and useful tips.
Changes that will raise your energy levels in the long term
This section is dedicated to advice that will take some effort and time to implement but will certainly pay off as you’ll feel more energised in the long run.
Get on a sleep schedule
If you’ve read the sleep theory paragraph, you know why you need to go on a sleep schedule. If you jumped straight into tips, here’s the main thing you need to know - your body has a 24-hour subconscious clock (a circadian rhythm) that alternates between cycles of sleepiness and alertness.
Regular sleep habits support your body’s natural circadian rhythm and promote restorative sleep. If you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, you’ll fall asleep faster and wake up naturally. You’ll experience less sleep inertia, and you’ll feel more energised.
First, you need to figure out how much sleep you need. Here’s an easy way to do it:
- The average sleep cycle is 90 minutes long and a typical night of sleep includes 5 full sleep cycles.
- 5 full cycles = 450 minutes or 5 hours.
- To find your bedtime, go back 7.5 hours from your desired wake-up time.
- Go back an additional 15 minutes if you usually need some time to fall asleep.
- Go to bed at that time for a week. If you're not waking up five minutes before your alarm after a week, push your bedtime back for half an hour and continue to do so until you wake up without your alarm.
Studies recommend seven to nine hours per night, so don’t worry if you don’t get your sleep needs right on the first try. Once you get the hours down, stick to your sleep schedule (even on weekends), and you should feel the results of your frequent good night’s sleep in a week or so.
When is the best time to go to bed, you ask? Well, your job will probably dictate that. But you should know that being an early bird, a night owl, or somewhere in between is partially determined by our genes. The CLOCK and NPAS2 genes influence our sleep cycle and can help us determine our natural sleep pattern. This, in turn, can help you plan your everyday activities in a way that ensures proper rest and productivity - especially if you’re a freelancer or have flexible work hours.
Understanding your body’s internal clock is the first step towards a good night’s sleep and general well-being. Getting on a sleep schedule should really be the first step if you’re serious about improving your sleep and waking up well-rested.
One study has revealed that intermediate-type people reach peak performance 6.3 hours after waking.
Light up your mornings
As you know by now, daylight helps regulate your circadian rhythm which improves your sleep.
Getting some sun first thing in the morning will send a message to your brain that it’s time to wake up and it will set your internal clock which helps with sleep inertia. It will also boost your energy and elevate your mood.
Open your blinds as soon as you get up, have your breakfast or coffee outside if it’s a nice day or go for a short walk. That way you’ll also get some fresh air which is always a nice boost in the morning.
During the winter months and gloomy days, when there’s not enough natural light, turn on the lights or use a light-up alarm clock to wake you up. They are great for setting your internal clock.
Create a bedtime routine
A bedtime routine is another important thing that affects your circadian rhythm. There are certain activities that will help you fall asleep and ones that will keep you awake.
Here are the most important things you should avoid before going to bed if you want a good night’s sleep:
- Avoid looking at screens for at least 30 minutes before going to bed. An hour is even better. Screens emit blue light which can cause your circadian rhythm to think it’s daytime and can interfere with your body’s preparations for sleep.
- Don’t drink anything with caffeine within six hours of bedtime.
- Don’t nap too much during the day or spend time in bed in general. Let your body learn that your bed is a place for where you sleep at night and that’s mostly it.
- Don’t drink alcohol right before bedtime.
- Don’t cram last-minute activities into your schedule just before going to sleep. Working, eating or even exercising too late will mess with your circadian rhythm and you’ll have a hard time waking up in the morning.
Instead of doing any of the mentioned things, you should create a relaxing bedtime routine that you follow every evening.
Reading a book, taking a warm bath, light stretching and meditation can help you relax and wind down. If you have a hard time relaxing, you can even try some aromatherapy using lavender oil or drinking a cup of chamomile tea to help induce sleepiness.
Some people might need a bit longer routine to really relax as people respond to stress quite differently. A lot of it depends on a variation of the COMT gene which determines how well individuals function under stress. The gene codes for a COMT enzyme, which breaks down the stress hormone dopamine. Depending on the variant of the COMT gene you have, you can be either a stressed, relaxed, or balanced type.
Knowing your type can be helpful when creating a bedtime routine and learning what kind of activities you need to wind down. Our test that analyzes sleep cycles also analyzes stress management.
Combine ending your evening with a bedtime routine and kickstarting your morning with a morning routine for the best possible start of the day. Check out how to create a morning routine that sets you up for success.
You snooze, you lose
Falling back to sleep once you wake up is known as sleep fragmentation. Yes, it’s tempting, but research shows that it makes you more tired during the day and groggy in the morning. You know how the saying goes - you snooze, you lose.
Move your alarm clock or your phone far enough from your bed that you won’t be able to reach the snooze button without getting up. Or at least use an app that will make you get up and take a picture or do a challenge in order to turn off the alarm.
Eat right, sleep tight
Having a healthy diet increases your energy and helps you sleep better. A healthy breakfast is especially important if you want to kick off your day the right way and keep going strong until brunch or lunch.
Foods high in protein, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and foods high in omega-3 fats (or other healthy fats) are all good choices.
On the other hand, eating a lot of fast food and unhealthy snacks can zap your energy and make you feel lethargic and unmotivated. Sweets and simple carbohydrates cause “a sugar crush” after a short boost as your body produces insulin that drops your blood sugar and energy levels.
You should also avoid big meals 2 to 3 hours before going to bed. If you eat late, make sure it's a snack that digests promptly, like a piece of fruit.
Getting enough vitamins is also essential to maintaining high energy levels and not feeling sleepy during the day. Vitamins B and vitamin D are especially important when it comes to your general well-being.
- Vitamin B6 is key for maintaining your health. It is crucial for many processes, including the metabolism of fats, red blood cells, and the functioning of nervous and immune systems.
- Vitamin B9 is crucial for adequate metabolism, healthy blood, and DNA synthesis. It also reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
- Vitamin B12 has a central role in the functioning of the entire nervous system and, consequently, cognitive abilities.
- Vitamin D stimulates calcium absorption, which influences bone health. It also supports the health of your immune and nervous system.
Vitamin deficiency can cause a lack of energy and constant tiredness. While your vitamin intake depends on your diet, your vitamin levels also depend on your genes. If you want to learn how your DNA influences your vitamin levels and therefore your wellbeing, check out our Diet and nutrition DNA chapter.
Stay hydrated, stay awake
Keep a water bottle close to you and stay hydrated. You’ve probably heard this one before, but proper hydration has more benefits than most people think. Studies suggest that it increases alertness, productivity, cognitive performance and memory.
On the other hand, dehydration causes fatigue. And a cup of coffee first thing in the morning can lead to that.
Instead, try drinking two full glasses of cold water right after you wake up and see how you feel after your body rehydrates. You can still have a cup of coffee a bit later. ;)
Exercise to reduce fatigue
Studies have found that regular exercise can be more effective in increasing energy and reducing chronic daytime fatigue than some medications used to treat sleep problems.
Exercise has been proven to improve sleep and help with anxiety and depression, which can both cause excessive sleepiness or insomnia.
Research has also shown that a short heart-pumping workout boosts your energy levels in the morning. It helps you to wake up and stay alert. Yes, if you have a tough workout your energy levels may drop for a bit, but will generally surge back a few hours later.
Aim to exercise for 20 to 30 minutes a day. That’s enough to have long-lasting effects.
No phone in bed
Do you also reach for your phone first thing in the morning? Nowadays most of us do. However, scrolling for “a few minutes” while you are still in bed is not a great way to start a day.
If you want to start your day feeling energized, choose one of the activities we’ve already mentioned like exercising, meditating, going for a walk, drinking coffee outside or even journaling. Try having a morning routine that doesn’t include checking your phone and see if it will change how you feel.
Avoiding your phone while in bed will take you a long way towards feeling more energized.
Give your eyes a break
It’s quite simple - a continuous fixation on a computer screen causes eye strain and can make you feel tired or sleepy. Use the 20/20/20 rule to help out your eyes. For every 20 minutes of work, take a 20 seconds break and look at an object 20 feet (6 meters) away.
You should also check out flux, a nifty little piece of software that adapts the color of your computer screen to the time of day in order to minimize eye strain.
That’s about it for our long term advice. Now let’s move on to the...
Quick tips for an immediate boost
Sometimes you need to feel more awake and energized immediately. Here are different tips you can test and see what works for you.
In a popular study, Robert Thayer, a professor at California State University, studied whether people are more energized after a candy bar or after taking a brisk 10-minute walk.
The 10-minute walk left participants feeling energized for 2 hours afterwards and provided much more energy than the candy bar. That’s because walking and other similar activities pump oxygen through your veins and muscles, which lifts your mood and makes you feel ready for action.
If you get tired at your desk, get up and go for a short walk. Or maybe you’d rather...
Dance to your favourite song
Whether you just woke up or if you’re feeling down, putting on your favourite tune will give you a boost. If you get up and dance around, you’ll feel even better and certainly more awake. It’s basically a short workout combined with a dopamine-releasing song - of course, it will get you going.
Let’s continue moving a tiny bit longer.
A short stretch session is a great way to get your blood flowing. You can do some sun salutations or find another short yoga routine that makes you feel awake. There are plenty on YouTube!
Besides feeling energized, stretching has many other benefits that are especially great for people working a desk job.
Take a power nap
If you can afford it, a 10 to 20-minute power nap will certainly restore your energy. You can even talk to your boss if you can take a nap break in order to be more productive in the afternoon. Many companies now provide nap rooms for employees.
Remember not to nap longer than 25 minutes, don’t nap more than once per day and nap at least 6 or 7 hours before going to bed. And if you can’t nap, even resting quietly with your eyes closed for 10 minutes or so will help a lot.
Eat a healthy snack
Don’t settle for sugary snacks. As we’ve already said, they give you a quick boost followed by a crash that leaves you with even less energy.
Go for something healthier with low or no sugar that will make the energy boost last a while. Some examples:
- Peanut butter and a banana
- Yoghurt and a handful of nuts with whole-grain homemade granola
- Carrots with a low-fat cream cheese dip
Just breathe - deeply
Deep breathing raises blood oxygen levels in the body. This slows your heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and improves circulation, ultimately aiding mental performance and energy.
If you want these benefits, you can do some simple deep-breathing exercises at your desk. Sit up straight, inhale to the abdomen instead of the chest and do the following up to 10 times.
- With one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other on your chest, inhale deeply through your nose and let your belly push your hand out. Your chest should not move.
- Breathe out through lips pursed as if you were whistling. You can use the hand on your belly to help push air out.
Or you can try “stimulating breath”, which is also a good technique for a quick energy boost.
- Inhale and exhale rapidly through your nose, keeping your mouth closed but relaxed.
- Make your in-and-out breaths short - do about three of each cycle in a second.
- Do this for up to 15 seconds the first time and then breathe normally for a while. Then you can add five seconds each time after until you reach a minute or until you feel energized.
Deep breaths are also a good way to get an energy boost if you suddenly feel sleepy while driving. It can help you get to the next rest station where you can safely stop your car.
Pop a mint
Another quick way to wake yourself up is with a dose of minty freshness. It can be super minty bubble gum, breath mints, and even peppermint tea. The effervescent effect will definitely wake you up and the act of chewing the gum should make you more alert according to a study.
If you often feel tired, get a few extra strong mints and keep them nearby for a quick boost.
Speaking of stimulating the senses...
Aromatherapy for some extra energy
Indulging in a little aromatherapy in the morning can give you the jolt you need to feel energized and refreshed. A diffuser and some essential oils can make your morning more energetic and aromatic.
Here are some uplifting wake up scents you can try:
- pink grapefruit
And in the evening you can use lavender or chamomile to lull you to sleep.
Take a cold shower
A cold shower in the morning doesn’t sound pleasant, but if you want to wake yourself up real quick there’s no better way. A cold shower increases heart rate, blood pressure and respiration. If you do it often, you’ll get used to it and it will certainly get you ready to kick some butt during the day.
If you’re not convinced or it just seems too horrible, splash some ice-cold water on your face first thing in the morning. It’s not the same as a shower, but should still wake you up. You can also drink a glass of cold water or go for a short walk during the winter (if it’s cold outside).
The general idea here is: cold temperatures = waking up really fast. Take advantage of that any time you’re feeling sleepy.
Take a relaxing break away from your screen
If you’re feeling mental fatigue you should take a break and do something relaxing that eases your mind.
Meditation can work really well if you're just feeling drained. Even a two-minute meditation can help to recharge you. There are plenty of meditation apps out there, find one that you enjoy and have it on hand when you need a few minutes of guided relaxation to destress and rejuvenate.
As funny as it sounds, a colouring break can also help take your mind off stressful tasks for a while. Get a colouring book, turn off the computer and take a few minutes to have some relaxing fun. It won’t work for everyone, but some people really enjoy it.
Sometimes when you’re feeling drained simply talking to your colleagues or friends can be enough to lift your spirits. Obviously you don’t want to talk about work, but preferably something funny or positive.
Taking some kind of a breather can work wonders if you're stressed, overwhelmed, or just hitting a wall and need a change of pace.
What if no advice seems to work?
If you can’t get up in the mornings or are constantly feeling tired after different advice you should talk to a doctor about a referral to a sleep specialist.
Participating in a sleep study can help diagnose a sleep disorder or a medical condition that may be to blame for your morning fatigue. Prescribed proper treatment or even sleep medicine can help you sleep and wake up better.
Hopefully, that’s not the case and you’ve learned some new tips that’ll give you an energy boost when you need it the most.
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