Feeling tired when you wake up? Here’s what you need to know

Do you often feel tired when you wake up? Find out why it’s more normal than you may think, and how you can wake top faster.

How often do you jump out of bed, ready to face the day full of energy? Probably not very often. You might be following a bunch of healthy lifestyle guidelines, like eating right and getting eight hours of sleep. Yet still, your brain just doesn’t switch into “let’s do vortex theory mathematics!” mode when you wake up.

That’s actually completely normal!

In this article, we’re going to examine why your brain needs a few hours to wake up. We’ll explore the neuroscience behind why you can’t wake up with a jump. We’ll also explore what to do to wake up and get going.

It’s normal to wake up feeling tired – that’s just sleep inertia

“Sleep inertia” is the term used to describe the groggy, tired feeling you have when you first wake up, those moments you just want to hide under the covers from the sun. It’s the brain’s response to waking up, and it’s completely normal.

While clever marketers tell us that we’ll rise straight out of bed, feeling fully rested and ready to embrace the day, if we use their mattress or sleep-aids, we don’t actually wake up like that.

Throughout the day, your brain produces a chemical called adenosine – which is responsible for our feeling of tiredness. Adenosine is a messenger that tells your brain to shut down. The longer you stay awake, the more adenosine accumulates in your brain, the harder it is for your body to respond to a message saying “turn off!”. So you feel tired.

While you sleep, your body will clear out this excess adenosine – but upon waking, it isn’t fully flushed out. This might explain why you’re waking up tired, as your body needs around 60 to 90 minutes to feel completely alert.

What can help you wake up faster?

While you aren’t really able to go from 0-60mph right after waking up, there are some better ways to “warm your engine”, so to speak.

Drink water before coffee

While many of us stumble to the coffee pot first thing in the morning, it’s much wiser to go for some water first. You’re already dehydrated from sleeping, and caffeine will worsen it. Drink a tall glass of water, and then start the coffee brewing.

In fact, caffeine is an adenosine blocker – it attaches itself to the same receptors as adenosine, and reduces the grogginess you feel. This doesn’t mean that caffeine eliminates adenosine from your body, though. Too much caffeine can actually harm your natural adenosine cycle, which leads you to drink more coffee to block the effects of adenosine buildup.

Throw open the curtains

Our circadian rhythms are closely tied to sunlight – or rather, light exposure in general. When it becomes dark, we feel sleepy, and when the sun is out, we feel energetic. Thus, while you should sleep in a dark room, throw open the curtains and feel the sunshine as soon as you wake up.

Go for a walk

A morning stroll is an excellent way to clear the fog out of your brain. Not only will it wake you up, but you’ll also get to enjoy the sunshine as you walk.

Limit your sleep debt, and regulate your body clock

Think of our bodies like batteries – every time we sleep, we’re recharging our batteries. But are you charging yourself up to a full 100%, or only 70%? 

Similarly, do you charge your phone all the way up to 100%, or just charge it to the bare minimum needed to use it for a while, before you need to plug it in again?

Sleep debt is a similar principle, in that instead of wondering why you feel sluggish after getting a full eight hours of sleep, you should ask yourself if you’re getting that amount regularly over a 14-day period.

Let’s say eight hours of sleep means 112 sleeping hours over a two week period. But if you get six hours of sleep on a Tuesday, seven hours of sleep on Wednesday, and eight hours of sleep on Friday, you’re coming up short of that 112 hour goal. Thus, sleep debt actually accumulates over time, even if you got a full eight hours of sleep the night previous.

Photo by Laura Chouette