Not everyone can leap out of bed in the morning and have coherent conversations within the first 15 minutes of the day. But if you're regularly waking up tired despite clocking in a full night's snooze, then you may not be getting the good quality sleep you think you are. And obviously, that’s not ideal for many reasons, most of which are health-related. According to The Better Sleep Council, a lack of adequate sleep may lead to a variety of short- and long-term health problems, including weight gain, depression, high blood pressure, cancer and stroke.
So, if waking up tired is a common occurrence for you, it’s definitely worth taking a closer look at your sleeping habits. In this guide, we’ll list out some of the common causes of waking up tired and then explore potential remedies to help you wake up feeling refreshed and alert.
Causes of Waking Up Tired
Nobody wants to start their day feeling sluggish and tired. To ensure you’re getting a proper night’s rest, let’s take a deep dive into the most common causes of waking up tired.
1. Sleep Inertia
Have you ever found yourself feeling groggy and disoriented after waking up to the annoying beep! beep! beep! of your alarm? Turns out, there’s a name for that morning grogginess and overwhelming desire to pull the covers back over your head: sleep inertia.
Sleep inertia can be defined as a temporary sensation of sleepiness and disorientation upon awakening. Although the phenomenon is not fully understood, scientists believe that sleep inertia occurs when you’re woken up in an unnatural manner (e.g., your alarm clock) during the deeper stages of sleep.
Symptoms of sleep inertia include:
- Brain fog or fuzziness
- Poor decision making
Thankfully, sleep inertia doesn’t last long. Most people find that the grogginess and brain fog subside within an hour or so. However, some people experience a longer version of sleep inertia that can last up to four hours.
Possible Solutions for Sleep Inertia
Sleep inertia can get your day off to an unpleasant start, to say the least. The good news? There are plenty of steps you can take to avoid feeling groggy and disoriented in the morning.
Here are a few simple strategies to combat sleep inertia:
- Use sleep apps like SleepScore and Sleep Cycle, which track your sleep cycles and time your alarm to go off when you’re less likely to be in deep sleep.
- Wake up gradually to natural sunlight or use a sunrise alarm clock that gradually brightens to mimic the sunrise.
- Keep your naps short (less than 20 minutes) to avoid falling into a deeper sleep that may lead to grogginess.
2. Poor Sleep Habits
We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your bedtime routine (or lack thereof) may be to blame for your morning tiredness. Poor sleeping habits such as using electronics before bed and eating snacks too close to bedtime can lead to fragmented sleep, increasing the likelihood of waking up exhausted.
Here are a few more examples of sleep-sabotaging habits:
- Not sticking to a consistent bedtime
- Drinking alcohol before bed
- Allowing anxious thoughts to run unchecked at night
- Taking long naps during the day
- Using your bedroom for multiple purposes
According to Harvard Medical School, blue light exposure from digital devices is particularly harmful to our sleep quality. Exposure to blue light at night, whether it's from late-night scrolling on social media or playing video games, can suppress the body's production of melatonin, making it that much harder to achieve a good night's rest. For this reason, sleep experts generally recommend putting down the digital devices before bed or wearing blue light blocking eyewear in the evening.
Possible Solutions for Poor Sleep Habits
Certain sleep habits can be notoriously tricky to break (hello, late-night snacking and scrolling). One of the easiest ways to overhaul your sleep habits is by creating a soothing bedtime routine that relaxes your body and mind.
In the hour leading up to your bedtime, try to perform calming activities that help reduce late-night worry and stress. For instance, many people find it relaxing to curl up under a weighted blanket. (Results of a randomized, controlled study showed that participants who used a weighted blanket for four weeks had reduced symptoms of insomnia, fatigue, anxiety and depression compared to the control group.) Other calming activities may include taking a warm bath, reading a good book, practicing meditation and listening to relaxing music.
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Here are a few more healthy habits you can adopt to improve your nights and, therefore, your days:
- Ditch all electronics at least one hour before bedtime.
- Decide on a set bedtime and stick to it (even on the weekends).
- Only use the bedroom for sleep and intimacy. Refrain from bringing your computer into the bedroom or watching television in bed.
- Expose yourself to bright sunlight first thing in the morning and avoid bright light in the evening.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine before bed. Cut yourself off at least four to six hours before bedtime.
- Plan your meals well before bedtime to avoid heartburn, GERD and other digestive issues that can negatively affect sleep.
- Avoid vigorous exercise right before bed. To ensure a good night’s sleep, plan your workouts for earlier in the day.
- Turn your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary by investing in a comfortable mattress, pillows and sheets.
3. Inadequate Sleep Environment
Another sneaky cause of waking up tired is a poor sleep environment. Indeed, environmental conditions such as light, noise and temperature can play a big role in how well-rested you feel the next day.
Here are just a few examples of environmental factors that can potentially disrupt your sleep:
- Exposure to bright lighting in the evening
- An uncomfortable mattress, pillow or bedding
- Clutter in the bedroom
- Environmental noise such vehicle and air traffic
- Sleeping in a bedroom that is too hot or too cold
Possible Solutions for an Inadequate Sleep Environment
From noisy neighbors to bright streetlights, the number of things that can potentially wreak havoc on our slumber is vast. But looking on the bright side, many factors of your sleeping environment are within your control.
Here are a few simple changes you can make to your sleeping environment to help you get more restorative sleep:
- Lower the temperature of your bedroom or sleep with a cooling weighted blanket to facilitate a good night’s rest.
- Keep cool. According to the Sleep Foundation, our bodies experience a natural dip in temperature in the evening. Turning the thermostat down or sleeping with a cooling weighted blanket may help regulate your body temperature and signal to your body that it’s time for sleep.
- Avoid noises when trying to sleep. Insulate your windows, add soft surfaces (e.g., soft rugs and cushioned furniture), turn off phone alerts and consider wearing earplugs to bed.
- Darken your sleep environment by installing blackout curtains in your bedroom or wearing a weighted eye mask to bed (hint: our weighted sleep mask doubles as a relaxation tool).
4. Sleep Disorders
Sleep disorders are unfortunately common, affecting 50 to 70 million adults in the U.S. population. Insomnia is the most prevalent of these disorders, likely owing to its many obvious symptoms: trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep and, of course, waking up tired.
However, there are many other sleep disorders that can disrupt your nightly slumber. Let’s take a quick look at some of the most common sleep disorders and their symptoms:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea: This type of sleep apnea occurs when there is a blockage in the upper airways, causing the person to stop and start breathing during the night. Other than daytime sleepiness, one of the most noticeable signs of sleep apnea is loud snoring.
- Restless Legs Syndrome: Up to 10 percent of American adults suffer from restless legs syndrome (RLS), a sleep disorder characterized by an uncomfortable sensation in the lower limbs and an uncontrollable desire to move them. People with RLS often describe the sensation as a tingling, numbing or crawling sensation.
- Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome: Delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS) is a type of circadian rhythm sleep disorder that mostly affects teenagers and young adults. This sleep disorder causes a two-hour or more delay in a person’s typical sleep pattern, leading them to wake up at times that many deem socially unacceptable. If you have DSPS, you may have trouble falling asleep at the desired bedtime and find it extremely difficult to wake up on time for work or school.
Possible Solutions for Sleep Disorders
The single best way to get your sleep disorder under control is by getting an official diagnosis from your healthcare provider. Be aware that this may require you to complete a sleep study. But considering that many sleep disorders are linked to a slew of health consequences — like an increased risk of obesity, heart attack and stroke — it’s worth it so that you can get a healthy, restful night’s sleep.
5. Frequent Nighttime Urination
Are you waking up several times during the night to use the bathroom? Even if you’re only getting up once to use the bathroom, that may be enough to disrupt your sleep and make it difficult to wake up in the next morning.
Nighttime urination (known medically as nocturia) is not uncommon, especially among older adults. Studies show that nearly 70 percent of men and 76 percent of women over the age of 40 use the restroom at least once during the night.
Common causes of nocturia include:
- Excess fluid intake before bedtime
- Overactive bladder
- Untreated diabetes
- High sodium diet
- Enlarged prostate
Possible Solutions for Frequent Nighttime Urination
Nocturia may be common, but that doesn’t mean you have to live with it. Here are a few possible solutions to help you stop frequent nighttime urination:
- Make an appointment with your doctor to rule out underlying medical conditions.
- Go easy on the salt shaker. Salt makes you thirsty, which can lead you to drink more before bedtime.
- Elevate your legs to help prevent fluid accumulation.
- Maintain a healthy weight so you aren’t putting excess pressure on your bladder.
Tips for Relieving Morning Tiredness
Understanding the reasons why you’re waking up tired is key to getting your sleep (and your health) back on the right track. But if you’re still having trouble waking up in the morning, consider trying these fast-acting remedies to help banish morning tiredness:
1. Drink a Glass of Cold Water
According to the experts, morning tiredness can be exacerbated by dehydration. To perk yourself up fast, keep a water carafe on your nightstand and pour yourself a tall glass the moment you wake up.
2. Expose Yourself to Bright Light
After you down a glass of water, open up the curtains and stand in front of natural light. Exposing your body to natural light will help kickstart your day by signaling to the body that it’s time to be active.
3. Take a Nap
Napping isn’t just for little kids! Heaps of research show that taking a quick nap can help boost your performance, memory retention and alertness. Just remember to keep it short and sweet.
4. Take a Brisk Walk
Going for a brisk walk in the morning is an effective way to increase your alertness. Experts at Hopkins Medicine say that working out can increase your internal body temperature, which signals to the brain that it’s time to wake up. Plus, the cold air hitting your face is bound to jolt you awake.
5. Eat a Healthy Breakfast
The next time you wake up feeling tired, drag yourself into the kitchen and make yourself a healthy breakfast. Food is fuel and eating breakfast signals to the body that you’re awake and ready to get moving.
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