Why isn't the process of waking from sleep pleasant for most?
November 24, 2008 5:14 PM   Subscribe

Why isn't the process of waking up quick and pleasant for most?

In asking for anecdotal evidence about waking up, most people I know say it's not a particularly pleasant experience. They just "have" to do it - this is even if they get the right amount of sleep. Only a few say they find it "easy" to get up consistently.

But why is waking an unpleasant experience? Shouldn't it be good, from an evolutionary point of view, for all humans to wake up briskly, full of beans, and ready to go? (Historically to have gone hunting, to escape predators, etc - nowadays, simply to go to work and earn money for survival).

Essential things like reproduction, urination, defecation, and even going to sleep have a real sense of urgency or pleasure about them - why not the process of waking up? Is there anthropological evidence for certain populaces to find it easier to get up than others, etc? Is it just modern Western culture that makes it hard for us to get up? Any insights welcomed.
posted by wackybrit to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Current research suggests that the brain wakes up piecemeal -- some groups of neurons before others --, and that this in part accounts for the muzzy confused feeling of waking.
posted by orthogonality at 5:25 PM on November 24, 2008

When there's a loud noise or something similar, I wake up instantly, full of adrenaline and ready to bolt. I have trouble waking up when I'm warm and comfortable and nothing particularly urgent is calling me to leave my position of happiness. That seems like decent work from evolution.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:26 PM on November 24, 2008 [8 favorites]

I think that studies would probably find most of us don't sleep well / get enough sleep. This is the first problem. This crazy modern life causes a lot of these sleep problems compared to our hunter gatherer ancestors no doubt.
The 2nd problem is also one of our modern life that we weren't designed for compared to our hunter gatherer ancestors: most of us sit around all day in front of a desk or do something equally monotonous. Who wants to get out of bed for that for one, and who's body would be in balance from that kind of lifestyle, hence feeling like you've been hit by a truck when it's time to wake up in the morning.
posted by GleepGlop at 5:29 PM on November 24, 2008

Just a bit of personal anecdotal evidence. If the following conditions are met in my daily life, I wake up quickly, easily, and with no discomfort every single day. Each of these conditions have been tested by yourself and all of them are necessary.

a) no caffeine intake - none, nada, except maybe a small amount of incidental intake ~ 10 mg/day

b) very limited refined sugar intake - 1/3 a piece of pie, a teriyaki sauce, a small chocolate square, etc. every couple of days

c) seven-and-a-half to eight hours of sleep

d) a regular yoga practice, every day isn't necessary, but regular is

Once any of these aspects of my day are off, I start having a little trouble waking up, but if all of them are in place, it a wonderful experience (except for my wife, who I drive nuts with my good morning cheer).
posted by mrmojoflying at 5:30 PM on November 24, 2008 [6 favorites]

*tested by myself....sorry if that isn't clear.
posted by mrmojoflying at 5:31 PM on November 24, 2008

Why isn't the process of waking up quick and pleasant for most?

Because they have to wake by x time in the morning in order to get to work and deal with the various bullshit there.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:33 PM on November 24, 2008 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: The "getting up for work" arguments are okay, but I don't think they directly relate to the question.

I don't really "want" to deal with wiping my butt, going to pee, or cook food, but defecation, urination, and hunger all produce an urgency that (barring serious self-denial) compel you to do/resolve them. I'm wondering why there's no similar built-in compulsion or lust to get up, or even any satisfaction after you've got over the process. Even physical exercise is generally pleasurable after a certain point..
posted by wackybrit at 5:45 PM on November 24, 2008

I wonder if there isn't a little selection bias going on here. Lots of time I wake up just fine and get on with my daily activities. I don't particularly register this at all, it's normal run-of-the-mill life.

Sometimes for whatever reason I have to get up before I'm fully rested, or I'm just groggy & don't feel like doing much for several hours after waking up, etc etc. So this is a drawn out and rather miserable experience that registers as definitely memorable in a negative way.

So it could be that you are remembering the "difficult" mornings and just not registering the normal mornings as anything special, giving an overall impression that mornings are difficult when only some of them are so.
posted by flug at 6:04 PM on November 24, 2008

Maybe it's *because* there are already built in compulsions to eat, drink, pee, etc. I know that a full bladder is plenty compelling all by itself. Perhaps no 'wake up' urge is needed because the rumbling belly or full bladder are sufficient.

Alternatively, cave men pretended that every day was christmas morning. I don't recall ever having trouble waking up when i knew there was a tree full of presents waiting for me.
posted by mrgoldenbrown at 6:14 PM on November 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Purely speculation... but maybe it's better from an evolutionary standpoint to conserve energy when there are no pressing matters at hand. It's far better for you to stay in bed rather than running around pointlessly for activities that don't contribute to your survival.
posted by specialfriend at 6:21 PM on November 24, 2008

From personal experience, I have to second mrmojoflying concerning caffeine. I wake up much less groggy when I am fully off the caffeine habit.
posted by DarkForest at 6:23 PM on November 24, 2008

They just "have" to do it

May I suggest a different sample set? One that consists of people who don't have to get out of bed?

I've belonged to that group off and on over the years, and I can tell you that for me getting up when my body says it is time is infinitely easier than following a clock.

If you must have an evolutionary reason, then consider that humans are natural creatures with natural variations in the amount of sleep we need each night. Our bodies send us very clear signals about whether we're getting enough rest at any given time, but we're able to beat them off with enough caffeine.
posted by tkolar at 6:26 PM on November 24, 2008

Well, I think a big part of it is that most of us are forced to wake up at completely arbitrary times. For example, I have to be at work at six a.m., and that's just a random number to my physiological clock. Some days thats right at sunrise, but most of the time, its still dark for a couple of hours... I'm just not sure how my body would know "ok, this is six a.m." and not say, five thirty a.m. because there's no real difference between them in the external world - it's not brighter, it's not warmer, there's no air pressure change... Basically, my job requires that I be on East Coast time even though I live on the West Coast, which makes sense in terms of the modern corporate infrastructure I find myself in, but you can't expect that structure to make any sort of physical or biological sense.

In my experience, when I'm left to my own devices, my sleep schedule gets acclimated to either an early or a late schedule, but "early" and "late" are tied to things like sunrise and sunset, rather than an arbitrary fixed number that is constant year round.
posted by Kiablokirk at 6:29 PM on November 24, 2008

Oh, and when it comes to pleasure it's hard to beat waking up gradually in your own schedule.

Both the carrot and the stick are present, we just ignore them is all.
posted by tkolar at 6:30 PM on November 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I feel fine when I wake up, as long as it's not by an alarm, and I'm not hungover. Waking is then mostly a slow, gentle, pleasant process. Sometimes I even wake up and bounce out of bed.

I think you're overgeneralising from your own experience and cultural tropes about the pain of getting up for work/school/obligation.

Evolutionarily, I imagine that there are advantages for a social animal in sleeping as long as possible if it's not starving. Some other animal will keep watch, while you save energy...
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:31 PM on November 24, 2008

The "getting up for work" arguments are okay, but I don't think they directly relate to the question.

I don't really "want" to deal with wiping my butt, going to pee, or cook food, but defecation, urination, and hunger all produce an urgency that (barring serious self-denial) compel you to do/resolve them.

Yes, but you really don't want to lie in your own shit and piss while starving, do you? Having to get up at 6 or 7 in the morning to be at work by 8 or 9 isnt' fun for most people, even if the job is ok, because sleeping is generally restive and fun.

Once of the reasons waking up can be annoying is that we sleep in stages. Being woken up while in stage 3 or 4 is hellish, especially if it's because of the damn alarm clock going off, we're naturally more sluggish and slow.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:39 PM on November 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also, I think very few Americans get enough exercise, and that's a big factor in the amount of sleep your body thinks you need. If you aren't very active, your metabolism slows down, which causes your body to try to store more fat and use less energy, and sleeping is a great way to not use much energy. Most Americans are so sedentary that their bodies think they live in permanent winter and that they should be ready to hibernate at all times.
posted by Kiablokirk at 6:40 PM on November 24, 2008

Evolution doesn't work that way. Just because it might be somewhat more advantageous (or more pleasant) to be happy in the morning doesn't mean that we necessarily should have evolved to select that, or that there's some sort of evolutionary explanation for why we didn't. I mean, that's like saying it would make more sense evolutionarily if we could fly, so why don't we?
posted by footnote at 6:50 PM on November 24, 2008

Yeah, footnote's correct: natural selection can only select from things that arise naturally and by chance. As long as we fit our niche better than anyone else who comes along, there's no real drive to change. Childbirth is a terrible and dangerous experience, it would be great if evolution had fixed that to make it a piece of cake but it didn't happen.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:26 PM on November 24, 2008

If I'm waking up to hookers and pizza, sure, ready to roll. But waking up to go to work? Ehh, just a few...minutes...mo-zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Point is, there's a split-second between sleep and wakefulness where your schedule for the day flashes before you eyes. Well, for me anyway. If it's looking like good times, my brain tells my body to get moving, and I'm up like a shot, ready to headbutt my way to success. But if things are looking bleak, then, man, whatever, I could be back in bed, pretending I am a killer cyborg that hasn't yet been fully fabricated, and anyway I can't pee until this erection goes down so why even bother?
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:27 PM on November 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Waking up and actually deciding to stand up are quite unpleasant for me almost every day. *Except* when I dine very lightly. For sometime I was having yogurt, cheese and or nuts for dinner, and I always woke up fast, sometimes without alarms and quite hungry.
posted by edmz at 7:30 PM on November 24, 2008

Unless I'm awakened by anxiety or something scary, I wake up like a terrible parody of Night of the Living Dead whether I've had 5.5 hours of sleep or 8. Actually, my mom and brothers do as well. I can sort of feel physical, cognitive, and emotional abilities flickering into being slowly. I have one wave in the first 10 minutes and another after 45 minutes or so. I've always assumed it's certain parts of my brain getting revved up one at a time or that the chemicals that flood my brain to make me sleep don't drain out all at once.
posted by mostlymartha at 8:34 PM on November 24, 2008

Isn't the example of 'Waking up easily' when you have to get up, rather than when you are fully rested and wake up naturally, something akin to 'being made to go toilet when you don't actually need to go'?
Sometimes you'll manage it easily, sometimes hard, sometimes impossible.

In comparison, waking up is easy, if anything. It's just having to wake up when you naturally wouldn't be that is the problem.

I wake up quite nicely around 2pm...

posted by Elysum at 9:02 PM on November 24, 2008

Essential things like reproduction, urination, defecation, and even going to sleep have a real sense of urgency or pleasure about them - why not the process of waking up?

The action of reproduction (or copulation) is a different mechanism than the others you list. We exist to reproduce, so of course the attempt is going to become one of the most pleasurable experiences you can have. Otherwise we wouldn't bother reproducing.

Urination/defecation/eating - these are a different mechanism. It feels good to do them because we are relieving pain (and, mentally, the possibility of greater pain). Going to sleep offers that same relief. Being jolted from that relief before it's run its course (i.e. a normal working day) is unpleasant.

I couldn't tell you why we haven't adapted physically to a 9 to 5 (er, 9 to 6) lifestyle. Or why we haven't adapted socially, when that is by far the quicker course.
posted by greenland at 9:11 PM on November 24, 2008

The brain boots up like a computer. As we awaken, the thalamus releases nitric oxide which selectively initiates simple brain activities, before permitting more complex brain functions. The "boot procedure" prevents us from being overwhelmed by sensory stimuli... Unfortunately, many of us seem to have Windows OS; hence the early morning mood crashes and inability to rouse from sleep mode.
posted by terranova at 9:36 PM on November 24, 2008

I have to disagree with the quit caffeine solution, I quit coffee due to stomach problems years ago and I still believe getting out of bed is the only mistake I make most days.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 9:40 PM on November 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Most days I have no trouble waking up and briskly getting on with the day in good humour. I go to bed at a reasonable hour (9pm-midnight) and my day starts a bit later than most (I usually get up between 7.30-8 am) and I kinda ease into the day having breakfast with my children (or Askme) and getting them ready for school and then go about the rest of my day. If my baby had me up a lot in the night I prefer to sleep in, so I usually do (or I quickly run the older children to school and return right to bed with the baby for a few hours). If I don't want to go to work I can always call in sick (and still get paid so there are no real consequences). Maybe the fact that I have those options - I can always go back to bed it I want - makes getting up so easy and pleasant for me. I don't use alarm clocks but instead wake to one of my children or my husband snuggling up to me in bed and my body just feels it is the right time to get up. My husband however, has the worst time getting up so I usually let him sleep in until his internal clock wakes him around noon and try to stay out of his way for the first hour or so he is up.
posted by saucysault at 12:33 AM on November 25, 2008

I have no problem getting up for work early enough to have breakfast and unwind.

I have a lot of trouble waking up on the weekend. I want to wake up earlier on the weekend (same time as the weekdays) so I can have a long breakfast and relax in the morning, but I always seem to wake up at 9am-9:30am annoyed that I've wasted the morning again.
posted by wingless_angel at 12:40 AM on November 25, 2008

I recently read this fantastic NY Times article about the modern, Western fascination with the idea of the 'perfect' night's sleep, an unbroken 7 - 9 hour slumber that leaves you bright eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to go.

The point that the article makes is that, historically, physiologically and culturally, this is pretty much a Western myth. Humans naturally sleep in 2-4 hour 'chunks' with short periods of wakefulness in between. Prior to electric light and heating, it was completely normal for families to wake up and do things during the night, like play a game of cards, read for a while, stoke the fire, see to the animals outside and so on. I particularly liked the anecdote about Benjamin Franklin taking 'fresh air baths', sitting stark naked in a chair on his porch to read.

They said a lot of the anxiety about this 'dream sleep' of eight hours is what creates self-sustaining insomnia, as people who wake naturally during the night freak out and become obsessed with getting back to sleep, and thus create really unhealthy patterns of worrying about sleeping and hence getting no sleep.

I did an experiment over a couple of weeks where I logged how I felt when I woke up. What I found was that if I had less than four hours, I felt awful. If I had between four and six hours, I was tired, but not overly groggy. If I had around seven hours, I felt great. If I had more than 8, groggy again. I also found that just accepting that I was going to wake up once or twice during the night did wonders for how quickly I fell back asleep, and the quality of the sleep that I got. Having a rigid get-up time has also helped, as my internal clock now levers my eyes open at 5.58am on the dot regardless.

So, in summary, I believe the grogginess many people feel on waking is largely due to artificial and unnatural attitudes towards sleep, combined with various things that stop us getting it (artificial light, stimulants etc).
posted by Happy Dave at 2:43 AM on November 25, 2008 [6 favorites]

a few things, off the top of my head:

1) I've always been a night owl, so I'm at my best when I go to bed at 3am or later, and then get up around noon. Alas, life does not want me to live like that. But this last summer spent clubbing in Berlin was paradise for me.

2) As others have already mentioned, we tend to go through sleep cycles, and if you're forced awake in the middle of the deep part of the cycle, you take a long time to wake up and you feel awful. On the other hand, if your consciousness just sort of bubbles up at the end of a sleep cycle, it's glorious.

3) I don't know if this has ever happened to anybody else, but more than once I've stayed awake or awoken when my brain's voluntary control over my movements had been turned off. It always gave me a moment of panic, à la "ZOMG I'M PARALYZED!!1!", which then gave me a shot of adrenaline that restored my capacity to move.

4) despite my night-owlishness, my body is actually very good at waking up at a particular time, especially when it's really important. If I look at a clock just before bedtime and think about the precise hour that I need to get up, I'm often fully awake 3-5 minutes before the alarm. I'm not sure why I'm able to do this, but I've been doing it since high school, when I had to get up at 5h30 for choir and orchestra practices.

5) This happens to me all the time on a day off or weekends: I wake up of my own accord and I feel great, but I look at the clock and realize that I can sleep for much longer. yay! I go back to sleep. Then, I open my eyes a few hours later, groggy and with a headache. I've learned that if I wake up of my own accord, regardless of how early, I should just get the !@#$ up.
posted by LMGM at 6:37 AM on November 25, 2008

I think your sampling is inaccurate.

I don't "have" to get out of bed on the weekends, but after a certain amount of sleep, I find it preferable to staying in bed. Too much sleep makes me cranky and I feel groggy the entire day, getting up bright and early during the weekends (but a little later than during the week) makes me feel more complete, for lack of a better word. Those waking mornings are pleasant and easy for me, and I do wake up "briskly, full of beans, and ready to go". Even during the week, when I have to get up earlier than I'd prefer, I wouldn't term those awakenings unpleasant, unless I've had a particularly bad night of sleep.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:57 AM on November 25, 2008

Even when I'm looking forward to the day's events, I still have trouble getting up. When it's pouring, freezing rain, and I have unpleasant work to do(like today), it's even harder. When I've had plenty of sleep, it's not as difficult. I genuinely do not understand the cheery-in-the-morning people. If someone discovers a way to bottle some of it, I'd sign up, as it would certainly help with many aspects of my life. I've wrestled, with varying degrees of success, with depression, most of my life. I suspect there's a connection.
posted by theora55 at 9:02 AM on November 25, 2008

I find that I wake up quickly, easily, and with a much more positive mood during times that I have a one or more fun projects going on in my life or at work, or when I have a new relationship that has just started taking off.

During times that I'm involuntarily single, and nothing is going on at work or elsewhere in my life, I hit snooze a lot and it can take me hours to fully wake up even after a full night's rest.
posted by joquarky at 4:56 PM on November 25, 2008

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