'Cause waking up is hard to do
September 27, 2010 6:48 PM   Subscribe

How do I become more of a morning person? I'm sick of spending the first 1-2 hours of my day feeling miserable!

For as long as I can remember, I've had trouble waking up. With the exception of maybe a couple of days a month, it takes me an hour or two to feel fully functional. I do get up when my alarm goes off (no pressing snooze or anything) but I'm consistently miserable about it, regardless of how much I have slept, my mood the previous night, my plans for the day, whether there is someone else in the bed or not. I do drink coffee (on average a cup a day) though I generally wait until I
get to work to have it, because my stomach does not feel like encountering anything first thing in the morning.

Does anyone have any suggestions for turning waking up into a more pleasant occasion? For instance, is there a recommended amount of sleep that one is supposed to get per night? Are there doctors or other professionals who are sleep experts? Again, it's not that I can't drag myself out of bed, just that I would like to incorporate mornings into the rest of my day, rather than feel like they're an alien and unpleasant transitional period. Thank you in advance for your responses.
posted by mlle valentine to Health & Fitness (37 answers total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
Here is one idea that you can try. Make a point to try sleeping different lengths of time on different nights and see if you feel any better/worse. For example, I do great with 8-9hrs of sleep a night, but I do better with 4-5 than 6. I'm not sure exactly why this is, but there really is something to catching your sleep cycle just right and not awakening from your deepest sleep. Good luck!
posted by gibbsjd77 at 6:52 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you have a SAD light? I would recommend getting one. 30 minutes in one first thing in the morning's great to help wake up, stabalize mood.
posted by TheBones at 6:55 PM on September 27, 2010

IANAD, but could you be experiencing adrenal fatigue? Are your sleeps refreshing?
posted by gillianr at 6:58 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well my morning mood is much better when I am totally off caffeine. It takes about 10-16 hours for withdrawal effects to come on and that is just about when you are waking up if you have a cup of coffee in the morning. Coffee has a lot of caffeine in it, and it doesn't take much at all to get dependent on it. The withdrawal is a bitch though and I would recommend the weekend to go through it.

Also find out what your natural sleep rhythm is and try to work within that. See when you wake up normally from whenever you go to bed and then try to move around the clock (like if you normally wake up at 8 after going to bed at 10 than try to go to bed at 8 to wake up at 6.

The big thing is doing it consistently for long enough for your body to reset itself (probably a couple of weeks but maybe a month).
posted by bartonlong at 6:58 PM on September 27, 2010

I don't feel like eating in the morning either, but the low blood sugar definitely makes me mornings worse. So I got a mini fridge and put it right next to the bed and stocked it with SlimFast chocolate shakes so I can ingest some unoffensive calories first thing before I even get out of bed. It helps.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:00 PM on September 27, 2010

Are there doctors or other professionals who are sleep experts?

Yes. Talk to your doctor and see if you can get a referral.

In the meantime, are you sleeping on a regular schedule? It's not just the amount of sleep you get, but whether you have a consistent sleep schedule, too. "It doesn't matter how much I have slept" makes me suspect that your sleep schedule might fluctuate as you try to deal with your tiredness, like, by sleeping in late on weekends.

Are you getting natural light in the morning? Sometimes this is beyond your control, but if you can, try to get more natural light. Open your curtains and let your neighbors see you in your pajamas.

Coffee can mess up some people's sleep even if they have it early in the day. You should try to cut out caffeine to see what happens. If there's no change it doesn't have to be permanent. I suspect that if you see a sleep specialist they'll want you to try this anyway, so you might as well do it now.

You could also try to have a ritual that you enjoy in the mornings and can look forward to. Fifteen minutes with a good book and a cup of tea, or something else that you normally enjoy despite being sleepy.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:01 PM on September 27, 2010

I get out of bed without thinking much and go out and walk for an hour. Sometimes I start out feeling really grumpy, stiff, dull, but always by the end of my walk I feel energized.
posted by mareli at 7:03 PM on September 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

As soon as you get up, do some exercise. It doesn't have to be much at all. Do jumping jacks, stretch, maybe a few pushups. Get your blood flowing. Exercise is one of those things us modern humans still have to do, even if it seems ridiculous.
posted by pwally at 7:04 PM on September 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Are there doctors or other professionals who are sleep experts?

After decades of never being to wake up properly for hours, my cousin was diagnosed as a thirty year old with sleep apnoea. Turns out that what she thought was just naturally the way she was---grumpy and absent-minded in the morning, with a short attention span in the afternoons---was a rather common medical condition. It's worth seeing your GP about.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:07 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah I was going to say exercise first thing in the morning. A half hour on the elliptical never fails to wake me up!

(Also, the argument that "exercise is ridiculous" is one of the dumbest things I've read in a while)

Also, make sure your bed is comfortable.
posted by delmoi at 7:13 PM on September 27, 2010

While 8 hours sleep is the standard recommendation, I've also read that sleep cycles are (on average) 1.5 hours long. Waking up at the end of a sleep cycle is supposedly relatively painless (as you're already pretty close to being awake), but waking in the middle of a sleep cycle will leave you groggy as you're coming out of deep sleep suddenly with an alarm.

I was sceptical, but I've experimented a bit with it recently, and I feel soooo much better if I set my alarm for 7.5 hours after going to bed (allowing for "getting to sleep time") than I do with 8. Even 6 hours is fine (better than 6.5 or 7 if they're my options). If I wake up in the middle of a sleep cycle, I feel groggy and wrongheaded and it takes a good while to snap out of that. I don't have links for the science behind it, sorry, just anecdata that it works for me!
posted by finding.perdita at 7:24 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thank you for your suggestions! To respond to some of them:

I have thought I should try to figure out what my natural sleep rhythm is but haven't motivated myself to do it in a directed way yet. I'll have to try.

My current sleep schedule is pretty irregular but I'm not sure that I can change it completely (or, to be more accurate, that I want to—there are late-night things I want to do on the weekends and it is not possible to stay up similarly late on work days).

Thank you, Jacqueline, for the mini fridge idea. Maybe I can try something like that.

Exercise is absolutely a good idea—I am totally with mareli in being cheered up by walking. The past couple of weeks whenever I've woken up unprompted by my alarm clock I've dragged myself up and taken the bus to downtown Brooklyn so I can walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to my job in Manhattan. Getting myself physically out of bed to do this, even though it feels great once I'm there, is still hard though!
posted by mlle valentine at 7:28 PM on September 27, 2010

I was diagnosed with sleep apnea when I was about 38 (about 5 yrs ago). Now that I use a CPAP machine, I get better quality of sleep and it's easier to wake up. I have never been a morning person, but it used to be darn near impossible for me to drag myslef out of bed and expect to function normally. I still don't like mornings, but at least now I can wake up and get going.
posted by Ochre,Hugh at 7:29 PM on September 27, 2010

Your mission: wake up naturally before your alarm goes off. How you will accomplish it: go to sleep 20 minutes earlier each night until you do. That's your new bedtime.

When you wake up, get up. How old are you? I was similar to you until my early twenties and had a total reversal, so to speak. Now I wake up naturally at 6 am like clockwork, and feel great as long as I went to bed eight hours earlier.
posted by telegraph at 7:30 PM on September 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

Also, if you have an iPhone, there is an app that will identify (based on your movements during sleep) when you're in that twilight zone between sleep cycles and wake you up then (bearing in mind when you tell it you need to wake up by). Search for "Sleep Cycle" and it will come up. (I can't vouch for it as I have a futon and it only works on normal mattresses, but I've heard good things from friends)
posted by finding.perdita at 7:32 PM on September 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

More is not always better. If I sleep for more than ~7 hrs at the outside I feel subhuman all day. Less than that (within reason) and I'm golden.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 7:39 PM on September 27, 2010

You might consider some sort of meditation ritual for the morning: sitting with a candle or some incense and trying to empty your mind for 10-20 minutes. Or (as was suggested above) sitting with a cup of herbal tea and trying to let your mind go blank can be helpful.

For breakfast, you might want to start eating something simple that won't spike your blood sugar level (so no sugar or flour). Perhaps half of a ripe avocado or some relatively low-sugar fruit like honeydew melon. You could prepare these items the night before so you wouldn't have to think about it when you wake up.
posted by pinetree at 7:41 PM on September 27, 2010

telegraph: That is an excellent idea. I am in my mid-twenties. Maybe I too will experience a reversal. My coworkers kept saying that once I was at a 9–5 job long enough I'd change, but it doesn't seem to happen.

finding.perdita: I generally don't think I want an iPhone but that is a compelling argument for getting one!

I suppose I'd better get to sleep now instead of staying up responding to more replies...
posted by mlle valentine at 7:46 PM on September 27, 2010

I used to feel as you do--I absolutely hated mornings, and rode the snooze alarm quite miserably each and every day. What helped was going to bed at a reasonable hour--say, 11:30 or midnight--instead of 2:00 or 3:00AM. I found that being tired at reasonable hour became much easier after I made exercise a normal routine. Also, caffeine helps me a lot every morning (I avoid all traces of caffeine by about 3PM). Finally, I found it helpful to avoid any alcohol late at night--it may make you drowsy initially, but it can also keep you from the sound sleep your body needs. Good luck...
posted by applemeat at 7:47 PM on September 27, 2010

Seconding what finding.perdita said about the fancy iphone app. It has *totally changed* the mood that my husband wakes up in. I love it long time.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 8:06 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

One thing I read a few years back that has really changed my mornings is to just chug a big glass of water as soon as you get out of bed. It gets things circulating. Could be all in my head, but I think it helps, and IANAMP.
posted by Lukenlogs at 8:16 PM on September 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm also a night person, but when I absolutely must be a morning person, I find it helps to go to bed early (like at least nine hours before you need to be up) and read the most boring book you can find. When you wake up, force yourself to get out of bed and do at least the most basic of exercise, like stretching or walking around the block a couple times.
posted by tomwheeler at 8:17 PM on September 27, 2010

I was coming to post the same as Lunkenlogs. I've found a big glass of water cold from the fridge or with ice first thing in the morning to really be refreshing. It's almost as good as coffee.
posted by amanda at 8:58 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here is what worked for me:

1) Wake up even earlier. It's counterintuitive, but it let me wake up and drink coffee and read online newspapers before I had to push myself to shower and get dressed and make lunch and everything.

2) Find a routine and stick to it. As groggy as I was, I knew that 7:00 was shower time, 7:10 was eat cereal time, 7:30 was hair is dry enough to comb time, and 7:50 was leave the apartment time. (Of course by 7, I had already been downing coffee for an hour so I wasn't as groggy.)
posted by oreofuchi at 9:38 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

In the U.S., we've become a culture of braggarts about how little sleep we need (implying that those who are not morning people are not motivated, successful, etc.). I grit my teeth when reading interviews with CEOs, as they always mention how they only sleep 4 hours a night, or just nap a couple times a day. (Although the resulting hallucinations might explain some things about our business climate today...)

I've never been a morning person, and I've never been able to get by on just a little sleep. Even in college, I couldn't do all-nighters. I'm more of a 8-9 hours sleep a night person.

That said: what helped me become more of a morning person is having a schedule. Do you "catch up" on sleep during the weekends or your days off, sleeping 3-5 hours later than you normally would? Getting a more consistent schedule helped me stop the fog of morning: I get up around 6:30 on weekdays, and before 8 on weekends. It seems to have stopped the "staring off into space for an hour" before I can get going.

Finally, stumble into the shower as soon as you get out of bed and wake up there. It is jarring but works.
posted by sfkiddo at 9:41 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

For me, getting my allergies under control really helped. Waking up every morning with a head full of snot and a sinus headache really sucks. I didn't even know how bad I really felt until I got the right combo of nasal spray and pills and started feeling better.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 10:18 PM on September 27, 2010

When I went on vacation a few weeks ago, I went cold turkey on morning caffeine... I didn't really plan it, it just kind of happened that I was so busy that I really didn't notice any withdrawal symptoms. Since I got back, I've noticed that drinking pop is like taking a sleeping pill for me, because of the crash afterwards. I try to limit myself now to only drinking it when I have a headache or when I'm in my post-migraine recovery, because caffeine can help headaches.

Seconding what others have said about going to bed early... I like to ensure that I've got a little free time in the morning. Being able to do some reading/internetting in the morning before I leave really makes a big difference in how I feel. Going to bed at 8:30pm if I have to leave at 7:30am might not always be practical (I need 9 hours of sleep, not 8), but I'm a night owl, I work and schedule myself accordingly, and it's very rare that I have to be up early.

mlle valentine: "I suppose I'd better get to sleep now instead of staying up responding to more replies..."

Regarding Mefi addiction ;), I like to make a post and go to bed, because A. I've gotten the question out of my head so it won't bug me all night (OMG how will I word it!), and B. by morning there are sure to be replies.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:50 AM on September 28, 2010

Have something to look forward to the moment you get up. This is the only thing that works for me. I am a horrendous morning person, no matter how much sleep I get. And god forbid I exercise in the morning or I want to go straight back to bed when I'm done.

I need something fun to do as soon as I'm up to give me a bit of spring into my step. Video games and books are my drugs of choice: something long going that I can stop and want more of, then pick up where I left off in the morning to get my fix for fifteen-thirty minutes and stop easily. The rest of the morning goes much better after that. And faster. The fifteen minutes pays for itself since the morning routine has a lot less running into things going on.

The problem is building a large enough library of things like this you genuinely enjoy. If you're in the middle of a book that's turning out mediocre, this strategy loses all its magic.
posted by vienaragis at 1:13 AM on September 28, 2010

nthing the iPhone app 'Sleep Cycle'. It made the world of difference to me, where even if I'm up late and have a night where I'm desperately short, I'm not spending the day going round like a zombie. Just by not waking up in the deepest part of your sleep cycle. More dedicated sleep cycle alarms are available, just google for 'sleep phase alarm clock'.
posted by Elfasi at 1:17 AM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

As long as you are stuck on staying out late on weekends, your sleep just isn't going to be all that good. Some people are gifted with the ability to handle it, some aren't.

The low blood sugar thing is a good idea- sometimes just popping a Jolly Rancher is all I need to get my brain working again.

Another thing that helped me was to find some joy in waking up with or before sunrise. I like the sun, it makes me happy. I want to see as much of it as I can.
posted by gjc at 3:09 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

There was a study done that people who get cardiovascular excersise get better sleep so try that.
posted by majortom1981 at 4:28 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have to concur with the people who recommend exercise. I am emphatically not a morning person, and I have to drag my ass out of bed every weekday. I basically zombiewalk downstairs and get on the elliptical with my eyes half shut - but after 1/2 hour on it, I am totally awake and ready to get on with things. I even work out on weekends and vacations now, because if I don't, I just feel miserable for the first 2-3 hours of the day. (I know, I can't believe it either.)
posted by widdershins at 6:02 AM on September 28, 2010

Re blood sugar levels: While eating a big dinner too late in the evening is the kiss of death for me as far as sleep is concerned, I find that skipping dinner altogether causes my blood sugar to crash so badly overnight that I'm glued to the bed in the morning. So I eat a very light dinner - a piece of grilled chicken and a small salad, for instance - around 6 PM if I'm going to bed by 9 or 10. It makes all the difference in the world.

And do get a sleep test. You may just need to stick to a regular sleep schedule and get enough sleep, but sleep apnea isn't just for overweight older men, either, and getting it treated is like night and day.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:10 AM on September 28, 2010

Seconding exercise, protein you don't gag consuming first thing in the morning, wash up ASAP (at least brush your teeth and wash your face immediately; better yet, take your full-on shower sooner than later), and yes, counter-intuitively wake up a bit earlier to give yourself time/room to be a zombie and get your bearings gradually/naturally. I've been trying to get more protein and calcium in my diet so I committed to drinking a glass of milk every day the VERY FIRST THING when I wake up (so I can an hour later have "real" breakfast, space out the calcium/protein absorption so I can get more in the second part of my morning eating). It's crazy how much of a difference it makes for me--I go from being "oh my god I want to die no no no I'm not leaving this bed" to, within 5 minutes of drinking it, "whoo boy! It looks great out there, I'ma put my running shoes on and go go go yay!!" no lie. The trick is the protein--don't just eat some standard fast or nonperishable carby breakfast fare (i.e., cereal or fruit/juice). Must have a full serving of protein. It does wonders. I can now thrive on as little as 6 hours of sleep routinely and feel great, which was unheard of before I inadvertently discovered this.
posted by ifjuly at 8:23 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Duh, I forget to mention the important part--my glass of milk has whey protein in it, enough to make the milk + it total 30g protein. Just the glass of milk wouldn't cut it, I don't think.
posted by ifjuly at 8:24 AM on September 28, 2010

My brother has hypoglycemia and exactly the same symptoms you describe. His blood sugar is so low in the morning it almost takes a forklift to get him going. He drinks a protein shake and feels much better. The combination of a little bit of sugar and protein really helps.
posted by JimmyJames at 1:22 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have narcolepsy and this has been an ongoing problem my entire life.

I have pretty much tried everything.

The only time I have been able to wake up fully functional is when I had 3-4 drinks the night before and had 5 or less hours of sleep. I have no idea why - since everyone says that alcohol before bed makes for a restless night. But for me, it puts me into a deep sleep. Otherwise, with narcolepsy, I don't get a normal steady of deep sleep cycle like normal people.

Anyway, I never used alcohol specifically waking up in the morning nor do I recommend becoming an alcoholic.

But otherwise, the only thing that helped me was medication.

If you want, have a sleep study done to see if you have sleep apnea, narcolepsy, etc. Read about the symptoms - see if you experience any of them. There also other sleep disorders you may have as well.
posted by KogeLiz at 2:11 PM on September 28, 2010

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