How can I feel alive at 6am?
September 11, 2014 8:12 AM   Subscribe

What can I do that will best ensure I feel awake and ready to get up when the alarm goes off?

My natural sleep schedule is about 11:30pm - 7:30 am. When I wake up at 7:30 am, I feel refreshed and alive. With that sleep schedule, I can actually wake up. I'm not startled awake by my alarm but instead feel like I'm naturally waking up on my own. I love that feeling.

Unfortunately, my work schedule has changed and now I have to get up at 6am. And even though it's only an hour and a half of difference, it feels terrible. My alarm startles me awake, and I am overwhelmed with the physical sense that I need to stay in bed longer. I hate that feeling. Hate it. When I feel like that when I get up, the entire rest of my day is less good. I am more inclined to the symptoms of depression. Sometimes, when I wake up with that feeling, I feel so tired and run down and gross that I just want to keel over and cry. It doesn't help any that we're getting in the time of year where I wake up before the sun is up. I need help handling this.

I'm already doing a number of things to try to help myself wake up. Here's what I do:
--I have a light-up alarm clock. It slowly brightens up in the half hour before it goes off, so my room is bright and lit when I wake up. My alarm is the sound of birds chirping -- it's the most gentle, peaceful waking noise I can think of. (Note that I don't actually have any trouble literally waking up.)

--When I wake up, I sit in front of a sunlamp for 15 - 20 minutes.

--I get up at the exact same time every day, even on the weekends. (What's worse than getting up before you're ready in order to go to work? Getting up before you're ready on the fucking weekend.)

--I go to bed at the exact same time every day. From past experience, I am pretty sure that 8 hours of sleep is the right amount for me. So, every night, I'm in bed by 10pm.

--I take iron supplements and vitamin D. (Not sure if the iron is relevant to this-- I take it for other reasons.)

--I have a single cup of coffee in the morning, and then I don't drink caffeine the rest of the day. (A while ago, I cut caffeine out of my diet completely for several months, but the only result was that I felt even more sleepy throughout the rest of the day.)

--I have every reason to believe I'm getting a good night's sleep. (My mattress and pillow are comfortable. My husband says he doesn't hear me snore. I don't wake up in the middle of the night.)

I'm hoping you'll be able to suggest other things I might do, or ways I might change my sleeping habits, or really anything that might help me deal with this. What else can I do?
posted by meese to Health & Fitness (34 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
How long has it been? How easily do you fall asleep at night? Your body might just need some more time to adjust.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:14 AM on September 11, 2014

How long have you been on this new schedule? It WILL take your body a bit of time to adjust. In my opinion the single best thing you can do is to continue to get up at exactly 6am every day, even weekends. It takes time to train your body.

Also, having some physical activity when you wake up helped me for some reason. When I was going to the gym in the morning before work I was sleeping better, more soundly, and getting up at 5am rapidly became easier.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:16 AM on September 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Can you set your alarm for another 15-20 minutes early, and snooze a bit? Being able to take just a quick extra bit of sleep makes me feel much better about waking up.
posted by xingcat at 8:18 AM on September 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I agree that it will probably take some time for you to adjust, but in the meantime.

For me it actually helps to allow myself to sleep in on weekends. Makes me resent waking up at 6am 5 days a week a little less knowing how I at least get 2 days to sleep in.

I also switched up my routine - instead of jumping in the shower first (such a shock to my system), I tell myself that all I need to do is get coffee. I allow myself a bit of extra time to drink coffee and read, watch part of a movie or journal. I actually look forward to the ritual now which makes it easier to get up.

Sometimes I shower at night so I don't have to deal with it in the am.

So that's what has worked for me. YMMV.
posted by Shadow Boxer at 8:21 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Go to bed earlier.

I have a work schedule that goes all over the place, from waking up at 4:30 AM to waking up at 10, depending on the day and the particular rotation I'm in, and the thing that makes the biggest difference is getting enough sleep.

I mean, waking up before it's light out is always hard. But it's so much harder if you're forcing yourself out of bed after 4-5 hours of sleep.
posted by Sara C. at 8:21 AM on September 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think I know exactly that physical sensation that you describe. It's like being woken up with electricity. Shocking. Sickening. Tear-inducing.

I actually find that for me it's closely related to anxiety and that working on my anxiety has helped me wake up without feeling like that, even if I have to get up early. It's a long shot, but I thought I'd throw it out there in case.
posted by sockermom at 8:21 AM on September 11, 2014

Forgo the alarm clock altogether. As you go to bed, say to yourself, "I'm waking up at such-and-such time." You might be surprised at how well this works. Try it first on the weekend, though, just to be on the safe side.
posted by No Robots at 8:22 AM on September 11, 2014

I agree that time and vigilance will be your best bet.

However, maybe pimping your bedtime and wake-up routines will help take away some of the misery while your body adjusts. For instance, stocking up on interesting herbal teas to have before bed, investing in a really nice smelling moisturiser to massage into your face, piling up lots of guilty pleasure books to curl up with at 9.30pm, queuing up lots of podcasts to keep you company as you stumble around in the morning.

I personally wouldn't get up earlier to exercise, but rather shift so that I do a little bit of exercise before bed, like the 7 minute workout or yoga. Maybe meditate a little. Something to make the transition to bed a bit more zen like.
posted by dumdidumdum at 8:23 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: when you wake up, go into plank pose and hold for a minute (I do it right in bed). Alternately, jumping jacks for a minute when you get out of bed.
posted by susanvance at 8:30 AM on September 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think if you use a sleep tracking device (FitBit, maybe) you can program it to wake you at the best time in your sleep cycle that's before the time you need to get up. So, for example, you might actually do better getting up at 5:30 because you're not in such a deep sleep. Of course, you'd definitely want to go to bed early (9 or 10).
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:32 AM on September 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Fitbit Flex and similar wristband devices have a sleep tracking function where the device vibrates to wake you up during an optimal wakeup time based on your tracked REM cycles. I've also used an app on my phone (Sleep Cycle) that has a similar sleep tracking function and found that my wakeups were a little more tolerable. It's worth investigating.
posted by theraflu at 8:33 AM on September 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have the same issue as you and haven't found a solution either. One thing that does help make me feel less awful is to drink a glass of water after you turn off the alarm. Try adding that to your routine.

Put a glass of water on your nightstand before bed and then in the morning after the alarm goes off just sit up in bed and take a couple minutes to drink it. It reduces that overwhelming feeling of needing more sleep by a lot for me.
posted by jModug at 8:37 AM on September 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

Have you considered a melatonin supplement? I take one every night and it helps a lot.
posted by Splunge at 8:48 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Put the coffee on a timer in your bedroom so it's brewed by the time you've peeled your eyes open. You can keep milk in a little thermos if you take milk in your coffee. Get your clothes out the night before, your lunch made -- any fussy AM thing that demands more from you that you have to give. Basically try to baby your morning self as much as possible.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:50 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree that you need to give your body time to adjust. It can take a few weeks.

Getting enough sleep is key. Most people need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night. You seem to be getting enough sleep and going to bed on time - are you getting good sleep? Again, it might take some time for your body to adjust. But if you continue to find that eight hours is not enough, try nine. And if your sleep is still not refreshing, talk to your doc about a sleep test. I have sleep apnea, and getting a CPAP was life-changing. I need an hour less sleep and I wake up ready to take on the day.

I use a sunrise alarm clock - it's much more pleasant waking up to a light rather than a loud noise. If you are a heavy sleeper, you can add in birdsong or music or something that will wake you up but not jolt you out of sleep - which is really unpleasant. I could never sleep the night before I knew I was to be jolted out of sleep by an alarm; I can sleep soundly knowing that a light and/or birdsong will wake me up.

Melatonin helps me a lot. Take it about an hour before you go to bed. I like the liquid kind (made by Sundown Naturals) because the regular melatonin tablets available in drugstores usually have too much melatonin per dose. You can titrate the liquid to get just the amount you need - even a very small amount.

YMMV on this, but I hate snooze alarms with a passion. It's so much easier for me to put my feet on the floor, arms in my bathrobe, and get out of bed right away with no lollygagging. It helps that I have cats who Want Their Breakfast Right Now.

Do you pack your lunch, organize your work equipment, and put together your wardrobe the night before? Doing this saves me so much time and energy in the morning. I have my lunch packed and in the fridge (if I'm taking it), any work equipment (laptop, etc.) all ready to go, my phone, purse and keys all in one place, and my work outfit (right down to jewelry and makeup) all picked out and ready to go the night before.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:57 AM on September 11, 2014

Develop a morning routine that you look forward to. Something super-delicious for breakfast. Luxurious shower gel. The softest fuzzy bathrobe. Watching an episode of your favorite show while you eat breakfast (that you only watch in the mornings). Find something that is worth getting out of bed for. Change the mental and the physical will follow.
posted by desjardins at 8:58 AM on September 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Another thing, since I re-read and realized you are getting what should be "enough" sleep.

Are you really getting as much sleep as you think you are? I find that when it's time to dial my wakeup time back earlier in the morning, and I adjust my going to bed time earlier as well, at least in the beginning, it takes me a lot longer to fall asleep. Usually not getting enough sleep will cause me to be more tired the next day, which will help me adjust to the earlier bedtime, but if that doesn't kick in right away for whatever reason -- and if your job isn't terribly grueling, it might not, ever -- getting in bed earlier than you think you need to and developing a specific bedtime routine may help.

(Sorry for the epic run-on sentence, there!)
posted by Sara C. at 9:23 AM on September 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I hate this too, and the only thing that ever worked for me was napping during the day. I was still super fuzzy all week, and caught up on sleep on the weekends.

Also, if your husband is a morning person, maybe he can get up with you / wake you up? Sometimes having someone there can help.
posted by 3491again at 9:55 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am overwhelmed with the physical sense that I need to stay in bed longer. I hate that feeling. Hate it.

I'll assume that you are also going to bed sufficiently earlier so that it's not a problem of insufficient sleep.

I'm like you in that I keep the same hours on weekends. And like you in needing that 1 cup of coffee too. And I used to be like you that when I had to adjust my schedule, I hated it. I even rebelled and stayed in bed longer, only to discover that it didn't help. If I had enough sleep, but felt I needed more, the feeling was wrong. What I discovered was that a lot of it was about how I thought about it. If I resented it and expected to be tired, that's what I'd get, but if I told myself (truthfully) you had 8 hours and don't need more sleep, I'd soon get over the tired feeling. Suggesting to myself that I am forced into a hated awakening made me feel tired and victimized but recognizing that I have enough sleep allowed me to transition to be an awake person.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:06 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd have to suggest setting the alarm for earlier and using snooze liberally, I have mine go off every ten minutes and I press it at least thrice after the alarm goes off, until I actually need to get up. Getting up still isn't easy necessarily, but a few snooze cycles will help you to psychologically prepare for it. I would also avoid getting up until you actually need to be up in order to have enough time to get ready. Find a way to make your morning routine more efficient so that you can afford to do that. If you could comfortably get up earlier to go the gym or something like others suggest, that might be good, but I can't comfortably do that and it sounds like you can't either. No shame in that.

Keep it up with going to bed early, that's good.
posted by cosmicbeast at 10:30 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks for this question. I have the same problem compounded with guilt that my partner habitually and easily wakes at 3:00 am! My doc prescribes trazadone which helps with the anxiety over having to get up so frigging early.
posted by BarcelonaRed at 10:45 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 8PM, take a melatonin. 9PM, go to bed. 9:30PM, fall asleep. 5:30AM, wake up, sleepily grab the bottle of caffeine pills you are going to keep next to your bed, and take one. 6AM, get out of bed feeling bright and bushy. Skip the cup of coffee, since you've already had your caffeine.

Job done.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:46 AM on September 11, 2014

Best answer: Keep a damp cloth by your bed and use it in the morning to pat your eyes and wipe your face. This will help you wake without being too much of a jolt.
posted by harrietthespy at 11:15 AM on September 11, 2014

Best answer: I know exactly what you mean. If I have to be up by 7:30, I will just naturally wake up, feeling refreshed and ready for the day, some time between 7:00 and 7:15. But I instead need to leave the house around 7:15, and waking up is a struggle.

What helps:
1) Go to bed early. I get into bed really, really early and do non-screen reading until I'm tried enough that I feel I can fall asleep easily

2) Get up at the same time, every day of the week, weekends included.

3) I do better if I can just get my eyes open, so as soon as I can after the alarm goes off, I start screwing around with my phone, even if it's just playing solitaire.

4) I like Sleep Cycle, which wakes you up within a user-determined time range, either when you are coming up out of a deep sleep phase, or before you slide down into one.

5) Because of Sleep Cycle, even though I need to wake up by 6:30 at the latest, I am often awake at 5:30. (Which makes sense; sleep cycles are about an hour and a half, so if I normally wake at 7:00, the cycle before that ends at 5:30.) It's better to get up when I am at a natural phase of wakefulness than to try to sneak in one last hour of sleep.
posted by BrashTech at 11:45 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

How can I feel alive at 6am?

Go to bed at 9 PM with a podcast or music so you can close your eyes and enjoy it for an hour or however long it takes you to fall asleep.
posted by pracowity at 12:48 PM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is your bedroom DARK? Exposure to even low levels of light during sleep can adversely affect sleep quality by reducing melatonin. Also, light exposure before bed reduces melatonin levels.
posted by H21 at 1:38 PM on September 11, 2014

My alarm is the sound of birds chirping -- it's the most gentle, peaceful waking noise I can think of.

My alarm used to be the 'harp' ringtone, for the same reason. Lately though I've switched to rock music. The harp sounds reminded me of how lovely sleep is. The music reminds me that while this sucks, it's also a form of being alive.

I think I know exactly that physical sensation that you describe. It's like being woken up with electricity. Shocking. Sickening. Tear-inducing.

Yep. It's maybe a Stockholm syndrome thing, but if I just go with it, that electric feeling morphs or flips into: galvanizing, energizing, animating. You've probably got music that functions similarly: music that chimes in with your hatred, revulsion, hopelessness, etc. (or whatever you ACTUALLY BEING ALIVE feels like RIGHT NOW) but at the same time kinda sublimates it, or at least lets you feel like someone out there shares your pain.
posted by feral_goldfish at 1:44 PM on September 11, 2014

Regarding that overwhelming physical "need to stay in bed/asleep" feeling...YMMV, but in my case I've found that that particular feeling (while it can be intense!) is transient, and goes away fairly quickly after I start moving around a bit.

If you think this could be true for you, you could perhaps try altering your routine slightly so that rather than *sitting* in front of a sunlamp, you're doing some sort of mild exercise (walking/jogging in place, waving your arms in circles, etc.) there instead.

Another habit I've gotten into (which isn't for everyone; it's a bit along the lines of "just rip the band-aid off") is putting my alarm across the room so that there is absolutely no way I can hit snooze or turn it off without getting out of bed. And once I'm out of bed, I can much more easily fight off that "desperately thirsty for SLEEEEEEEP!" pillow-magnetism. It sucks, but it only sucks for maybe 10 seconds, and then I'm fine.

Finally, you could try (assuming there's no medical contraindication) taking a B-vitamin complex supplement right before going to bed. This is purely anecdata, but I and at least a few other people who've tried it tend to feel much more energized in the morning.
posted by aecorwin at 1:50 PM on September 11, 2014

Is there any way you can take a mid-day nap? I get up at about 5:15 a.m. to work out but the only way I can do it is knowing that if at say, 12:30 p.m., I am dying and need to snooze for a bit, I can go to my car and crash for 20 minutes. I live in Arizona and my job offers covered parking so this works for me. Might not really be possible during a Minnesota winter or something.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 2:31 PM on September 11, 2014

This depends on exactly what you mean by "sunlamp", but 15-20 minutes seems short to me. I'm not sure my lightbox has a setting shorter than 30 minutes, and my doctor suggested a full hour. I have a portable one, so sometimes if I couldn't squeeze in the full hour at home, I'd sneak in another 30 minutes at my desk at work and it made a big difference. Worth a try?
posted by dorque at 5:39 PM on September 11, 2014

Is it possible you're taking longer to fall asleep? If you are, it could be shifting your sleep cycle into the deeper part where it's much, much harder to wake up*. If you try going to bed half an hour earlier, or half an hour later(!) you might do better.

Sleep trackers can help you nail down your sleep cycle, but will give you a ballpark estimate.

* Your description of feeling like living death exactly describes my experience of trying to wake up in the middle of a sleep cycle.
posted by BungaDunga at 6:08 PM on September 11, 2014

I find that having a glass of water before going to bed, and then having one immediately when I wake up, helps me feel woken up and less groggy. (I leave a full glass by the bed before I go to sleep, and drink it immediately, before I have any coffee).
posted by vignettist at 10:45 AM on September 12, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! I marked as best answers those that look the most useful to me. This is a very personal thing, so probably others who are reading this thread for suggestions will find any number of different answers useful.

Last night, I used Sleep Cycle for the first time. I'm not really sure I can trust it, because I have cats who like to move around the bed while I sleep. All the same, the sleep chart I ended up with looked like their example here of someone getting poor sleep due to alcohol. This is disturbing news, given how I don't drink, and I woke up feeling more refreshed than I normally do. I'm curious to see if that'll keep up.

I'm also going to try taking melatonin, meditating more, and doing some low-key in-bed exercises as soon as the alarm goes off. If none of that works, then I'll take what I consider to be the nuclear option, waking up a half hour early to take a caffeine pill. I don't want to do that, because I do enjoy my daily cup of coffee, but it may be worth it in the long run.

Again, thanks!
posted by meese at 7:30 AM on September 16, 2014

Don't worry too much about comparing your sleep graphs to other people. You'll find out what graph shape means good, restful sleep for you, and which mean you had a bad night.
posted by BrashTech at 5:57 PM on September 17, 2014

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