Teaching my body to wake up faster (not earlier)
July 27, 2016 10:00 AM   Subscribe

Usually it takes me about 30 minutes of lying awake in bed before I'm sentient enough to do basic things like walk across the room and put on my clothes. Once in a while, like today, I spring awake and in 3-5 minutes I'm ready to go, full of energy. How can I teach my body to shorten the waking up process? (The goal isn't necessarily to wake up earlier, just faster.)

I usually need a large amount of sleep, around 10 hours, or closer to 11 if I have been exercising intensely. These days, I do get that amount on a regular basis (yay). Even when I get the amount I need, it often takes me a long time (about 30 minutes) to feel alert after waking up.

If I attempt to get up before the 30 minutes have passed, or try to do something like splash cold water on my face right away, it does jolt me into alertness but it feels awful, ranging from feeling like I'm swimming through a haze to feeling like I'm acutely angry at everything.

But experiences like today's tell me it's at least possible for my body to be alert within a few minutes of waking. I didn't do anything unusual yesterday except going swimming. Two days ago I did some HIIT running for the first time. I'm reasonably fit, moderately active, and eat a high protein/high fat/low carb diet. I don't consume caffeine, I'm not on any medications, my bloodwork is normal.

Has anyone 1) had this problem, and 2) managed to successfully retrain themselves to feel alert faster?

And specifically, 3) does anyone have experience with breathing exercises? I'm thinking I have a habit of only chest breathing, which makes my body not get enough oxygen during the night.
posted by danceswithlight to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Could it be that when you spring awake, you're awakening from a shallower sleep, and when it takes you a long time to wake up, you've been roused from a deeper stage of sleep? You can use the Sleep Cycle app to track your sleep stages, and you can also use it as an alarm clock to wake you during a shallower stage of sleep when possible.
posted by BrashTech at 10:07 AM on July 27, 2016 [10 favorites]

How are you waking up? If you are waking up with an alarm clock, one way to tackle this is to get a doodads that wakes you up when you are readiest. My husband has this one and he says it helps. It does other things too, tracks sleep and supposedly helps you sleep better at night.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:10 AM on July 27, 2016

The effect generally holds with or without an alarm clock, though without an alarm clock my time-to-alertness is a bit shorter, maybe 20-25 minutes instead of 30. I haven't been using an alarm clock for the last few weeks.
posted by danceswithlight at 10:10 AM on July 27, 2016

Probably you are trying to get up in the wrong part of the sleep cycle. I suggest a daylight alarm, that should help. I have a Phillips one. $40 well spent, it's like magic except actually SCIENCE. I got this recommendation off an old AskMe and it is scientifically supported and very effective.
posted by epanalepsis at 10:14 AM on July 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

What BrashTech said. Something about roughly 90 minute cycles, so if you need ten hours it'll be 10.5 hours (7 x 1.5). When you wake up naturally at the shallow portion that's when you'll be best.
posted by fixedgear at 10:14 AM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Most of my work colleagues are +9 hours ahead of my time zone. It took me a long while to adjust to waking up early enough as a matter of routine. To avoid profound grog, I have an alarm set for 1 hour before I need to be awake and functioning. Like BrashTech says, I have to first slowly come out of deep sleep. I try to get up and get a glass of water, or go to the bathroom, when this alarm goes off, but that doesn't always happen. I most often don't even remember this alarm going off, even though I had to have woken up to some degree to shut it off. I drift back into a lighter sleep that, an hour later, is much easier to wake up from.

I'm curious about your 10-11 hours of sleep. I'm not a sleep researcher, but there are some in my field, and they tend to discuss the problems associated with too much sleep just as often as too little. That might be something worth exploring if you fancy a stroll through PubMed.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 10:14 AM on July 27, 2016

First, it's possible that you're oversleeping, and that's why you're groggy when you're waking up.

Second, I read something once that said you should practice hopping out of bed immediately and getting going quickly, so that when you have to do it for real, you're in the habit. I tried it, but only halfassedly, so it didn't work for me.

I've also heard that a blast of cold air helps wake you up quickly.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:15 AM on July 27, 2016

Consider mentally preparing the night before. As you are going to sleep repeat to your self 8 or 10 times "The alarm will go off at 9am, I will wake up, take a deep breath, become alert and get out of bed."
posted by bdc34 at 10:29 AM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I feel like a broken record saying this - but I once needed a lot of sleep, and didn't wake up very fast, as well - and upon testing, it turned out that I had severe sleep apnea (as in I stopped breathing over 50 times an hour!). I got a CPAP and it changed my life. I usually need only 8 or 8 1/2 hours of sleep, and on good days, I leap out of bed ready to take on the day. (Other times I just saunter out of bed - but it's better than crawling out of bed, foggy and grumpy, like I used to!)

I recommend a sleep study to see if there is something - apnea or restless legs or what have you - that is bringing down the quality of your sleep.

For now, maybe doing some things that will improve how well you sleep will make a difference to how you feel in the morning. Make sure your room is quiet, dark, and cool. A fan and earplugs can help there. Sleep on your side, not your back, and put a Breathe Right strip on your nose. Have clean sheets on your bed and a dust-free room. If you share a bed with a partner, maybe sleep in another room (or have partner sleep in another room) just in case they snore or toss around and are disturbing you without realizing it.

But in the long run you should probably get a sleep test.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:44 AM on July 27, 2016 [6 favorites]

I got myself a hot water dispenser to put next to my bed so as soon as I wake up even a bit I force myself to start brewing caffeinated tea. Then I go back to being not-sentient until the boiling water wakes me up again. Maybe you could put your coffee maker in similarly close proximity to you so that you can quickly get yourself a cuppa?
posted by Hermione Granger at 10:45 AM on July 27, 2016

You are probably over-sleeping, but try these things:

1) Give yourself something to look forward to getting up for...certain breakfast, email friend, online game, etc.
2) Force yourself to do it. In a few weeks, it will be second nature.
3) Do this *7 days a week*, regardless of weekday or weekend. Treat every day the same. "Sleeping in" on one weekend morning will mess everything up, ad you will have to start over.

The over-sleeping thing is real, btw.
posted by TinWhistle at 10:52 AM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Keep a water bottle by your bed and drink the whole thing as soon as you wake up. A huge part of the "haze" of mornings is simply dehydration.

Wake up, feel like crap, sit up just enough to drink your half L of water, and wonder at how less crap you feel within about 5 minutes.
posted by phunniemee at 10:53 AM on July 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

Here's my secret. I expect it's a bit snowflakey and will be tough for others to implement but who knows.

Have some place to be right after you get up.

In my case, I made the decision to start exercising at the office gym during the work week.
  • To make that fit my schedule, I need to be at the gym before 7 AM.
  • Since I ride the bus, that means getting to my stop at 6:15 AM.
  • It's a 5 minute walk from my house, so that means leaving the house at 6:10.
  • I set my alarm for 6 AM because I refuse to wake up any earlier.
  • Since there's no way to get dressed in 10 minutes if I have to choose clothing in the morning, I set out workout clothes on the counter and have my work clothes/bag packed and ready to go the night before.
  • When the alarm goes off, either I get out of bed NOW or my whole plan is shot.
The motivation of OMG OMG I'M GOING TO MISS THE BUS works for me. I won't say that I wake up feeling all awake and ready to face the world, but I DO get up. And I no longer spend 20 minutes in the shower feeling sorry for myself because there's no damn time.

ninja edit... should have read your extended stuff more closely... maybe this will help somebody anyway
posted by rouftop at 10:54 AM on July 27, 2016

For me, it's impossible for my mind to wake up if my body is very sleepy. First off, I find that stretching my limbs immediately improves circulation, bringing oxygen to the muscles, and I feel the effects almost right away. Next I sit up, even though I really find it difficult. Then I drink some water before getting out of bed.

It's tempting to just remain lying down till wakefulness overtakes you, but that could take hours.
posted by wryly at 10:57 AM on July 27, 2016

I did get a sleep study done, but ironically, I was barely able to sleep. They scheduled a second study to try out a CPAP machine, which suggests they found evidence of sleep apnea in the very limited time I was asleep, but my insurance denied doing a second study. Either way, I haven't had the followup appointment from the first study yet.

Is it possible to just try a CPAP machine myself and pay out of pocket just to see if it helps? Are there models that don't cost $1k?
posted by danceswithlight at 10:59 AM on July 27, 2016

Do you have a programmable thermostat? If so, try adjusting the temperature (either up or down) an hour before you wake up.
posted by instamatic at 10:59 AM on July 27, 2016

Seconding bd3cr's suggestion to mentally prepare the night before. It works best if the instructions on when to wake up and to wake up thoroughly are the last coherent thought you have. You may wish to emphasize to yourself that you will sleep deeply and restfully.

When you do wake up, kick the covers off to change the temperature. One reason why jumping into a cold shower wakes you up is because your internal temperature is very much part of your sleep cycle. People who die of insomnia die of hypothermia. instamatic has another good suggestion, of using a programmable thermostat to wake by changing the temperature. Failing that a timer that turns on a fan or turns off a space heater can work.

If jumping into a cold shower is way beyond your capacity putting a wet washcloth on your face is a milder version of the temperature change exercise. If the idea of using cold water makes you wince, room temperature or even hot water can make a difference.

Movement is another thing that can help you wake up. Try doing bed rest exercises. There is a reason why people stretch in the morning. For one thing it is an excellent time to stretch when everything is relaxed and not tensed up, even though you are not warmed up. If you can get the circulation going in your large motor muscles your metabolism will move from torpid to active.

You can also try going outside right away - if you have a balcony that is perfect. Step out into the air and breathe deeply, sniff the air, feel the humidity and look into the sunlight (if any). Changing from indoors to outdoors notifies your reptilian brain that you are leaving the den, not just changing position.
posted by Jane the Brown at 11:30 AM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

One of the things for me is whether I hit the snooze and roll over to go back to sleep (still thinking about the dream I just had, eyes closed, blankets up, burrowing in) or whether I hit the snooze and then keep my eyes open a bit to absorb some light, stare at the ceiling, look at the window to see if it's rainy/foggy or not, pet the cat if she's on the bed, remind myself that today is Wednesday and I'm going to work and then out this evening, start lightly engaging with the world. Then I'll doze off again, but when the next snooze cycle hits, I'm much much more awake than if I had tried to go back to sleep, and I can usually get up in 2 snoozes (12 minutes) rather than just keep hitting snooze for 40 minutes.
posted by aimedwander at 11:32 AM on July 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you think a daylight alarm sounds promising but the ones you see aren't bright enough to actually wake you, you can use programmable Bluetooth lightbulbs (like a Phillips Hue) to make ALL THE LIGHTS in your bedroom fade up around you like a sunrise.

It REALLY helps me.
posted by oblique red at 11:36 AM on July 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

The CPAP machine has to have the right pressure programmed in order to be therapeutic for you. There are programmable ones so you could try titrating yourself. Check out cpaptalk.com for necessary and useful info.
posted by dancing leaves at 12:10 PM on July 27, 2016

I swear by the sleepyti.me site. It tells you what time to wake up based on sleep cycles, and I swear I wake up faster and more refreshed. Since you need more sleep you will probably have to add 1.5 hours to the latest time that it tells you. Your sleep cycle may vary somewhat from what it tells you. I get around this by using a "smart" alarm which vibrates on my wrist when I'm coming out of a sleep cycle and close to waking up. Works like a dream (no pun intended!)
posted by onecircleaday at 12:56 PM on July 27, 2016

Ugh, I feel your pain. This is me. It helps a little to open the blinds next to my bed and to drink water but honestly I just live with it. I've tried the Sleep apps and the wake up during a good point in the cycle and nothing really worked.
posted by sockermom at 2:01 PM on July 27, 2016

I had 9 am classes 5 days per week for 6/8 semesters of college. I used very minty toothpaste.

Since losing a bit of that youthful magic, I have programmed cooler mornings on my thermostat.
posted by batter_my_heart at 6:52 PM on July 27, 2016

It doesn't fit the picture so great, but in my life the only thing that has made me feel truly awful like you describe early in the morning is hypoglycemia. Going straight from bed to the kitchen to eat something a little carb-y (or even keeping some crackers on the nightstand or something) makes a big difference for me if I wake up with "that awful feeling."
posted by telegraph at 3:48 AM on July 28, 2016

I had a sleep study done and I didn't have sleep apnea, but they did say my sleep cycle was off. I also had a really hard time waking up like you. Turns out my anti-depressant was the culprit - it wasn't working great anymore, I was under a lot of stress from a new job, and my sleep suffered from it all. Less stress+new anti-depressant is what worked best for me.

So I think it could very well be biological (as opposed to sleep habit).

That said, the daylight alarm helped and I still use it. Give it a try.
posted by evening at 4:16 PM on July 28, 2016

It took me years to work out that a hot shower is the ONLY thing that snaps me into wakefulness like nothing else. Which means I have to have a shower every morning, even just for a minute. Try working out what your action is that never fails to wake you, and execute that first thing.
posted by shazzam! at 4:09 AM on July 30, 2016

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