Waking Up Tired: What It Means & What To Do, From Sleep Specialists
Some people spring out of bed ready to take on the day while others...don't. If you fall into the camp of dreading your alarm clock, you might be wondering why you wake up feeling so tired. Here are a few potential reasons and how to overcome them, from sleep and health experts.
Why do you wake up tired?
Everyone has days when all they can think about after waking up is getting back in bed. Here are some of the most common causes of morning drowsiness:
You're experiencing sleep inertia.
"Sleep inertia1" is defined as "the transitional state between sleep and wake, marked by impaired performance, reduced vigilance, and a desire to return to sleep." And according to Robin MacFarlane, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and sleep specialist, it's something a lot of us deal with.
"It is normal for some people to not feel good when they first wake up," MacFarlane says. "They're going to be zombies for 20 minutes whether they've slept 12 hours or 2 hours." Waking up in the middle of deeper sleep stages like REM sleep or slow-wave sleep also seems to make sleep inertia worse.
While sleep inertia only lasts for a few minutes for some people, others feel it for longer. It's worth tuning into how long it tends to last for you so you can give yourself grace and start your day with tasks that are less mentally demanding.
You're not following your sleep chronotype.
Your sleep chronotype affects the time of day you feel most energized and when you get sleepy. Dictated by differences in our circadian rhythms, these chronotypes are why some of us are night owls while others are early birds. (Here's a quiz to figure out your type if you don't know already.)
If you regularly wake up during a time that falls outside your chronotype—say, if you naturally want to wake up at 11 a.m. but you need to be at your job by 8 a.m.—you'll naturally feel a little sleepy in the morning.
You have social jet lag.
Our bodies love consistency, and going to bed and waking up around the same time every day can work wonders for sleep quality and energy levels. If you tend to stay up later and sleep in on the weekends, it can cause what sleep researchers refer to as "social jet lag."
Inconsistent sleep-wake times confuse your body's circadian rhythm and can lead to drowsiness upon waking—even if you spent enough time asleep the night before.
Your sleep quality is lacking.
Just because you spent nine hours in bed doesn't mean you actually got nine hours of deep sleep. And when it comes to how energized you feel upon waking, integrative medicine physician Dana Cohen, M.D., says "the quality of sleep matters."
Most of our rest and recovery occurs in deeper sleep stages like REM sleep or slow-wave sleep, which we enter about 60 to 90 minutes after we doze off. If distractions like a snoring partner, an uncomfortable bed, or bright lights continually snap us out of these restorative stages, we may feel more tired in the mornings.
"Sleep quality can vary quite a bit, so it's not necessarily a problem if someone occasionally wakes up tired after a full night of sleep," says Janet Kennedy, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor.
However, if you continually wake up sleepy after what should have been a full night of rest—or feel like your morning fatigue is interfering with your life—it might be time to visit a sleep specialist to see if there's an underlying issue to address.
It's an alcohol or medication issue.
"Alcohol can have a big effect on sleep quality because it inhibits deep sleep and causes more waking throughout the night," says Kennedy. "Nicotine and caffeine also impact the amount of deep sleep."
Kennedy recommends reducing alcohol intake and ditching nicotine entirely if quality sleep is something you're working on. She adds that certain medications can also affect how tired you feel upon waking, so it's important to take those into account too.
You're getting too little or too much sleep.
Of course, waking up tired can also be a sign that you got too little—or too much—sleep the night before. Everyone needs a different amount of sleep to feel their best, but seven to nine hours will be a healthy range for most adults.
How to wake up energized.
While there's no one tip that'll make you wake up feeling energized every day (though wouldn't that be great?), sticking with the following healthy habits will give you the best chance of minimizing sleep inertia and morning sleepiness:
Stick to a schedule.
"Wake up at the same time daily," advises Kennedy. "When your body is in a consistent rhythm, it's easier to wake up in the morning."
Once you find your ideal wake-up time, MacFarlane recommends sticking as close to it as possible (even on weekends) to reduce the likelihood of social jet lag. "If you want to sleep in, try to wake up only an hour later than when you normally would," she says. "Any more than that and you're not doing great things for yourself in the long run."
Crafting an energizing morning routine that you look forward to can make it easier to get up day after day. Doing a few rounds of breathwork, exercising outside, and taking a cold shower are all ways to wake the body up without firing up the coffee pot.
Don't hit snooze.
Wonderful as it may be, pressing the snooze button won't actually do anything to improve your sleep. On the contrary, experts say that it will only make you more groggy when you do eventually get out of bed. Cut down on the temptation by placing your phone or alarm clock on the other side of your bedroom. Forgoing the snooze will help you stick to a consistent wake-up and leave more time in the mornings for your energizing routine.
Practice good sleep hygiene.
Getting your nighttime regimen in tiptop shape will make mornings that much easier. First, Cohen recommends keeping your bedroom environment quiet, dark, and cool to set the stage for deep sleep. Invest in a sound machine or white noise device to mask those distracting sounds that always jolt you awake, and use blackout curtains or an eye mask to minimize light disruption. Set your thermostat to a chilly 65 degrees to help cool the body down to its ideal sleep temperature.
In the hours leading up to bedtime, try not to use stimulating electronics like phones and laptops (or wear a pair of blue-light-blocking glasses if you do). Swap scrolling with a relaxing nightly habit like taking a warm bath, doing a mindful meditation, or getting lost in a good book. Steering clear of heavy foods, caffeine, and alcohol before bed will also work wonders to improve the quality of your sleep and your mornings.
Try a sleep supplement.
Lastly, taking a high-quality sleep supplement can be the finishing touch to your nightly routine. While they can't undo poor sleep hygiene, calming ingredients like magnesium, jujube, GABA, L-theanine, and 5-HTP can help get the body ready for bed and reduce the barriers to great sleep.*
If waking up more energized is your goal, nonhormonal supplements like mbg's sleep support+ will be your best bet.* Taking a hormonal supplement like melatonin nightly—especially in high doses—can cause grogginess and fatigue upon waking. Hormonal supplements also won't do much to improve overall sleep quality, whereas sleep support+ has been shown to promote longer, deeper sleep without the side effects.*
There are a handful of reasons you might wake up feeling tired from time to time—most of which are nothing to worry about. To set your body up for more energized mornings, try getting up at the same time every day, ditching the snooze button, practicing good sleep hygiene, and taking a nonhormonal sleep supplement.*
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.