Sometimes it’s just an absolute pain when that alarm clock rings, you snooze as much as you can but there’s a point where you just have to get up and face your terrible mood.
Wouldn’t it be great to understand some of the causes of this horrible 15-minute/45-minute/3-hour period of feeling like death?
Here I’ve listed almost every possible reason why you feel particularly bad in the morning, it’ll help explain it if you feel that bad every morning, too.
Quick thing to point out is sleep inertia. This is the scientific term for the fact that people wake up groggy and perform worse at certain tasks just after they woke up. You will never feel wide awake within seconds of waking, but you can feel pretty damn good within 15 minutes.
I do pretty much every day, and I was the archetypal bad morning person for nearly my whole life.
Alright, let’s dive in!
Hitting The Snooze
Oh man, if there’s one piece of advice I could give anyone it would be to not use the snooze function. In principle, it’s a fabulous idea.
Not feeling so hot in the morning and fancy an extra nine minutes? Why… just press this little button for an extra doze to top up the rest of your sleep.
Except what happens is you delay your wakeup by 9 or 18 or 27 or 81 minutes and when you wake up you are just as tired as you were the first time!
Also, you’ve got less time for your morning routine and possible are going to be late.
But there’s more! Hitting the snooze button on a regular basis subconsciously trains your mind that the alarm sound is not always the time to wake up. If you were getting up straight away, your brain would soon associate that sound with waking up and it would become less painful.
Hence why some people begin to wake up seconds before their alarm goes off, they are trained to go off at that time anyway and the brain missed by a few seconds. Learn from Pavlov and his dogs and get the hell up when you hear that alarm.
Also, here’s a funny tale that is possibly apocryphal: A Japanese businessman in the 90s (when Japan was all boom and bluster) was asked what the worst thing to come out of America was… He said the snooze button!
Possible solutions? NEVER use it.
Humans were not designed to be abruptly woken by a loud, annoying sound in the morning. There is nothing like it in nature (except for the rooster, but that’s another story).
As such, it is no surprise that being woken by an alarm clock is particularly objectionable to most of us.
Us homo sapiens are much happier when being awoken slowly by the shine of the sunrise in the morning, unfortunately, it’s impossible to replicate this in today’s world, or is it…
Possible solutions? Check out this link to a ‘natural light’ alarm clock, a modern invention that fits in with your Circadian rhythm and lets you wake up naturally and peacefully!
Yea no prizes if you guessed this one was coming. Drinking a whole lot can ruin your sleep and the next day in so many ways. For one thing, alcohol affects your sleep, blocking REM sleep and causes you to wake up during the night.
More than that the hangover where your body is reacting to the fact that you poisoned it is not particularly pleasant either. And the first few hours of the morning are the worst part of the hangover.
Possible solutions? There is no hangover cure, so deal with it and drink less the next time.
Nothing To Look Forward To
Kind of a strange one here in that it is not related to anything sleep-wise but is something I’ve personally found to be very true.
When you hate your life and can’t stand living each day, you are going to be an absolute monster in the morning. Yes, most jobs are hard and you wouldn’t do them if it wasn’t for the paycheck but there’s a difference between going somewhere all day 5 days a week that you hate and you love.
I’m going to avoid the specifics of what makes a good workplace because it really is different for everyone.
One person may love waiting tables and another may hate practicing law, despite the former being an ‘undesirable’ job and the latter being ‘desirable’. Your boss and coworkers make a massive difference here too.
Possible solutions?Make a change. New job, new career, new life…?
Eat Too Late
Your body runs on fuel and when you shove loads of fuel into it just before you’re supposed to rest for 8 hours, your brain often finds it difficult to shut down.
Blood sugar is high, the mind gets racing, that kind of thing. This effect is particularly pronounced if you eat a large amount of carbs, them being your body’s preferred energy source.
Possible solutions? I don’t recommend eating any time after 7pm if you’re looking to sleep better and wake up better.
If there’s one thing humanity can agree on, it’s that the comfiest place that can exist is your bed on a cold day when the alarm has just gone off.
There is some kind of chemical reaction in your brain that makes that duvet and sheets more compelling than any manufactured drug.
Snuggled up there, hugging your pillow and maybe even spooning a loved one, the prospect of getting up into the cold and facing the day is like all your dreams are being crushed.
Possible solutions? Get the heating on a programmable setting so your room isn’t like an ice bath when you wake up.
A more serious one now that requires the expertise of a physician to diagnose and treat. Sleep apnea is caused by blocked passageways in the nose.
It’s kind of an extreme version of snoring, and in fact, people with sleep apnea do snore, where your breathing stops during your sleep and often forces you awake for a split second.
Common symptoms are loud snoring and also excessive daytime sleepiness, even if you got lots of hours of sleep.
Possible solutions? Get to a doctor!
Lack Of Exercise
A sedentary lifestyle is one that no-one recommends but it’s so hard to break free from it. When your job requires you to be sitting at a desk for 9 hours a day and also saps your energy, preventing you from starting that evening exercise regime you’ve been wanting to try, it gets pretty tough.
And the thing is, a healthy body improves everything about your health. I can feel the difference when I am regularly exercising and that extends to feeling better in the morning and having more energy.
(And wanting/needing more breakfast where the hunger also gets you out of bed.)
Possible solutions? As hard as it can sound sometimes, get started exercising, it’s one of the best things you can do for your health.
Blue Light Addict
You may or may not know that the light that comes from your phone, computer, and other electronic devices contains a special part of the electromagnetic spectrum and is commonly referred to as ‘blue light’.
This is similar to the light from the sun which causes a massive problem by telling your body that it is daytime, interfering with your circadian rhythm amongst other things.
This stops you getting as much sleep as you want and makes you tired and unrested come morning time.
These days there are nifty little apps and features where you can put a blue light filter on your smartphone, for example, it gives it a reddish glow and makes it kind of annoying to read but eliminates blue light and the effect it will have on your sleep.
iPhones have it inbuilt and is called ‘night shift’ and a popular one for computers is called ‘flux’.
Possible solutions? There are blue light filters you can use. Or just stop using your damn phone so much before bed!
Of all the people in the world that you could love, it had to be someone who snored, didn’t it?
If you’re a light sleeper like I am then the prospect of a night spent next to a happily asleep snorer is tantamount to torture and the lack of sleep results in a not very pleasant wakeup.
Possible solutions? Well, there’s one very obvious solution. Outside of ending your relationship though, I wrote a whole article on how to deal with snorers as you sleep.
The middle of summer can be an excruciating time to sleep, when it gets hot it gets HOT. And trying to sleep when you’re sweating beads is one of the toughest situations to be in.
You stick a window open and you run the risk of a mosquito popping it’s evil little beak in. Tough call.
Obviously, all this can be solved with an AC unit but you don’t get them everywhere.
Possible solutions? If this is a regular problem you can get a portable AC unit or a fan. On a one-off basis, you’ve just got to suffer.
Waking Up At Different Times
Your body evolved and came of age on the savannah in Africa, you homo sapiens you. You are well programmed to rise with the sunrise and retire with the sunset, your times for waking and sleeping being fairly constant, day-to-day.
So a normal 7am start followed by a 5am wakeup for some work traveling followed by a Saturday lie-in til 11am followed by a Sunday hangover sleep until 1pm is not doing yourself any favors!
It’s very difficult to get this one right while balancing it with a job, a family and a social life but I’ve found the times where I’ve been able to consistently wake up at the same time every day (including weekends) have been some of the most blissful sleeps and most calm wakeups.
Possible solutions? Live in Africa 400,000 years ago. Failing that, try to wake up on weekend at the same time as you do in the week.
Video games are awesome, so awesome in fact that they are a serious danger to your sleep and subsequently feeling terrible the next day.
I remember when I was younger I was absolutely addicted to Civilization II. If you’ve not heard of it, it’s an empire building game that takes you from the stone age to the modern day and is a prime example of ‘just one more turn’ syndrome.
You’d settle in for a few hours after school and before you knew it the time was 4am!
Computer games are so engaging that it can be easy to not think or even care what time it is, and when you do eventually get to bed your brain is so wired that it can’t even get to sleep quickly!
Possible solutions? Set yourself a time to stop then cut off at that time. Write it down or set an alarm if necessary.
Yes, yes, I know, you need your coffee in the morning. It’s what keeps you going. Believe me, I’ve been there. And it is possible to have a relationship with caffeine where it doesn’t ruin your sleep at the same time.
The key piece of information is that for healthy adults the caffeine has a half-life of 5 to 6 hours, that means after 6 hours the amount of caffeine has halved.
So if you have a coffee at 5pm then at 11pm it’s like you just had half a cup of coffee. That’s a real problem and is going to stop you getting to sleep.
On top of that, there are sneaky sources of caffeine like Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Chocolate, Cocoa and Tea.
These are lower in caffeine than coffee but have enough that if you’re consuming them in the evening they will possibly impact your sleep.
Possible solutions? Limit your caffeine consumption after 1pm and ideally after 9-10am to give your body the chance to process and dispose of it all. You will still get the morning energy surge without it ruining your sleep come bedtime.
Not talking about a hangover here, just general alcohol drinking whether that’s a couple of beers with dinner or the entire bottle of vodka you polish off each day.
Alcohol may help you nod off but it has been shown to reduce sleep quality by blocking REM sleep (the deep, good sleep) and by waking you up regularly in the middle of the night.
Possible solutions? Go sober for a few days or even a month (Dry January and Dry July are both good options)
Not Getting Your Required Hours
Unless you’re one of those lucky ‘short sleepers’ then you have a required amount of hours of around 7-9 each night or it will impact your mood and your general well being.
It’s easy to think that you feel ok despite only getting 6 hours a night but as time goes on it catches up with you and if you’re struggling to wake up in the morning then this could be the culprit.
Possible solutions? Get 8-9 hours of sleep a night for a week or so and see if it makes a difference.
A Horrible Commute
I’ve had 5 minute walks to work where the birds were singing and I strolled along happily. I’ve had 60+ minutes commutes stuck in a vehicle through congested streets and highways. Guess which one I dreaded?
When your commute gets above a certain time it can make a drastic impact on the quality of your life.
Twice a day you have to deal with all the problems of the road, stuck in your workwear, with no opportunity for relaxation, no wonder waking up can seem like a mission when you’ve got all that ahead of you.
Possible solutions? Move to nearer your work, get a new job, listen to podcasts to make the journey more bearable.
You woke up in the middle of a REM cycle
Ever wake up in the middle of a vivid dream and you just feel like death? That’s because you woke up in the middle of a REM cycle where dreams happen.
You are hardest to wake up during this period and if you are woken up you will typically feel disoriented. At least you don’t have yourself to blame for this one!
Possible solutions? Try using a sleep tracker which will aim to wake you up at the lightest point of your sleep, you can get them on most smartphones now.
Yes, it’s true that some people are simply early risers and others are night owls.
While there’s no escaping your DNA it is easy to blame your poor mornings on your genes and rely on a quick fix of a big cup of coffee to get you going but this is not what you want to be aiming at in the long term.
Even if you are the most nightly of night people you should be looking to do all you can to make it so the first three hours of every day are not spent in a catatonic state.
Possible solutions? Nothing will change your genetics but you can still practice good sleep hygiene.