We all need a little help to wake up in the morning — for some it’s the offensive ‘bleep bleep’ of an alarm clock, for others a mug of black coffee. It is estimated that more than 60 percent of people need between 15 minutes and an hour after waking before they feel human.
But why is this? Here, with the help of leading sleep experts, we reveal why you may be finding it so hard to wake up — and the simple changes that can make your mornings less hellish.
WHY YOU’RE HIDING UNDER THE DUVET
If you woke up this morning feeling groggy, dozy and desperate for another hour of sleep, there are two things going wrong, explains independent sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley.
‘First, you’re probably sleep deprived — you haven’t had the right amount for you individually — but also, your body’s natural rhythm is out of synch.
‘The body loves rhythm and predictability. Most tiredness happens because we are very bad at sticking to regular bedtimes — going to bed and getting up at the same time every day.’
The body has an extremely accurate natural clock, he adds — and in the hour before waking it starts preparing.
‘It’s a bit like when you turn on the computer and it clicks and whirs before the screen comes on,’ he says.
‘Sleep becomes lighter, body temperature starts rising, and hormones are released such as cortisol, the stress hormone, which gives you energy and “get up and go”.
‘But if your body doesn’t have rhythm, it doesn’t know when you’re waking up and so it doesn’t prepare like this. The alarm goes off and your body’s not ready, and that’s why you feel so exhausted.’
But, he adds, it’s easy to re-jig your bodyclock.
‘If you set your alarm for the same time every day — even weekends and holidays — in a matter of weeks your body will accurately be able to tell the time.
‘That’s why you sometimes wake up five minutes before your alarm. Your body knows you don’t like the sound of your alarm and so it does the job for you.’
Studies show that a surprising one in five of us wakes up relying on our natural bodyclock.
WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T DROP OFF AGAIN
Many people swear by hitting the snooze button when the alarm goes off in the morning — giving them an extra ten or 20 minutes to recoup sleep before they really have to get up. But experts say this is the worst thing you can do.
It all goes back to the body’s need for a special pre-waking hour, when it prepares for morning.
‘During its preparation hour, sleep gets lighter, so that it’s easier for you to wake up,’ says Dr Stanley.
‘If you hit the snooze button you may go back into deep sleep and you’re not supposed to wake from deep sleep — you’re supposed to pass to the lighter preparation stage first, then open your eyes. So snoozing creates a huge shock to the body and it makes you feel awful.
‘If you wake up feeling worse, you’ll only be tempted to hit snooze again and then you’re in for a vicious cycle.’
Dr Stanley says it’s far better just to set your alarm for when you have to get up.
‘Ideally, as soon as you can bear it, pull back the curtains and let the sunlight into the room. It kick-starts your internal clock and tells the body it’s daytime.’
WAKING UP CAN BE MURDER
The change from being asleep to being awake is a stressful transition for the body, says Leon Kreitzman, author of the book Seasons Of Life.
‘When you’re asleep at night, all sorts of things are happening — your body temperature starts to fall, for example, and your blood pressure goes down.
‘When you get up, you stand upright and you’re much more active, so your heart, and everything else, just has to work that little bit harder.
‘It takes time for your body to get ready for that change.’
This explains why most heart attacks happen in the morning, he adds.
‘The theory is that if you’re already at risk, and have a bit of plaque in your arteries, the rise in blood pressure from waking up causes the attack.’
Soak up the sunlight
Humans are diurnal animals — we sleep at night and are active during the day — and we all have a natural Circadian rhythm that controls when we feel sleepy and when we feel active. Crucially, this Circadian rhythm is set by sunrise and sunset.
Light receptors in the eye send messages to the brain and set our bodyclock, explains Russell Foster, professor of neuroscience at Oxford University.
‘Interestingly, only a small amount of those cells are involved in vision. That’s why blind people are still affected by their bodyclocks and feel tired at the same time as everyone else.’
So if you’re having problems sleeping, or problems getting out of bed in the morning, it’s vital to make sure you get plenty of time outdoors.
‘When you look at the sun, for your body it’s like looking at Big Ben and checking the time — a process called entrainment, where your bodyclock synchronises with the local time,’ adds Kreitzman.
This explains why you can recover from jetlag — when you get to your destination, spending time outside in the sunlight resets your bodyclock to the time in that country.
Kreitzman says most Britons’ sleep problems can be explained by our growing indoor lifestyle, particularly during winter months when many people wake up in the dark, go to work on the Tube, sit in an office all day then travel back by night — getting no sunlight at all.
And if you’ve wondered why older people often say they need less sleep, Kreitzman believes it’s also down to sunlight.
‘Older people tend to wake up earlier,’ he says. ‘One of the reasons is that they don’t get outside as much as other groups.’
To keep a good rhythm, he says, you should be outside in the daylight for at least one or two hours each day. Blue light — light from a blue sky on a clear day — is thought to be particularly beneficial.
It is believed that humans have evolved this way because the sky is bluest at dawn and at dusk, which are the most crucial times for setting our bodyclocks.
ARE YOU GRUMPY? BLAME YOUR GENES
Around 10 per cent of us are natural ‘larks’, who go to bed early and wake up early — and another 10 per cent are ‘owls’, who don’t feel tired till late at night and love to snooze in the morning. The rest of us are somewhere in between.
‘Some people just aren’t morning people,’ says Dr Stanley. ‘They experience something called sleep inertia — that feeling of slowness, grumpiness, lack of get-up-and-go — for anything up to two hours after waking up.
‘Equally, others spring out of bed — I’m one of them. Both these have a genetic basis and we see these characteristics running in families.’
It’s thought there are around 12 genes linked to the body’s internal 24-hour clock. These work together to create proteins and trigger hormones that make us sleepy during the night and alert during the day.
‘In larks these processes are slightly altered and their clock runs slightly fast,’ explains Professor Foster.
‘So they start feeling sleepy earlier in the evening than others. The owl’s body clock, on the other hand, is running a bit slow.’
THE TROUBLE WITH TEENAGERS
Why do teenagers love criminally long lie-ins? They’re not lazy — they really do need more sleep than the rest of us, says Kreitzman, to cope with the many hormonal, physical and emotional changes their bodies are going through.
Professor Foster adds that sex hormomes such as testosterone and progesterone, which rise during puberty, can interact with the bodyclock, meaning teenagers naturally wake up later.
In fact, lie-ins could boost your teenage child’s academic performance.
Last week Professor Foster received the results of a study he carried out with a secondary school in North Tyneside in which the headteacher changed the school day to start at 10am so the pupils could have more of a lie-in.
‘It’s well known that sleep duration affects memory, and this year the school has had a dramatic improvement in its GCSE results,’ he adds.