Why is waking up so hard?

Your body is a connection of systems, but you probably already knew that (or maybe you have just “felt” it).  As a biomedical science student -- I can vividly remember drawing diagrams of mitochondria, memorizing the calcium cascade, and diving deeper into exercise physiology labs testing our ideas from food intake to sleep deprivation to breathwork impact on your ability to perform. From your digestive tract to the “thinking” connection parts of your brain, your body works to recover while you sleep. Getting these systems running again takes work and getting them back in “sync” can feel a lot like starting your car on a frosty morning. Ideally, you need to let each system warm up, “chip the ice off”, and defrost the windows before you’re safe to drive away (studies imply this can take up to 60 minutes after you wake-up). If you don’t take the time to do this, you are like the person with the windows rolled down, windshield wiper blades scraping ice (but not doing anything), and your only visual is a small patch where the defroster is hitting (not the best scenario for getting on the interstate -  huh?).


This warm-up period is known as “sleep inertia”. Did you know that 70% of people experience “sleep inertia” for the first hour or two of their day? Sleep inertia is that “fog” you feel or “brain lag” – it impacts your reaction times, thinking, reasoning, and your memory is typically at its worst for the first moments of the day. You will also suffer worse sleep inertia if you’re sleep deprived (talking about a sticky cycle), but thankfully it is temporary and goes away after a couple hours of being awake.

Here’s a couple tips to ease the effects of "sleep inertia":

  1. Get out into daylight ASAP: this will aid your body clock and boost levels of “wake-up” hormones.
  2. Try stretching, yoga, and gentle exercise: even just 5-10 minutes in the morning while your coffee brews can do the trick. Brisk walks, a bike ride, a few sun salutations will all increase your heart rate, improve blood flow to the “sleepy” parts of your brain, and boost your mood too!
  3. Don’t make BIG decisions: give yourself 1-2 hours before you really need to press the gas pedal down on your biggest work tasks. You won’t make the best choices first thing in the morning, so setting up things the night before will definitely make for a smoother morning routine.
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