Snoozing and losing

Dear Alice,

I have the biggest problem getting out of bed in the morning. I set two alarms and I still go right back to sleep. For this reason, I am always running late to work. Do you have any suggestions on how I can make myself get up earlier in the mornings?

Thanks in advance for your help!

Dear Gabi, 

Getting up can be tough, and it sounds like multiple alarms aren't cutting it for you. However, there are steps you can take to help you wake up in the morning. Understanding some background on sleep inertia and hygiene can be helpful before jumping into the tips and tricks. 

If you find yourself in a haze when you wake up in the mornings, you may be experiencing what’s known as sleep inertia. Sleep inertia describes the feeling of grogginess or drowsiness when you wake up. It often lasts a few minutes to an hour and happens when you wake up suddenly or haven't slept enough. Causes of sleep inertia may include sleep deprivation, sleep disorders, mental health issues, or high levels of sleep-inducing adenosine or delta waves. There are a few at-home remedies you might try to combat this. However, when in doubt, speaking with a health care professional about your inability to hit the hay may be the best solution. 

To help you wake up more readily, you may choose to experiment with some techniques such as: 

  • Working on alarm timing. Setting a more natural time that syncs with your sleep cycle's lighter phases can help you wake up. Some sleep-tracking apps have an alarm feature that wakes you up at an optimal time within a time range you set. 
  • Choosing a gentler alarm sound. When people hear something jarring, they often turn it off quickly and are at risk of falling back asleep. Sounds like birds chirping or your favorite song that increases in volume until your scheduled wake-up time can help you become more alert and conscious upon waking up. 
  • Letting in light. Light cues the brain to wake up, so a brighter room may make it easier to get up. You might consider raising the shades at night if your sleeping area is dark. You might also consider getting a smart shade that rises at the time you choose. Consider switching on a lamp as soon as your alarm goes off or use a sunrise alarm that brightens the room before your alarm sounds, especially if it’s still dark out. 
  • Motivating yourself with scents. Some people with programmable coffee or bread makers set them to finish their task right before waking up so that the scent incentivizes them to get out of bed. 
  • Getting on your feet. Even if standing doesn't feel great, if you're able, moving around can help you feel more alert. You might try using certain alarms or alarm apps that make you perform tasks to turn them off. If you use your phone as an alarm, you might consider placing it in another area of the room, this way you’re required to leave your bed in order to turn it off. 
  • Raising the stakes. Since the brain knows what events are necessary to get up for and what aren't, you can try to make events more 'necessary.' For example, you might sign up for a non-refundable event like a workout class, plan an outing with a friend who won't forgive bailing, or tell someone you'll pay for a meal if you're late. 
  • Enlisting a human alarm clock. If someone you know is a dependable morning person, you might try having them call you when you need it. 

List adapted from The New York Times 

If healthy sleep habits are something you’ve already incorporated into your nightly slumber, you might be interested to know that other factors also affect morning alertness. One study found that your individual morning alertness may increase with sleeping longer or waking up later than you usually do, doing intense physical activity the day before, and eating a high-carb low-glucose breakfast. 

Remember, breaking the snooze cycle and increasing morning alertness may take time and persistence. But with some experimentation and determination, hopefully you’ll have brighter, more punctual days ahead! 

Here's to putting the "rise" back in "sunrise.” 

Last updated Oct 20, 2023
Originally published Oct 02, 2003