There are the days when everyone wakes up a little groggier than they’d like — New Years Day, Monday after a long weekend, you know the drill. While you may find yourself occasionally reaching for that second (or third, no judgement) cup of coffee, if you wake up constantly feeling groggy or like you haven’t slept enough, it may be a sign that something more serious than a Sunday Funday is at play. So why do you wake up feeling groggy every day?
Waking up feeling tired can be confusing and frustrating when you've gotten seven to nine hours of sleep, as recommended by the National Sleep Foundation for people ages 18-64 (the recommendation for adults aged 65 and up is seven to eight hours).
“When we wake up groggy, it is our body telling us that we didn't get a quality night of sleep,” Kelly Benson, Performance Sleep Coach and creator of the Performance Sleep Method, a holistic approach to overcoming adult chronic insomnia and poor sleep, tells Romper. “Although we may feel we got "enough" sleep because of the amount of time we stayed in bed, the sleep itself wasn't high quality. Unfortunately, by the time we wake up in the morning, there's nothing more we can really do to influence how well we rested.”
I had doctors and sleep experts talk me through 6 things it may mean if you consistently wake up feeling tired, and because I’d never just leave you hanging, I also had them explain some actions you can take to sleep more soundly and wake up feeling rested.
1. You have sleep apnea
Nearly every expert I spoke with mentioned the possibility of sleep apnea as a potential cause of feeling groggy in the morning. The Mayo Clinic defines sleep apnea as “a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. If you snore loudly and feel tired even after a full night's sleep, you might have sleep apnea.” Mike Kisch, sleep expert and CEO / co-founder of Beddr tells Romper that “common symptoms of sleep apnea include extreme fatigue in the morning and day, loud snoring, falling asleep unexpectedly, and waking up often during the night to urinate." When a person has sleep apnea, they can stop breathing hundreds of times each night. "Such a high number of stopped breathing events means that the body is deprived of essential oxygen, and when there is oxygen deprivation the brain sends signals to wake the body up in order to kick-start breathing," says Kisch.
People who have sleep apnea may not remember the near constant wake-ups, but their body and brain sure do the next day.
It’s estimated by the American Sleep Apnea Association that 22 million Americans live with sleep apnea; for context, if you think about that number in terms of city populations, that would mean that every person residing within the United States’ five most-populated cities (New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Phoenix) would have sleep apnea, and there would still be about 2 million people with the disease elsewhere. That’s a huge amount of people who aren’t functioning at their optimal level due to poor sleep quality.
2. You're waking in the wrong stage of sleep
It turns out there’s actually a medical term for feeling groggy in the hours after waking: Sleep inertia.
“If your alarm interrupts the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) or deep sleep phases of your sleep cycle, your body's natural routine is disrupted and you may find yourself feeling more tired and groggy than had you woken up at the end of the sleep cycle,” Wendy Leung, licensed Acupuncturist and IBS Elimination Coach tells Romper.
Dr. Lina Velikova echoes a similar idea, telling Romper, “[sleep inertia] happens when you suddenly awake during the REM phase, the last of four phases of sleep during one cycle. You dream the most in this phase and shouldn’t be forced to wake until you finish it. You may feel as if you’re still half dreaming for some time. Sleep inertia can last between 15 minutes and a few hours. The main cause for increased symptoms of sleep inertia is sleep deprivation.”
You can try slightly adjusting your wake and sleep time to get your wakeup synced with your REM cycle, or you can invest in a “smart alarm” like Sleep Cycle that monitors your sound and movement and has your alarm go off when you’re in a stage of light sleep.
3. You're stressed
Not to be completely obvious here (except I am being completely obvious here) but too much stress is not good for the body. As the U.S. Department's Office on Women's Health explained, symptoms of stress can include an upset stomach, acne, headache, low libido, and trouble sleeping.
Dr. Kevin Conners, D.PSc., FICT, FAARFM, tells Romper that one of the biggest things to consider when finding the cause of morning grogginess is your stress level.
"If you are always groggy in the mornings, it could be due to adrenal burnout. Your adrenal system consists of your thyroid, pituitary, and adrenals (they produce and regulate the stress hormone cortisol) and are the first organs that are affected when you're dealing with high amounts of stress. Adrenal burnout can lead to sleep problems and irritability, both of which could leave you groggy in the mornings."
To relieve some of your stress before bed, you may trying jotting down a few thoughts in a bullet journal, doing some light yoga stretches, or even trying a guided meditation through an app like Headspace.
4. Your melatonin production is not functioning properly
You may already have a bottle of melatonin tucked into your medicine cabinet for special occasions (read: those nights when you just cannot fall asleep). I do, and the tiny pills are cherry-flavored and delicious, but I try to limit my intake to once a month or so because I don't want to disrupt my natural melatonin production.
Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D. and author, says that melatonin production can be affected by many factors including light in your bedroom, electro-magnetic fields near your bed including phones or tablets (I am SO guilty) or drinking alcohol or exercising too close to bed.
Dean tells Romper that people who are consistently groggy also may not be getting "enough of the sleep mineral magnesium. Magnesium facilitates sleep regulating melatonin (sleep hormone) production. Studies have shown that magnesium helps you get a deep and restful sleep. Magnesium also relieves the muscle tension that can prevent restful sleep."
5. Your diet is a problem
I wish this was a world where I could eat pizza every day and suffer no consequences, but unfortunately, it's not and I still eat pizza twice a week. You may not think that diet has much to do with your sleep, but many of the experts I spoke with indicated otherwise.
Dr. Conners told Romper, "If you constantly wake up feeling groggy... the first thing to look at is your diet. Are you eating a lot of high-inflammation foods (e.g. heavy carbs, alcohol, sugary drinks, processed meats)? Minimizing these types of foods would be a great first step."
Lisa Richards, nutritionist and gut health expert, told Romper that studies have found a link between sleep inertia and diet. "Diets containing large quantities of junk food can lead to feelings of grogginess in the morning," Richard says. "This is due primarily to the state of inflammation that occurs in the body when you eat a lot of processed foods."
There are certain foods (in addition to lattes) that will help you fight that morning grogginess. Richard says, "Avoid processed foods and try watermelon, bananas, eggs, and almonds. Foods high in healthy fats, potassium, and protein will help wake up the mind."
6. Microarousals are to blame
Benson also mentions "microarousals" (not as sexy as they sound) as a cause for morning fatigue. Microarousals are quick wakes up, to turn over in bed or flip the pillow, for example, that are usually not remember by the sleeper.
"When there is an excessive amount of microarousals and they last longer than 30 seconds, it becomes fragmented sleep," Benson says.
"This is very common in people who have a sleep disorder called sleep-maintenance insomnia, which is when it is easy to fall asleep at bedtime but difficult to remain asleep throughout the night. Fragmented sleep includes a substantial amount of micro wake ups and also results in the person experiencing less slow-wave and REM sleep, the two most restorative and beneficial stages."
To avoid fragment sleep, or microarousals, Harvard Health recommends avoiding alcohol, screen time, and caffeine in the hours before bed, and avoiding naps and demanding tasks later in the day.