Woman sleeping at her desk
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Tired of being tired in the morning? Sleep experts offer tips to awaken your inner rooster.
Binnie Wikane, a driver's license examiner's assistant in Allentown, Pennsylvania, loves almost every minute of her life. But there are moments that Binnie definitely doesn't enjoy; specifically, the very first ones of the day. "On one level, when that alarm goes off, I'm happy to see the day," she says. "But on a deeper level, my mind and body don't agree. I have to fight with everything I've got to get out of bed."

Like many women, Wikane is a victim of sleep inertia, a sluggish state that makes getting out of bed one of the hardest things she does. "When we wake up, we all go through a certain amount of sleep inertia," says Deborah Sewitch, PhD, clinical director of the Center for Sleep and Ventilatory Disorders at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "For some, it can take ages to get it together; an hour later, they're still feeling groggy and not really 'there.'" Not surprisingly, the most common reason that women struggle through this morning transition is that they're not sleeping long enough or well enough. But if you're getting enough rest, eating well, and still dragging when the alarm goes off, you could make some changes to your routine that might help you break through the morning fog.

Easy Does It

There is a biological basis for hating the sudden blare of your alarm clock. "Sleep inertia can feel worse when you're awakened abruptly," explains Hans Van Dongen, PhD, a research assistant professor in the University of Pennsylvania's Division of Sleep and Chronobiology. "It forces you suddenly into a mode that your body isn't prepared for." A gentler alarm tone may be more effective at combating that can't-get-out-of-bed feeling. "A clock that allows you to wake up gradually may ease those first few moments of sleep inertia, which are the worst," says Van Dongen. Experiment with a different tone, such as Serenity's Zen alarm clock, featuring chimes that gradually increase in volume, or HoMedics Natural Sounds Spa clock radio, with options including ocean waves, a babbling brook, and more.

Preprogram Your Coffeepot

Sleep inertia decreases both physical and mental ability. In one small study, researchers found that subjects suffered motor skill deficits that lasted more than an hour after waking. But according to Mark Rosekind, PhD, president of Alertness Solutions, a company that offers stay-awake strategies to businesses, you can substantially decrease that downtime by drinking coffee. "The amount of caffeine in a strong cup of coffee can boost both physical performance and mental alertness by up to 30 percent within 15 to 30 minutes," he says. "If you're sluggish for an hour, getting that caffeine within the first five minutes of getting out of bed may gain you a half hour's head start on your morning." Look for programmable coffeemakers from Krups, Braun, Cuisinart, or Black & Decker that you can set to brew while you're still asleep. Just go easy: More than three or four servings of coffee, cola, or other caffeinated drinks can disrupt your next night's sleep.

Get a Little Physical

"Physical activity is one of the best ways we know to shake off grogginess, get alert quickly, and stay that way," says Rosekind. Instead of watching the morning news, walk to get the paper, take out the trash, or place a loud alarm clock (in addition to the one in your bedroom) in a different location in your house. "By the time you get to it, you'll have moved around a little," says Rosekind. "It may not be a lot of movement, but it'll be sufficient to kick your body into wake mode faster."

How to reset your internal clock
Splurge on a Quality Pillow

According to James Maas, PhD, author of Power Sleep and a Cornell University sleep expert, an unsupportive pillow can put your spine out of line and cause neck and cervical pain. "Sleeping on a dead pillow can disrupt you so much," he says. "You can sleep all night and still feel terrible come morning." Maas recommends putting your pillow to the test: Fold it in half and let go. If it bounces back to its original shape, it's in fine shape. But if it doesn't, he says, "You've got a dead pillow. Get rid of it and replace it." He recommends a hypoallergenic Insuloft Down Fill pillow ($100 to $150) and Primaloft Hypoallergenic Luxury Down Alternative Pillow ($40 to $60).

Let the Light In

Morning sunlight programs your brain to perk up. Even when your eyes are closed, the light that passes through your lids signals your internal clock to trigger waking neurons in the brain. If you sleep in a darkened room, think about purchasing a dawn simulator, a device that gradually brightens a light source at a preprogrammed time. You can hook it up to any incandescent lamp, but according to Sewitch, "for a lamp next to your bed to make a difference, it's got to shine directly at your head as you're waking." (She uses a track system of three 50-watt flood bulbs.) Dawn simulators sell for $120 to $160 and lamp-clock combinations for $100 to $200, from such companies as SunBox and Light Therapy Products. Sewitch recommends setting a device to create a dawn that breaks a half hour before you have to get up and grows to maximum brightness by the time your alarm goes off.

Lower the Thermostat

Anyone who's nodded off in a warm office knows how toasty temperatures promote drowsiness. A cooler environment can have the opposite effect. Martin Moore-Ede, MD, president and CEO of the corporate consulting firm Circadian Technologies and author of The Twenty-Four Hour Society, suggests turning your thermostat to the mid-60s before you turn in. "That gives you warm conditions to fall asleep in, but cool conditions for your really deep sleep," he says. "By morning you'll have the ideal environment in which to awaken." If 60-something sounds too chilly, bear in mind that you can compensate with blankets; just leave your head uncovered. "Sleeping under the bedcovers means your head is the only place where significant heat loss can occur," says Moore-Ede. "If this capability is lost, the body may heat up to the point where sleep is disrupted."

Reset Your Internal Clock

Getting up earlier may seem like a less than attractive option to someone who doesn't want to get out of bed at all, but according to Moore-Ede, it's a strategy worth exploring. Here's why: Your sleep is accomplished in a series of five stages that you cycle through four or five times a night: stage 1, a very light sleep; stage 2, a still light but deeper state; stages 3 and 4, the really deep phases; and finally, a lighter stage called REM, or rapid eye movement. If you're struggling to achieve consciousness when that alarm goes off, you might be interrupting stage 3 or 4, the toughest time to get going. "By getting up 30 minutes earlier," says Moore-Ede, "you may catch yourself during a lighter stage, from which you'll awaken more readily."

You'll also have an extra half hour in the morning, so you may want to experiment. As we cycle through sleep stages, the deep phases become shorter and the light ones become longer toward morning. By moving up your bedtime and by setting your alarm clock back a little, you might be awakened from a lighter stage of sleep. The strategy won't eliminate the sleep inertia, but like these other techniques, it will lessen the grogginess and make getting out of bed that much easier.

10 unconventional ways to get yourself out of bed
O readers offer 10 unconventional ways to get yourself out of bed.
1. Get a dog. As long as it has to go out, you have to get up.

2. Or get a cat. Nothing wakes you up like a sandpaper tongue licking your face.

3. Place a huge bird feeder outside the bedroom window so the neighborhood robins serve as your alarm clock.

4. Do yoga. It's the most relaxing way to bring your energy level up.

5. Have children—less relaxing but equally effective.

6. Marry someone who gets up earlier than you do.

7. Set two alarm clocks at distant points in the bedroom.

8. Schedule the cable guy, the exterminator, and the carpet cleaner first thing—you'll have to be at least vertical and clothed when they arrive.

9. Set the breakfast table the night before, and stock up on the fruit, cereal, or muffins that you like best. Put out a book or magazine article you've been wanting to read.

10. Head straight to the shower and sprinkle a few drops of citrus-and-eucalyptus oil around the tub—let the scent clear your head.

Do you have a novel way to get going in the morning? Give us your wake-up tips in Comments below.

Plus, 7 ways to restart a day


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