Look, we get it. Rolling out of bed can be challenging, especially when you wake up tired every morning. It’s tempting to keep hitting the snooze button so you can stay in the warmth and comfort of your sheets for a few (or several) extra minutes—but how you start your morning often sets the tone for the rest of the day. Springing out of bed ready to tackle your tasks makes it more likely that you’ll have a positive mindset and be more productive right through bedtime.
Matthew Walker, PhD, a sleep researcher at the University of California (UC), Berkeley and author of Why We Sleep, told Eat This, Not That!, “As soon as you wake up after a night of sleep, you should get out of bed. If you lie awake in bed, your brain links being awake to being in bed.”
However, starting your day off on a positive note is easier said than done when you’re groggy from a poor night’s sleep. If this sounds like you, and you want to learn why you can’t seem to wake up in the morning, we have excellent news: The sleep problems causing your morning weariness are within your control. Read on to find out the most likely reasons why you can’t get out of bed in the morning, and what you can do about them.
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A study published in Nature Communications in Nov. 2022 suggests that modifiable lifestyle factors like sleep duration, physical activity, and diet significantly impact morning alertness more than genetics.
Raphael Vallat, PhD, the study’s co-author and a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, tells Best Life, “In this study, which included 833 adults (including identical twins) followed over two weeks, we demonstrated that how alert you feel each morning is not strongly genetic. Instead, we have discovered that there are a set of specific factors that are very much under your control (unlike genes), which determine how efficiently you wake up and stay alert each day.”
According to the Sleep Foundation, these findings are critical for public health, considering almost half of Americans experience daytime sleepiness between three and seven days per week. Also, one-third of U.S. adults report sleeping on average for less than the minimum recommended seven hours per night. What’s more, the World Health Organization (WHO) says that daytime sleepiness is a significant contributor to road traffic and occupational accidents, accounting for thousands of deaths each year.
“Insufficient alertness is also associated with work-related loss of productivity, greater healthcare utilization, and work absenteeism, thereby costing developed nations billions of dollars annually,” Vallat adds.
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Here’s how researchers examined the effects of study participants’ breakfasts on their morning alertness: First, they gave them meals identical in calories and nutritional value, including foods high in carbs, protein, and fiber. Participants consumed these breakfasts on different days, and researchers compared their alertness levels after each meal with that after a reference meal that provided moderate levels of carbs and protein.
“Optimal alertness was found when people consumed a breakfast rich in carbohydrates, with moderate amounts of fat and protein,” states Vallat. “People felt less alert when they consumed high amounts of simple sugar or protein (e.g., 40 grams of protein).”
Simple sugars—like refined cereals, breakfast pastries, white bread, and fruit juices—spike your blood glucose levels and result in energy crashes, causing tiredness and a decrease in alertness. This indicates that avoiding high-glycemic food at breakfast is essential for boosting alertness and concentration.
The study found that the more physically active a person was during the day, the more alert they were the following day. However, only physical activity during the earlier hours of the day improved wakefulness, while physical activity later in the day or evening actually decreased morning alertness. This is likely due to the effects that exercise has on your core body temperature. Exercising before bed doesn’t allow your body time to cool down, which can delay sleep, impair sleep quality, and keep you up at night.
“It is well known that physical activity, in general, improves your alertness and also your mood level, and we did find a high correlation in this study between participants’ mood and their alertness levels,” said Vallat in a UC news release. “Participants that, on average, are happier also feel more alert.”
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The study found an association between sleep duration with morning alertness. When participants slept longer than usual or woke up later than normal, they were more likely to show higher levels of alertness the following day. Also, they noted that maintaining a consistent sleep schedule (going to bed and waking up at the same times), even on weekends, is essential for enhancing sleep quality and feeling more awake in the morning.
Overall, these findings are empowering, since they show that we can improve our ability to feel awake, alert, and energized in the morning. “How you wake up each day is very much under your control, based on how you structure your life and your sleep,” said Walker in a statement. “You don’t need to feel resigned to any fate, throwing your hands up in disappointment because, ‘… it’s my genes, and I can’t change my genes.’ There are some very basic and achievable things you can start doing today, and tonight, to change how you awake each morning, feeling alert and free of that grogginess.”