How to Wake Up Feeling Refreshed and Alert — and Why Sometimes It’s Hard

If you’re not the type to awaken refreshed and ready to hit the ground running, you may be wondering how you’ll ever feel motivated to get out of bed. Luckily, sleep specialists have some go-to strategies to help you feel energized and happy in the mornings.

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Some people just spring out of bed, full of energy, ready to face the day — while the rest of us rely on the snooze button and plenty of coffee.

While many may aspire to be true morning people, research shows that there may be as many as 15 genetic variants that influence a person’s chronotype — their tendency toward being an early bird or a night owl. So, while some of us may naturally skip from the gym to the juice bar to the office (all by 9 a.m.), others may struggle to even compose a coherent email before noon. If you’re not the type to awaken refreshed and ready to hit the ground running, you may be wondering how you’ll ever feel motivated to get out from under the covers and get ready to tackle your day with gusto. Luckily, sleep specialists have some go-to strategies to help you feel energized and happy in the mornings when you wake up. Here are some of the best tips to help you take on each day.

Start your morning routine the night before

According to Dr. Chris Winter, neurologist, advisor, and author of “The Rested Child” andThe Sleep Solution,” it’s a whole lot tougher to enjoy a good morning if you didn’t have a good night. “It begins with getting adequate sleep,” Winter says. “You will never have a smooth transition into the morning if your nocturnal sleep is inadequate.”

While everyone’s sleep requirements are unique, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends adults between the ages of 18 and 60 get seven or more hours per night. And while the number of hours matters, so does the quality: Make sure you consistently create the right environment for sleep by setting your thermostat between 60 and 67 degrees, blocking out any light, and avoiding caffeine-rich foods and alcohol before bed.

Set a sleep schedule & avoid the snooze button

“The second-most-important variable is waking at the same time every day,” Winter says. “If your schedule is inconsistent, the way you feel on awakening will be the same.”

Research shows that maintaining a consistent sleep schedule can help you get better-quality sleep, and more of it. By helping to maintain your circadian rhythm (aka your body’s internal clock), a solid sleep schedule can contribute to a healthier body composition and even reduce your risk of heart disease.

“Waking up at a consistent time every morning helps you set a regular circadian rhythm and improves your sleep health overall,” says Dr. Funke Afolabi-Brown, sleep medicine physician and founder of Restful Sleep MD. “And avoid hitting snooze — when we hit snooze when our alarms go off, the sleep we get following this is not as restorative. Rather than hitting snooze, set the alarm for the absolute latest time you can wake up so as to promote sleep continuity.”

Exercise in the morning

While cool temperatures can ensure a more restful night of sleep, heating your body up quickly can help energize you for the day. For many would-be early risers, that means fitting in an a.m. workout.

“Exercise is one of the best ways to jump-start your day,” Afolabi-Brown says. “It improves your mood, promotes alertness and focus, and also helps you sleep better. A few studies have shown that moderate to vigorous exercise in the morning improves sleep quality; however, even mild physical activity like walking, yoga, [and] stretches have all been shown to be beneficial. The important thing is making sure they are activities you love and enjoy so as to maintain consistency.”

Winter adds that morning exercise is a powerful primer for developing energy during the day. “The brain learns over time that the box jumps and sled pushing are coming, and it primes itself for that activity in the morning by waking up,” he says. “When your body knows there is going to be an intense expenditure of energy, cortisol and norepinephrine surge every morning and carry you out of bed.”

For some people, working out in the morning isn’t an option. In that case, quick stretches and a few jumping jacks can be the same physical trigger for your brain as a full-on workout. This is also the case for those who aren’t into being active first thing in the morning — simply find what is palatable to you that you can maintain on an ongoing basis to train your body and help maintain that circadian rhythm.

One exception to the benefit of a morning workout is if you’re compromising your overnight sleep to cram in a workout. Sufficient sleep is more beneficial for your body and circadian rhythm than shortening sleep to work out.

If you’re one of those people who can’t work out in the mornings or doesn’t want to, it is still extremely beneficial to work out later in the day, as daily workouts can directly impact your sleep quality.

Get morning light

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The circadian rhythm is heavily dependent on natural light exposure, which impacts the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that encourages sleep. “Light is one of the strongest cues for our circadian rhythm, and exposure to morning light promotes alertness during the day while allowing you to fall asleep easier at night,” Afolabi-Brown says. “You can achieve this by opening the windows to let natural light in and getting outside for a quick walk.”

But don’t forget about how this invigorating light may impact your ability to get adequate sleep. “Keeping an eye on light in the evening — not just the morning — can be helpful,” Winter says. “Lowering light in the evening, getting away from screens, or donning some blue blockers [also known as blue-light-blocking glasses] can be incredibly helpful.”

Drink adequate water

Between hours of deep breathing and potentially a bit of nighttime sweating, you may be losing some hydration while you sleep. That loss of water can impact your energy and alertness, so replenishing fluids is an important step in starting your day right.

“When we sleep, we have insensible water losses, and we are slightly dehydrated, which may contribute to morning grogginess,” Brown says. “When you wake up, drink a glass of water to get hydration going.” As an additional benefit, morning hydration can improve alertness.

Enjoy caffeine in moderation

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No one wants to hear they have to quit their beloved coffee habit — especially when they’re looking for ways to feel better in the morning. Thankfully, a moderate amount of caffeine is generally considered fair game.

“Coffee works,” Winter says, adding, however, that it is important for those who regularly drink coffee or tea to discern whether it serves as an enhancement to the day (totally fine) or if they’re cultivating a dependence (not so great). “I love coffee, but I always make sure I don't need it!”

Afolabi-Brown agrees that caffeine has been shown to have some health benefits, and that moderate amounts of it are fine on a daily basis, but keeping it on hand as a nice boost rather than a mandatory magic bullet is the key. “If you find you need coffee rather than want coffee, that may be a sign you are sleep deprived,” she explains. “If you require coffee to wake up in the morning, it is more beneficial to work on improving your sleep overall. Also, since caffeine is a stimulant that stays in our bodies for several hours and can negatively affect our sleep quality, you should avoid taking it too late in the day.”

Adjust your schedule so you don’t short-change your sleep

If there are certain errands, activities, or must-do agenda items on your schedule that will impact your ability to get enough sleep, try to prepare for them as much as possible by doing the heavy lifting in advance.

“Try to shift any activities that can be done the day prior, such as meal prep, picking out your clothes, etc.,” Afolabi-Brown says. “This leaves more time for you to get enough sleep and have your routines without feeling rushed.”

Many people find it useful to prep breakfasts the night before, making overnight oats or homemade yogurt parfaits, or even making, then freezing, multiple breakfast burritos. Removing breakfast prep time will give you more time for other parts of a productive morning routine. The same goes for lunch — chopping vegetables or making lunch-size grab-and-go leftover meals will save time in the morning. Other ways people save time in the morning include showering the night before, picking the next day’s outfit ahead of time, and organizing their work tote so that it’s ready to go.

Waking up FAQs

Why is waking up so hard?

Waking up in the morning can be hard for many reasons. Poor sleep quality, mental health conditions, late bedtime, caffeine, alcohol, exercising late, taking certain medications, age, and sleep disorders can all contribute to difficulty waking up in the morning. Try to identify which of these factors apply to you and address them. Behavioral changes like adjusting your habits to avoid late caffeine or not working out too close to bedtime can be done on your own with mindfulness, discipline, and commitment to your sleep. If you suspect your sleep challenges go beyond habits, including challenges with mental health or a sleep disorder, see your doctor and work together on a plan to address your specific needs.

How can I wake up/stay awake when I’m tired?

  1. Get your blood pumping with some body movement like a walk or jumping jacks or stretches.
  2. Get outside in the sun and let the morning light set your circadian rhythm.
  3. Drink water. Some people mistake minor dehydration for being tired.
  4. Talk to other people. Conversation stimulates the mind and will help you liven up.
  5. Have some caffeine if it’s more than eight hours before bedtime.
  6. If you’re feeling tired because of a monotonous situation, switch tasks to give your mind a break.
  7. If all else fails, take a nap if you can.

How can I go to sleep early and wake up early?

  1. Set a consistent bedtime and wake-up time.
  2. Create a dark and cool sleeping environment.
  3. Limit electronic device use before bed.
  4. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and heavy meals before bed.
  5. Try a sleep-inducing routine, such as reading or taking a warm bath.
  6. Consider using a wake-up light alarm clock to sync with your sleep cycle so that you’re not awoken from deep sleep.
  7. Keep your alarm clock across the room from your bed so you have to get up to turn it off.
  8. Try to expose yourself to natural light first thing in the morning, even if it’s cloudy outside.
  9. Practice deep breathing, stretching, or yoga right after you wake up.
  10. Keep a water bottle by your bed so you can hydrate immediately upon waking up.
  11. Give yourself an incentive. Some people have found success waking up quickly and easily when they know they have morning time set aside for their favorite things. Whether you like books, video games, exercise, knitting, or even tuning in to a morning talk show, starting the day with your favorite thing will give you motivation to get up and stay up.