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Why Am I Waking Up Tired?

Woman waking up tired after a nights sleep.

Do you feel like you’re always waking up tired?

Nobody wants to start their day feeling groggy or sluggish. After all, how you physically feel and your state of mind on waking up sets the tone for your entire day. But for too many people, waking up feeling refreshed and energetic seems to be a pipe dream. 

It’s quite normal to occasionally wake up feeling tired – due to a late night, an earlier than usual wake-up time, disrupted sleep, or for an array of other reasons. Waking tired regularly, however, is a red flag that signifies an issue that needs to be addressed.

The overall quality of your sleep and its impact on how you feel on waking have considerable health and wellbeing implications.

Why Am I Waking Up Tired?

Are you a person who greets each new day at the first sign of light, enthusiastically “jumping” out of bed and feeling energetic?

Or are you someone who hits the snooze button as many times as possible, gets out of bed begrudgingly, and needs coffee to even begin to function?

There is much more to this than whether you’re naturally an Early Bird or a Night Owl. 

Some possible reasons you wake up tired include:

Sleep Inertia

Sleep inertia is the groggy state that arises during the transition between being asleep and awake, and is characterised by sleepiness, brain fog, slower reaction times, and even low cognition. It may be related to the chemical adenosine, which builds up in the brain when we’re awake and declines as we sleep.

Waking in this state is more likely if you don’t get enough sleep, wake abruptly from a deep sleep, or need to wake up earlier than you usually do. A classic example of the consequences of sleep inertia is waking from a daytime nap feeling worse than you felt before you went to sleep. Sleep inertia is more prevalent if you don’t get regular exercise, are operating out of sync with your circadian rhythm, or have a sleep debt.

Sleep inertia is very normal and is influenced by your chronotype. If you’re an Early Bird, it will usually pass within fifteen minutes. For Night Owls, it can take between thirty minutes and two hours to dissipate.

“Sleep drunkenness” is a severe form of sleep inertia that can last as long as four hours. 

Sleep Debt

Are you getting the amount of sleep you need? For almost all adults, this is between 7 and 9 hours each night. If you don’t achieve your own “sweet spot” in terms of sleep, you’ll accrue sleep debt, which can also exacerbate sleep inertia. The result can be feeling tired all day. 

Sleep debt can negatively influence how you feel for up to two weeks. So, that late-night movie marathon from a week ago could be still impacting how you feel now. Was it worth it?

Out of Sync Circadian Rhythm

Circadian rhythm is your body’s internal clock and it drives your sleep-wake cycle, heart rate, body temperature, hormone production, and many hundreds of other processes in your body. When it’s in sync, you’ll feel sleepy at bedtime and alert when it’s time to get up. If it’s out of sync, you’ll feel flat and tired during the day and most likely struggle to go to sleep and stay asleep at night. An out-of-sync circadian rhythm will also cause disordered cortisol (stress hormone) release, which has myriad implications from anxiety disorders to weight gain and Metabolic Syndrome.

You’re more likely to be out of sync if you work night shifts, travel across time zones, have irregular sleep/waking times, or need to function against your chronotype. Even sleeping in or going to bed too late can be a culprit. Furthermore, if you wake up at the “wrong” point in your sleep cycle (i.e. during REM or deep sleep) it can leave you feeling drowsy or even unwell.

Poor Sleep Environment

For good quality sleep, you need a supportive bedroom environment. Everything from using an old or inappropriate mattress to a snoring partner, allergies, being hot or too cold, too light, too noisy, or too stuffy can disrupt your sleep.

Exposure to Blue Light

Blue wavelength light, which is emitted from the sun, electronic device screens, and many light bulbs, very effectively boosts mood and alertness levels during the day. When we need to sleep, however, it suppresses the release of melatonin (the sleep hormone). 

Moreover, using dynamic screens (e.g., playing games on a mobile device) has an enormous impact on dopamine levels. Dopamine is a “reward” hormone and (as well as in other, healthier scenarios) it is released in response to hyperarousal. It is directly associated with gaming addiction and sleep disruption.

Caffeine/Alcohol Consumption

Caffeine is a stimulant that’s consumed in coffee, cola, black tea, other beverages, and chocolate, and it makes it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. (There’s a reason it’s our go-to when we need a boost!). It is also a diuretic – increasing the amount of urine produced and the frequency at which you need to urinate. 

Alcohol is a depressant, but despite common belief, it does not promote good sleep. Yes, you might fall asleep quickly after a few alcoholic drinks, but you won’t stay asleep or achieve quality REM and deep sleep. You’ll also not feel fantastic when you wake up.

Nighttime Urinary Frequency

Needing to urinate more than once throughout the night is not “normal” and it is also very disruptive to a good night’s sleep. Nighttime urinary frequency (nocturia) is present if you need to go two or more times per night. There are several causes of this, from drinking too much liquid too close to bedtime to male ageing and associated medical issues.

Disordered Sleep and Medical Issues

Sleep disorders include insomnia, sleep paralysis, sleepwalking, night terrors, sleep paralysis, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, and nightmares or extremely vivid dreaming. These can and should be addressed. Likewise, issues including sleep apnoea, snoring, bruxism, chronic pain, gastric reflux, and others can compromise your sleep – so see your doctor for advice.

Wake Up Refreshed: Do’s & Don’ts

  1. Get as much early morning light exposure as possible – this triggers the release of hormones that wake you up.

  2. On waking, take a quick cool-to-warm shower.

  3. Exercising first thing can also be great – even just a short walk or stretching will do the trick.

  4. Start the day with a large glass of water. Avoid sugary drinks, including large glasses of juice. If you need it, have a cup of coffee or tea.

  5. Eat a nutritious but not too heavy breakfast. Include a good protein source (egg, yoghurt).

  6. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time, all the time – even on weekends!

  7. Switch off your backlit devices 1-2 hours before bedtime – including your smartphone. (Reading in bed is great – but if you use an e-reader, choose one that is not backlit).

  8. Make your bedroom a comfortable, relaxing space that is cool, dark, and quiet. Use it only for sleep and intimacy with your partner. (Reading is OK too, but don’t work or watch TV in your bedroom).

  9. Replace your mattress at least every ten years – the investment is worth it.

  10. If you suffer from allergies, treat them appropriately and keep your bedroom clean and free of dust, clutter, and allergens (including pets).

  11. A sound machine can be helpful for some people, but it’s important to not get into the habit of “needing” background music to sleep. Some people will sleep better if they wear earplugs.

  12. Limit alcohol consumption and don’t drink close to bedtime. Likewise, avoid consuming caffeine within six hours of bedtime.

  13. Minimise liquid consumption within a couple of hours of bed if you find yourself getting up more than once at most through the night. Consider wearing compression socks during the day if you have issues with water retention.

  14. Quit smoking/vaping. As well as being dreadful health-wise, the habit is terrible for sleep quality.

  15. Address snoring and sleep apnea. An anti-snoring device like ApneaRx could be a game-changer.

  16. See your doctor for proper management of health issues that impact sleep, such as sleep apnoea, prostate issues, troublesome menopausal symptoms, arthritis, insomnia, gastroesophageal reflux, severe allergies or sinus issues, etc.


When To Get Help for Waking Up Tired

Experiencing chronic tiredness and feelings of fatigue, exhaustion, and grogginess is not normal. These symptoms can also indicate numerous medical conditions and they need to be assessed by your doctor to rule out any underlying issues as the cause of how you’re feeling and, if present, commence appropriate management. 

Your doctor can also advise you about how to effectively improve your sleep or refer you to an appropriate specialist to address your specific needs. 


Sleep Better, Wake Alert with ApneaRx

Is snoring or sleep apnea part of the cause of your poor-quality sleep?  It not only disrupts sleep many times a night, but it also has an array of health and wellbeing impacts. Minimising (or preventing) snoring is a big step towards more restful sleep and waking feeling more alert in the morning.

ApneaRx is the NZ brand of an affordable and easy-to-use anti-snoring device. It is worn in the mouth while you sleep and gently moves the lower jaw slightly forward. This effectively opens the airways of the mouth and upper throat to prevent the physical cause of most snoring whilst also treating the symptoms associated with mild to moderate sleep apnea. 

ApneaRx is suitable for use by adults of all ages and stages of life. 

See how ApneaRx works and shop online for yours now.