Ewelina Kotra

How to wake up not feeling tired

Art: Ewelina Kotra

Sleep less. It sounds counterintuitive but if you’re waking up feeling tired, you may in fact be sleeping too much.

The answer to how to wake up not feeling tired is to ensure you wake at the end of a ~90 minute sleep cycle.

As I wrote in How To Record Your Dreams, sleep is made of two main parts: quiet and active sleep (a.k.a REM – rapid eye movement). In a normal stretch of sleep, say eight hours, you go through five cycles of alternating quiet and active sleep.

Each cycle lasts about 90 minutes and it’s when you’re in deep sleep that your brain is most active and dreaming. This active sleep (REM) phase extends in length and frequency toward morning.

Immediately after a period of REM sleep you are most awake and it’s at this point you should try to set your alarm and get out of bed. If you wake up half-way through an REM sleep phase you’ll wake up feeling groggy and this can last the entire day.

Keep reading to see a graph and learn how to wake up not feeling tired.

REM sleep cycle

How to set your alarm and wake up not feeling tired

Thankfully there’s an easy rule to help you set your alarm and wake up at the best time. And that is, set your alarm for 8 hours and 10 minutes after the moment you turn off the lights and close your eyes.

I’ll say that again: the most simple rule is to set the alarm for 8 hours 10 minutes after you go to bed.

What to do if you can’t afford 8 hours in bed

8 hours and 10 minutes is a great rule to follow if you can get that long in bed. If you have kids, have breakfasts to prepare or need to wake up early for work, it’s not so easy. Here is a list of timings that should wake you up after a period of REM sleep.

Set your alarm for the following number of hours after going to bed to wake up not feeling tired:

  • 1 hour 40
  • 3 hours 20
  • 5 hours 15
  • 6 hours 45
  • (8 hours 10)

Do you see the counter-intuitive truth of how sleeping less may in fact help you feel more awake? Here’s an example, if you went to bed at midnight and needed to wake up at 7:30AM, you’d be at risk of waking up in the middle of the biggest REM / active sleep phase of the night. You’re better off waking up 45 minutes earlier, at 6:45AM when you’ll be naturally most awake.

Here’s a list of bed times and good times to wake up:

  • 21:00 – 05.10
  • 22:00 – 03.15, 04.45, 06.10
  • 23:00 – 04.15, 05.45, 07.10
  • 00:00 – 05.15, 06.45, 08.10

Other considerations (don’t drink coffee)

Try waking up early using the above timetable and you may be tempted to strengthen your morning resolve with a cup of coffee. Don’t. I write articles for this blog, Screams, usually between 05:00 and 09:00. I find that if I start with a coffee (read – the history of the Moka pot) I peak within 20 minutes and then feel the slump approximately three hours later.

Alternatively, eating a protein-rich breakfast (eggs or a nut-based cereal) and drinking a tea I find I peak more gradually but do not feel a slump until six hours later.

Finally, waking up earlier is psychologically challenging. If you don’t need to get up for another 30 minutes it seems pointless to wake up earlier for the sake of it. But this is exactly why you feel tired. Once you’re up, you have to get up. If you fall back asleep you’re likely to enter another REM phase and wake up groggy. Follow the advice of the last of the Five Good Roman emperors and Stoic Philosopher Marcus Aurelius and just get out of bed.

Bonus Reading

I leave you with a beautiful poem I like called The Rescue by Seamus Heaney:

In drifts of sleep I came upon you
Buried to your waist in snow.
You reached your arms out: I came to
Like water in a dream of thaw.

You’re reading Screams, the life project of Tom Church (@tomchurch). Usually Screams is about combining creative disciplines together to draw out new inspiration, but it’s also to learn something about ourselves along the way.

Screams is part of FullScream, a creative design studio in London and Milan. Specialising in motion design, fashion films, and TV branding, get in touch with Tom (@tomchurch).

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