Winter has begun, which means the nights are getting closer and the mornings are depressingly dark, too. There are few things harder than dragging yourself out of the comfort of bed when it’s pitch dark outside, but unless you’re in a position to pivot to your 10am start time during the winter months, it’s something most of us just have to deal with.
but why he It’s so hard to get up when it’s dark outside? Is it just laziness or is there a biological reason? We spoke to a sleep expert to find out what happens if we try to wake up when it still feels like the night outside, and what we can do to make it easier.
Before we get into it right – if you don’t sleep well and think your sleep setting is to blame, check out our best mattress guide and our roundup of mattress sales and deals to ensure you’re getting the lowest price.
Why is waking up in the dark so hard?
“Getting yourself out of bed when the sun has not yet risen can be a very difficult task. One of the reasons this is so difficult is because of our circadian rhythms. This refers to physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle – processes that respond primarily to light and dark,” she says. Teresa says.
It’s all about our production of melatonin – a hormone that makes you sleepy. Sunlight inhibits melatonin production, and darkness has the opposite effect. She continues, “When it gets completely dark, we lose the powerful wake-up signal that sunlight gives us, which leads us to fight biology in order to shift to mindfulness.”
A deficiency in vitamin D — the vitamin we get from sunlight — may also have an effect. “Vitamin D intake usually decreases significantly in the winter due to fewer hours of sunlight, and this is what is being studied (Opens in a new tab) They have suggested that this leads to insufficient sleep,” says Teresa.
Is there a way to trick your body out of this response?
One thing that would help is to invest in a sunrise alarm (aka wake up light). It gradually increases in brightness over a set period of time, simulating a sunrise, so when you wake up, it transforms into a softly lit room a bit like sunlight.
“These lights can positively influence your circadian rhythm, prompting your body to slow down melatonin production, allowing your alertness to increase in the morning,” Teresa explains. A previous study (Opens in a new tab) She explains that using sunrise alarms to brighten your room 30 minutes before your wake-up time may reduce waking grogginess.”
To counteract a vitamin D deficiency, it may also be beneficial to take a vitamin D supplement, or to eat foods rich in vitamin D – for example, enriched salmon, eggs or mushrooms.
Is it better to set the wake-up time?
No. While it may be tempting to spend an extra 30 minutes in bed on a particularly cold and dark morning, messing with your sleep schedule is the worst thing you can do.
“Being able to maintain consistent sleep and wake times enables your body to ‘learn’ this pattern, which helps it produce the appropriate hormones to encourage sleep and wake,” Teresa says. “No matter how dark it may be outside, a regular sleep schedule will always make waking up easier.” There’s more bad news, too: Ideally, you’ll maintain the same waking and sleeping hours over the weekend, to avoid any pattern disruption.
What should I do first thing?
Teresa suggests starting your day with a glass of water. “Drinking a glass of cold water as soon as you wake up refreshes and rehydrates your body, speeds up your metabolism and increases alertness,” she says. “Drinking more water can be a very helpful technique for waking up in the morning, especially in the dark.”
Also, resist the urge to lie in bed for a bit. “This may sound simple, but the more time you spend in bed after waking up, the longer you will feel awake,” Teresa explains. “It is very important to get moving by getting out of bed promptly and doing activities to increase your alertness. Physical activity has the ability to regulate hormones related to your circadian rhythm and ignite feel-good endorphins that help with your outlook on the day ahead.”
Will coffee help?
yes. In addition to providing a dose of caffeine, coffee also increases cortisol levels, which makes you feel more alert and awake. If you’re not a fan of coffee, there’s an alternative: “Green tea works in a similar way because it contains caffeine and theanine,” says Teresa. “Theanine is an amino acid that helps reduce stress and improve mood. It also increases dopamine levels in your brain, a chemical that makes you feel happy and energized.”
For more information and tips on how to improve your sleep, take a look at the free site Emma App (Opens in a new tab).
Teresa Schnorbach is a psychologist and sleep scientist specializing in clinical psychology and cognitive neuropsychology. She completed her postgraduate training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) with the German Sleep Society (DGSM), endorsed by the European Research Association. She works as a sleep specialist for the family brand Emma (Opens in a new tab).