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How to wake up early when it’s dark outside

When your alarm goes off at 6 a.m. and it’s dark and cold outside, it can be tough to get out of bed. So, what can you do to make waking up when it’s dark more enjoyable? Paul Zolty, M.D., a Piedmont sleep medicine physician, explains.

Why is it hard to wake up early when it’s dark outside?

Dr. Zolty says daylight saving time can interfere with your internal circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle), making it harder to wake up around the same time all year. Your circadian rhythm is greatly influenced by light, which signals to the body that it’s time to wake up.

“We associate darkness with sleep, so we may feel the incongruity of being awake when it’s dark out,” he says. Darkness signals to the body that it’s nighttime, and so we feel it’s still bedtime.”

How to wake up more easily on dark mornings

Dr. Zolty recommends the following to help make dark winter mornings more manageable:

  • Wake up around the same time each day, even on the weekend.

  • Reset your heat or furnace, so your house is warmer when you wake up. (Don’t forget to change the clock on your thermostat too!)

  • Avoid exposure to bright light in the evening. Excess light from tech devices like your phone, computer or TV can make it harder to sleep well, leaving you tired in the morning.

  • Avoid alcohol before bed, since it can also disrupt your sleep.

  • Review your medications with your primary care provider, as some medicines can affect your sleep. This also applies to supplements like melatonin, Dr. Zolty says. The FDA doesn’t regulate many over-the-counter supplements and may increase morning sleepiness if they’re the wrong formulation or dosage.

  • Try a sunrise alarm clock. These clocks mimic a sunrise, which can signal to your brain that it’s time to wake up. They also slowly infiltrate your sleep and wake you up more gently, he says.

  • Exercise in the morning. Dr. Zolty says a morning workout can help reset your circadian rhythm, so you wake up more easily each day.

When to see your healthcare provider

If you consistently have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, there may be an underlying cause affecting your sleep.

“If waking up is a persistent problem, perhaps the sleepiness isn’t weather- or light-related,” Dr. Zolty says. “It could be a sign of an underlying health issue, such as sleep apnea, seasonal affective disorder or depression.”

If sleepiness affects your daily function, social life, or work, it’s a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider.

“They are there to help, and no problem is too small if you’re worried about it,” he says.

We make getting great health care simple and convenient. Schedule an appointment today through your Piedmont MyChart account or our website.


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