The #1 Trick to Waking Up Easier on Dark Mornings

Becci Vallis

Getting up isn’t easy at the best of times, especially when it’s pitch-black outside and even that short walk from bed to shower feels like an icy endurance test. Add a restless night’s sleep in the mix and your day is likely to be a rollercoaster of cravings, irritable behaviour, headaches and exhaustion. No wonder you don’t feel like doing that spin class after eight hours at your desk when you’ve spent half the time looking at a screen and half the time putting your energy into simply keeping your eyes open.

Now, what if we told you that the secret to a perkier morning routine could be yours? It’s all a case of getting to know your natural sleep cycle. We all have one, and it tends to last around 90 minutes before it hits the repeat button and starts all over again. Time it right, and by waking up in stage one, you might find yourself springing out of bed and all of a sudden becoming a morning person.

A SLEEP CYCLE, YOU SAY?

Yes, we do say, and it happens in five stages. Stage one is a light sleep that we drift in and out of and can be woken from easily. In stage two, our eye movements stop and our brain waves become slow. In stages three and four, our brain waves hit the slow-mo, and stage five is when REM (rapid eye movement) sleep occurs. This is when your heart rate increases, your blood pressure rises and your muscles become temporarily paralysed.

According to Roger Henderson, MD, this is not a good time to wake someone up. “People who are woken up during deep sleep are likely to take longer to adjust and will often feel groggy for several minutes after they wake up, however, the drowsiness can last several hours,” he says. “It explains why sometimes even if we sleep for eight or nine hours we feel like we barely got any rest at all.”

CAN YOU CONTROL YOUR SLEEP CYCLE?

As with anything, it’s about getting into good habits. Sleep expert for Neom Organics Anandi suggests having a wind-down ritual that means you’re in bed by 11 p.m. but be realistic. “I go by the 85:15 rule, so 85% of the time you go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time, and then 15% is for occasions you don’t. If you do that you’ll get into a good sleep cycle.”

The 11 p.m. bedtime is something Sohère Roked, MD, author of The Tiredness Cure, flags up as well. “We make most of our melatonin (the sleep hormone) between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., so if you’re in bed or asleep by 11 p.m., you’ll get a good quota, a deeper sleep and the added effects of cellular regeneration.”

Consistency is key too as it will give your body the cue it needs to fall asleep. Henderson points out that it takes between 24 to 36 hours for your body to recover from a bad night’s sleep, so it’s why a couple of days later you still might feel drained. If that’s the case, the advice is to stay hydrated, eat well, cut back on caffeine and front-load your day so you get all of the important stuff you need to do first.

Finally, light and dark naturally have a part to play too. Light in the morning will help kick-start your body into waking up, which is why light’s like Lumie’s Bodyclock Starter 30 Wake Up to Daylight (£55) can come in handy as it mimics the natural sunrise over 30 minutes to lull you out of your sleep softly and smoothly. Just make sure you’re in the dark at bedtime as too much light will make your brain too alert to sleep. You don’t need us to tell you that means blue light from phones and screen time as well.

WHICH BIT OF THE SLEEP CYCLE IS BEST TO WAKE UP IN?

Ideally you need to wake up in the beginning stages before your body has completely shut down. The more in tune you are with your sleep cycle, the easier it will be for your body to fall into a natural rhythm, but both Anandi and Roked recommend wearing trackable sleep devices like Fitbit or Oura Ring or using an app like Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock to monitor your sleep patterns and help develop healthier snooze disciplines.

DOES LIFESTYLE MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

It absolutely does. Stress, caffeine, alcohol, eating late, hormone imbalances, late-night tech sessions—they all impact your quality of sleep. “We have less and less downtime now, so our brains aren’t given the chance to rest,” says Henderson. “ People rarely experience boredom as we have constant access stimuli, plus we’re becoming increasingly time-poor, which has negatively impacted our diet, and people are more inclined to eat on the hoof and make the wrong choices such as a quick breakfast and a big, heavy evening meal, which can make sleep uncomfortable.”

He suggests fresh air, screen breaks and phone bans in the bedroom as well as investing in a sleep aid like Benenox Overnight Recharge (£13) for when you don’t hit the peaceful night’s sleep benchmark. A blend of honey, vitamin B6 and Sustamine (a blend of amino acids that work like a reboot for your body), it will leave you feeling fired up even though you’re running on empty.

Up next: the natural sleep remedies worth knowing about.

Opening Image: Free People

Explore: Sleep

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