7 Reasons You Can’t Wake Up and How to Fix Them (2024)

Waking up with some degree of grogginess is normal. But if you struggle to wake up, or battle sleepiness all morning long, there could be a few culprits to blame.

And before you start spiraling, not all of them are medical conditions, and many of them can be fixed.

Below, we’ll dive into the reasons you can’t wake up and how to fix them. Plus, we’ll share how the RISE app can help you get enough sleep each night to make waking up easier to do.

Advice from a sleep doctor:

We asked our sleep advisor and medical reviewer, Dr. Chester Wu, who’s double board certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine, why people may find they can’t get up.

“You might feel like you can’t wake up because you're sleep deprived and need more sleep overall. Try heading to bed a little earlier and see if it improves your mornings.”

Why can’t I wake up in the morning?

How to wake up more easily?

Why Can’t I Wake Up in the Morning?

Struggling to leave your bed in the morning? Here’s what could be at play.

1. Sleep Inertia

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It’s natural to feel like you can’t wake up at first. This is due to sleep inertia.

Sleep inertia is the groggy feeling you get right after waking up. It happens even when you’ve had enough sleep, and it can last anywhere from 15 minutes to more than two hours.

Symptoms of sleep inertia include:

  • Sleepiness
  • Disorientation or brain fog
  • Lowered mental performance

Sleep inertia doesn’t just leave you feeling like you can’t wake up, your mental performance takes a hit, too. A 2019 paper said the performance impairment from sleep inertia is the same as or worse than 40 hours of sleep deprivation.

One of our sleep advisors is Dr. Jamie Zeitzer, the co-director of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Sciences at Stanford University. He completed real-world research into sleep inertia and found people’s cognitive performance (measured through the speed of keystrokes and click interactions on a search engine) was lower during the first two hours after waking.

Once sleep inertia faded, people’s performance was at its best and then slowly got worse until they’d been awake for about 16 hours — usually the time people head to bed.

Here’s Dr. Zeitzer’s best advice for overcoming sleep inertia:

Sleep inertia can make it feel like you can’t wake up, even when you’ve had enough sleep. Try getting out in sunlight, having a cup of coffee, and getting some exercise to shake off the grogginess faster.

You can’t escape sleep inertia altogether, but getting enough sleep overall will make it feel more manageable in the long run. Although, if you lost out on sleep recently and then slept for longer than usual — known as recovery sleep — you may feel more sleep inertia at first.

Want to beat sleep inertia at its own game? RISE can predict how long your sleep inertia is expected to last each morning. We call this your “grogginess zone.” With a rough idea of timings, you can schedule your day to match.

For example, try doing easy tasks during your grogginess zone — like a morning routine, household chores, or admin — and schedule hard tasks, like a work report, for when sleep inertia has passed. Try giving yourself about 90 minutes in the morning before you have to be “on.”

Expert tip: Sleep inertia may hit you harder if you’re a night owl. One study found it took early birds 10 to 20 minutes to get over sleep inertia, whereas it took about 30 minutes for night owls. If you’re a later riser, give yourself more time in the morning before you need to be “on.”

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to see their upcoming energy peaks and dips on the Energy screen.

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2. Sleep Debt

Sleep debt is the measure of how much sleep you owe your body. It’s compared against your sleep need, the genetically determined amount of sleep you need.

If you need eight hours of sleep each night, but you’ve only been getting six hours recently, you’ll have built up sleep debt.

Sleep debt can make sleep inertia feel worse and last longer. And it can lead to low energy all day long, not just when you first wake up.

What we know about sleep need: When we looked at the sleep needs of 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and up, we found they ranged from five hours to 11 hours 30 minutes. The median sleep need was eight hours, but a surprising 48% of users need eight hours or more sleep a night.

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See once and for all if you’re getting enough sleep each night. RISE can work out your unique sleep need and whether you’ve got any sleep debt.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep need and here to view their sleep debt.

3. Being Out of Sync With Your Circadian Rhythm

Your circadian rhythm is your body’s internal clock. It helps to control your sleep cycle and when you feel sleepy and alert over a roughly 24-hour cycle.

You can get out of sync with your circadian rhythm, and this can make it hard to wake up.

You might be out of sync with your circadian rhythm if:

  • You work night shifts or do rotating shift work
  • You’ve got social jet lag — or an irregular sleep schedule (which about 87% of adults do)
  • You’re at odds with your chronotype — like a night owl on an early schedule

Your energy levels naturally fluctuate as part of your circadian rhythm over about 24 hours. If you wake up during a low point, you’ll feel more tired than usual and may struggle to wake up. And if you wake up during deep sleep (which can happen if your sleep schedule is irregular), you may feel groggier, too.

As well as your energy levels, the stress hormone cortisol fluctuates as part of your circadian rhythm. When everything’s running smoothly, your body produces cortisol in the morning to give you an energizing boost and help wake you up.

But if you’re out of sync with your circadian rhythm, this can happen at the wrong time, meaning waking up will feel harder.

This may all sound like a lot, but RISE can predict your circadian rhythm each day and show you a simple visualization. The app will show you when your body naturally wants to wake up and go to sleep. You can then try to stay in sync with these times to make mornings easier.

Expert tip: If the times your body wants to sleep and wake up don’t match your lifestyle or work schedule, you can reset your circadian rhythm and shift the timings earlier or later. RISE’s smart schedule feature can suggest a daily bedtime that gently shifts to train your body to get enough sleep at the right times for you.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to see their circadian rhythm on the Energy screen.

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4. Stress and Anxiety

Too stressed and anxious to sleep? You’re not alone. Among RISE users, stress and anxiety are the most common barriers to a good night’s sleep. Users say they struggle to fall and stay asleep because of them.

And as we’ve covered, if you’re struggling to sleep at night, it’s going to be harder to get up the next day.

The link between anxiety and sleep goes the other way, too. Research shows if you don’t get enough sleep, your anxiety levels can go up. So you can find yourself in a vicious circle of more anxiety, more sleep loss, and more trouble waking up.

Want to break the cycle? We’ve covered tips on how to sleep with anxiety here.

Try this tonight: Psychological or cyclic sighing, which includes long exhales, can help to reduce anxiety and improve mood. A 2023 study co-authored by our advisor Dr. Jamie Zeitzer found five minutes of psychological sighing may be all it takes.

We’ve covered how to do this breathing exercise here.

5. Mental Health Conditions

Mental health conditions can make it hard to sleep. A 2020 study found those with anxiety disorders often have sleep problems like nighttime awakenings or shortened sleep, more light sleep, and less deep sleep.

To make matters worse, mental health conditions like depression can rob you of motivation, meaning you may struggle to get out of bed, even when you’ve had enough sleep. And mental health issues often come with daytime sleepiness as a symptom.

Mental health issues that can make it hard to wake up include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Seasonal affective disorder

6. Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders can make it hard to get enough sleep each night. With this lack of sleep, you can easily build up sleep debt, and this can make you feel like you can’t wake up in the morning.

These include:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Insomnia
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Periodic limb movements disorder
  • Narcolepsy
  • Hypersomnia (research shows those with hypersomnia feel a more severe form of sleep inertia known as sleep drunkenness)
  • Circadian rhythm sleep disorders like delayed sleep phase disorder

Heads-up: When you try to wake up but can't, you're likely experiencing sleep paralysis. This is when you're conscious but unable to move any part of your body as your muscles are temporarily paralyzed. While sleep paralysis isn't dangerous, it can create a lot of anxiety and distress that impact sleep, even after the episode. Keep your sleep debt and anxiety low, and stay in sync with your circadian rhythm, to reduce how often sleep paralysis happens.

7. Medical Conditions

Medical conditions can either make it hard to get the sleep you need or cause morning fatigue as a symptom.

These include:

  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Heart disease
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • High blood pressure

While not medical conditions, pregnancy, menopause, and your period could be a female-specific reason you can’t wake up. Fluctuating hormones, mood changes, and pain can cause you to build up sleep debt and get out of sync with your circadian rhythm. We’ve covered more reasons for female fatigue here.

How to Wake Up More Easily?

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Here’s how you can have more energy in the morning to make waking up easier:

  • Keep a regular sleep schedule: This will keep your circadian rhythm in check. And research shows those with a regular sleep routine feel more alert than those who don’t, even if they get the same amount of sleep.
  • Resist the snooze button: While keeping your regular sleep pattern, don’t hit the snooze button. A 2022 sleep study found hitting snooze on your alarm clock prolongs sleep inertia compared to using a single alarm. RISE’s alarm feature can help if you’re a serial snoozer. When you turn the alarm off, RISE will send you straight to your favorite app for 15 minutes of guilt-free phone time. This will help you wake up slowly and get you through your initial sleep inertia without hitting snooze.
  • Use the right alarm sounds: Research from 2020 shows melodic sounds as an alarm can help to reduce sleep inertia. You can choose from melodic sounds, your choice of music, and watch and phone vibrations with RISE’s alarm.
  • Lower your sleep debt: Check RISE to see how much sleep debt you have and try lowering it to make waking up easier. You can lower your sleep debt by going to bed a little earlier, sleeping in a little later, and taking afternoon naps.
  • Do some morning exercise: As hard as it can be to exercise when you feel like you can’t wake up, physical activity can help to shake off sleep inertia faster. One study found even 30 seconds of exercise can help. Exercise throughout the day can also help you wake up the next morning. A 2022 study found the more daytime physical activity people did, the more alert they felt the next morning.
  • Get out in sunlight: Bright light exposure in the morning resets your circadian rhythm for the day and suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin. This will help wake you up in the morning and make it easier to fall asleep that night, making the next morning even easier. Aim to get 10 minutes of natural light as soon as possible after waking up. Make this 15 to 20 minutes if it’s overcast or you’re getting light through a window.
  • Enjoy a cup of coffee: Caffeine can temporarily block the sleepiness chemical adenosine from working in your brain. It can also boost serotonin, improving your mood. Enjoy coffee in the morning, and then cut yourself off in the afternoon to make sure it doesn’t keep you up. RISE can tell you exactly when to stop drinking coffee.
  • Eat a complex carb-rich breakfast: A 2022 study found a breakfast rich in carbohydrates that are slowly digested and absorbed was linked to higher morning alertness, whereas a high-protein breakfast was linked to lower alertness. Opt for whole grains and fruits as part of your breakfast.
  • Have a morning routine you look forward to: This could include having a cup of coffee, going for a walk with a podcast, or meditating in the garden. Try to include sleep-boosting behaviors like getting out in sunlight and exercising. Having a morning routine you enjoy can help when mental health issues make it hard to leave your bed. Remember to do easy tasks while sleep inertia is causing early morning drowsiness, and save hard tasks for when sleep inertia passes.
  • Having a relaxing bedtime routine: This will help you slow down for sleep and drift off more easily. Try reading, doing yoga, or journaling before bed.
  • Speak to a healthcare professional: Get medical advice if you think a health problem, sleep disorder, or mental health issue could be the reason you can’t wake up. A doctor or sleep specialist can recommend the best treatment options to help, such as medication, lifestyle changes, or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

We’ve covered more tips to make getting out of bed easier here.

RISE can tell you when to do many of these sleep habits each day as part of something known as sleep hygiene, so you don’t need to keep track of them all.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications.

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Make Waking Up Easier Each Day

If you can’t wake up, you might be battling sleep inertia. Sleep debt and being out of sync with your circadian rhythm can also contribute to low energy in the morning — and all day long. And anxiety, mental health issues, sleep disorders, and medical conditions could also be behind your low energy.

To make waking up easier, turn to the RISE app. RISE can tell you how much sleep debt you have, so you can see if you need to lower it, and it can predict your circadian rhythm each day, so you can work to stay in sync.

The good news? Lowering your sleep debt and getting in sync with your body clock will boost everything from your morning energy to your productivity and overall health and wellness.

And as 80% of RISE users get better sleep and more energy within five days, you could be waking up easier within the week.

7 Reasons You Can’t Wake Up and How to Fix Them (2024)
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