For many of us, getting up before we naturally would can be painful — because it’s too early, too sudden, or too dark. Is there a path to kinder, gentler awakenings? Yes, say sleep experts, but making it happen is equal parts art and science.
What are sleep cycles?
Humans have anywhere from four to six “sleep cycles” each night. Every cycle is composed of five stages, from very light sleep (stage 1) to very deep sleep (stage 4) and then the rapid eye movement stage, during which you are more likely to dream.
Waking up from a deep stage 3 or stage 4 sleep can be quite difficult. This is why being awakened from a nap can be so disorienting. It is also why waking up too early in the morning can mean a dreadful start to your day. “Most people hit their deepest sleep between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m.,” says sleep expert Michael Breus, PhD, D, ABSM, “so it’s very hard to wake up during that time.”
So How Much Sleep Do I Need?
If you can avoid waking that early, the next step is to determine at what time you should go to sleep in order to get a good night’s rest. Sleep cycles last, on average, about 90 minutes. “That means you need about 7.5 hours of sleep each night,” Breus says, “and if you count backwards from when you have to wake up, you can figure out what time you need to go to sleep in order to wake more easily.”
Of course, there are some people who require six hours of sleep a night, while others need nine. To complicate matters further, sleep cycles range from 90 minutes to two hours. That’s where the “art” part of easy awakenings comes in. “Most people haven’t been told what time to go to bed since they were children,” Breus says. “So they have to listen to their body’s own rhythms to figure it out.”
Tips for Waking Up
- Set your alarm for the latest possible moment. This way you are not tempted to go back to sleep.
- Lose the snooze button. Hitting snooze may let you get a few minutes of extra sleep each time, “but you’re getting crappy sleep,” Breus says. “You just feel worse.”
- Sit up and swing your legs over the side of the bed.
- Breathe deeply three or four times to orient yourself to the real world.
- Exercise first thing in the morning to energize your mind and body and boost your fitness. But don’t choose exercise over getting the sleep you need.
REFERENCE: Susan Davis (2010) How to Wake Up More Easily Retrieved from: http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/trouble-waking-up?ecd=wnl_slw_081210