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The Secrets of Waking Up Happy

Stop hitting the snooze button -- it’s time to refresh your morning routine. Understanding your sleep cycle and using some simple strategies can help you get up feeling well rested and make your whole day better.

Photography by: Bryan Gardner

If you start the day groggy, you’re not alone. Nearly 60 percent of Americans say they feel tired after a full night’s sleep, according to a 2014 study by health-tech and design company Withings, which makes products that track sleep activity. Only a third of those surveyed say their waking experience is a good one.


If you want to get up on the right side of the bed, it’s important to work with your circadian rhythm, or biological clock, one of the ways our bodies regulate sleep/wake cycles. In a 24-hour period, we experience physiological changes -- such as rises and falls in body temperature, and in hormones like cortisol and melatonin -- that tell us when to sleep and when to wake.

Set the mood.

Your circadian rhythm responds to light. “Light stimulates the retina, which suppresses the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone,” says Miroslaw Brys, M.D., an assistant professor of neurology at NYU Langone Medical Center, in New York City. The blue light (short-wavelength, enriched light) emitted by electronic screens is particularly disruptive, according to a study published by Harvard Medical School researchers. So keep the bedroom dark at night, and stop using smartphones, tablets, and laptops about 90 minutes before you get into bed.


In the morning, let sunlight stream in. If sunrise doesn’t coincide with your wake-up time, try an alarm that mimics the effect of nature, gradually lightening the room. Research published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology in 2014 found that simulating dawn during the last 30 minutes of sleep improves alertness as well as cognitive and physical performance after waking.


Temperature changes also cue our bodies to sleep or wake. About 65 degrees is optimal for falling asleep; use a smart thermostat to gradually raise the room temperature right before you want to wake up.

Get into a routine.

It’s best to wake at about the same time each day (even on weekends!). This way, your body will adapt to getting up naturally -- and easily -- at that time. It’s also better for your health: Research has shown that changing your schedule (for example, sleeping in on the weekends) is associated with an increase in diabetes and cardiovascular disease.


Establishing morning rituals can ease you into the day as well. Stretch in bed for a few minutes before getting up to stimulate blood flow. Consider meditating soon after waking—as little as 5 to 10 minutes can help ground you. And if you’re caffeine-motivated, set an automated coffeemaker to start brewing in the morning. The aroma should help energize you, because your brain associates it with starting the day.