If you are waking up after a solid eight-hour sleep feeling groggy and tired, you're not alone. Firstly, what gives, body?! But secondly (and more importantly) there could be other things at play here that are making your mornings the worst. Master sleep coach Elina Winnel admits there are many different factors that contribute to poor sleep quality, and depending on the person the effects can be very different.
If you find yourself waking after eight hours and not feeling rested enough to carry on with your day like a normal, well-slept person, ask yourself these questions:
Did You Wake Up With an Alarm?
Chances are if it's a weekday you're relying on an alarm to make sure you're not five hours late to work. But Elina poses the thought that your alarm could be causing you to feel like you've been hit by a bus every morning. "If we wake up feeling groggy, it may be because we are waking up during the slow wave phase of our sleep cycle," says Elina. "If we wake up during this deep sleep phase, it can leave us feeling groggy for hours." But this is more likely to happen if we don't have a regular routine. Opting for a sleep app to wake you during your light phase of sleep is one way to combat being startled by your alarm while you're peacefully sleeping — instead of ditching your alarm and turning up to work at 3 p.m. every day because you slept in.
Are You Having Nightmares or Unpleasant Dreams?
It is believed that dreaming helps to process our emotions — how pleasant! So when we suppress emotions (including fear, anger and sadness) we are more likely to have nightmares — how unpleasant! "These unpleasant dreams can cause us to have restless sleep and produce stress hormones while we sleep," says Elina. "The result is waking up a lot less refreshed than we should have." But who remembers their dreams every single night? No us! So you're probably not aware this is even happening. If you have an app monitoring your sleep, check for restless periods of sleep or moments where you're breathing faster — it could be a sign that something is troubling you in your dreams.
"To reduce nightmares, we can work on releasing emotional issues from our bodies. We can also work on changing the habitual thought patterns that are likely to be creating the fear, sadness or anger," says Elina. "I have clients tell me all the time, that as they change the way they think, their unpleasant dreams go away. This is especially the case for people who have anxiety."
Do You Snore?
Snoring is one of those embarrassing things we don't really want to admit to. It's also one of those things we might not be aware of until someone tells you, or you wake yourself up with one almighty bear snore, but it can affect the quality of our sleep. "There are many apps out there that can measure if we snore, and how much we snore," says Elina. "This then helps us to determine if we need to work on reducing or eliminating our snoring."
Could You Have Sleep Apnea?
If you're concerned this might be the case — are you waking up in the middle of the night gasping for air? — it's time to see your doctor. Sleep apnea can severely impact your quality of sleep.
Find You're Going to the Bathroom During the Night?
Elina admits most people shouldn't need to go to the toilet during the night so long as they have stopped drinking fluids a couple of hours before bed. "However, if people are suffering from anxiety or are in fight or flight mode, it causes them to need to go to the bathroom more often," says Elina. "People often don't realise this is what is causing them to go to the bathroom so frequently. It can be very disruptive to quality sleep, but it can be changed." This is where you need to be treating your anxiety.
When Did You Last Eat Before Bed?
"When we sleep we activate our parasympathetic nervous system," says Elina. "It is responsible for the rest and digest functions, so if we eat close to bedtime, our parasympathetic nervous system focuses on digesting, rather than the healing element of sleep that allows us to feel good the next day by rejuvenating and regenerating our bodies and minds." This is exacerbated if we eat heavy foods that are difficult to digest, or foods high in sugar. That's why it's recommended not to eat within two hours before bed.
Did You Drink Yesterday?
Unfortunately alcohol changes our sleep architecture and can result in us not feeling great the next day. It also increases snoring, but we're pretty sure you knew that already (sorry for the reminder).
Would You Say You're a Light Sleeper?
These days, switching off is near impossible, making it very common for people to be light sleepers. But Elina admits that if we aren't getting enough deep sleep, we are not getting the healing that our body needs to feel good, so if you wake up many times during the night, you are probably one of these people. "I help to train people how to sleep deeply again because it is so important to our health, and to staying young," says Elina. "Deep sleep is the time we release human growth hormone, which keeps us looking and feeling young. It is better than any face cream you can buy!"
The good news is you can train yourself to sleep more deeply, by reducing your stress levels and learning how to deeply relax. Elina agrees that most of us are not good at it and many of us are living in a constant state of fight or flight and may not even recognise it. "Becoming aware is the first step. If you breathe fast, predominantly from the upper chest, then you probably fall into this category," says Elina.
Could Your Medication Be Having an Impact?
Various medications can play havoc with our sleep and its natural rhythms — sleeping tablets included! "Most sleeping tablets cause us to have an artificial sleep, and we don't get the deep restorative sleep that we need," says Elina. "It is worthwhile putting the time and effort in to retraining your mind and body to sleep well again." If you're concerned your regular medication could be causing you to sleep poorly, visit your prescribing doctor.