How to Wake Yourself Up: 11 Natural and Science-based Ways
Feeling tired? Not anymore. Here are 11 science-backed ways to beat fatigue naturally.
If you often feel tired and find it hard to make it through the day, you’re not alone. While it’s normal to feel fatigued at some points during the day, if you feel like your energy level is low all day long, you may want to consider these natural ways to boost your energy. If your sleep and rest are adequate, your lack of energy may be related to diet and other lifestyle habits.
In this article, we will discuss why you might be tired at different times during the day and give you 11 natural and science-based ways to wake yourself up when that afternoon slump sets in.
Why Being Tired Throughout The Day Is Normal
Although most of us expect to “feel on” all the time, it is perfectly normal to experience changes in energy levels throughout the day. Even if you’ve had enough sleep, you may feel grogginess first thing in the morning, a dip in energy around 3 pm when you have a couple of hours left at work, and increased sleepiness as it gets closer to bedtime. There are a few different physiological reasons that drops in energy could occur and often relate to hormone levels.
Sleep inertia (or morning fatigue)
You may find yourself wondering, Why am I so tired in the morning? If you ever feel groggy, disoriented, or drowsy in the morning immediately after waking, then you’ve experienced sleep inertia. This feeling of fatigue upon waking usually lasts about 15-60 minutes, but in some cases might persist for up to a few hours.1
Scientists are unsure of what causes sleep inertia, but they believe it may be a natural defense to prevent unwanted sleep disturbances.2
Sleep inertia may be caused by increased delta waves, brain waves that are present during non-rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Increased delta waves are often seen after long periods of sleep deprivation.3
Other possible causes may include high levels of adenosine (a chemical compound that makes you feel sleepy) and reduced blood flow. Adenosine plays an important role in the sleep-wake cycle. The longer you are awake, the more adenosine builds up in the body, resulting in sleepiness. When you way up, adenosine levels should be low. They are usually elevated after sleep deprivation.4, 5
If you can, keep your sleep schedule consistent with the sunrise and sunset. This may help reduce sleep inertia. Studies show that blue light (artificial light) can negatively impact the body’s natural circadian rhythm and disrupt sleep.6
Having a consistent morning routine can also give you an energy boost. Open the curtains, let some light in, take a cold shower, and have a balanced breakfast.
Difficulty getting through the latter part of the workday due to the afternoon slump is very common. Hormone levels, inadequate sleep, and post-lunch blood sugar spikes can be the culprit of this daily energy drop.
Cortisol levels fluctuate in a predictable pattern. They are usually highest shortly after waking (called cortisol awakening response) and gradually decline throughout the day. But, if cortisol drops too low during the afternoon, it can cause a serious energy crash.
Poor quality or not enough sleep can cause changes to cortisol patterns. Additionally, extended periods of high stress can lead to chronically high cortisol levels.
Eating a lunch high in refined carbohydrates and low in protein can cause blood sugar spikes along with releasing large amounts of insulin into your bloodstream. What follows is a nasty blood sugar nose-dive and you’re left feeling exhausted and hungry again soon after. Being sedentary (like working a desk job) can make these fluctuations worse.
Feeling tired as it gets closer to bedtime is normal. At dusk, the body starts to produce melatonin, a hormone that promotes healthy sleep and orients the body’s circadian rhythm.7
Winding down as part of your bedtime routine is actually a very good thing, as it prepares your body and mind for a good night's sleep. Then you’ll be more likely to spring out of bed when your alarm clock goes off instead of hitting the snooze button.
11 Natural and Science-based Ways to Wake Up
While it’s normal to experience some dips in energy a couple of times during the day, you shouldn’t feel tired all the time, nor should you have to. Here are 11 tips to naturally wake yourself up that are backed by science:
Keep sleep debt low
One trick to feeling more awake is to keep your sleep debt low. This is accomplished by getting more sleep than your body needs. The National Sleep Foundation recommends between 7 and 9 hours of sleep for adults.8
By getting more than 7 hours of sleep, you’ll be profiting with more energy and mental focus. Not only do you want to get enough sleep, but you also want quality sleep. Go to bed earlier, wake up early, and practice good sleep hygiene to increase the amount of time you spend actually sleeping while in bed.
Take a nap
Taking an afternoon power nap for about 10-20 minutes can help decrease your sleep debt and help you naturally recharge for the rest of your busy day. A study done by NASA and the FAA found that pilots who napped for roughly 26 minutes had better physiological alertness and performance than other pilots who didn't nap.9
Don’t nap too long or too late in the day as it can affect your nighttime sleep quality by altering the body’s adenosine levels.
Sitting at a desk all day under fluorescent lights can be physically and mentally draining. Natural light is the most powerful way to signal to your body that it’s time to wake up. Taking a walk outside in the morning sunlight can help decrease morning fatigue and increase wakefulness. If you’re not a morning person, an outdoor walk in the afternoon sunlight can make you feel recharged during the midday slump.
If you’re feeling drained, meditation can help increase energy and focus, making you feel more awake. Meditation increases the ability to focus intensely, all while being in a complete state of calm. Studies show that people who meditate regularly have more energy and better executive functioning. Meditation can also reduce stress and help you feel more ready to take on the day.10, 11
Drinking a glass of water is a simple yet effective way to wake yourself up naturally. Dehydration decreases energy and alertness. Studies show that drinking water is associated with increased wakefulness, even when you’re not thirsty.12
Avoid drinking water too close to bedtime, as this can cause you to wake in the middle of the night for trips to the bathroom.
Taking a cold shower has several science-backed health benefits, one of them being increased energy. Taking a cold shower can shock your system to increase alertness, clarity, and energy levels. Endorphins are also released, leading to feelings of well-being and optimism.13
If you’re at the office and a cold shower isn’t an option, you can splash your face with cold water for a similar but less significant effect.
Cold showers should be limited to mornings. Take warm or hot showers later in the day to mimic the body’s natural temperature drop that occurs when it’s almost time to sleep.
Aromatherapy can have uplifting and energizing effects. Particularly, eucalyptus, peppermint, and rosemary essential oils are all known for increasing alertness.14
When inhaled, these scents travel from the nose to the brain, and then straight to the limbic system. The limbic system affects emotions, motivation, and behavior. When these uplifting aromas meet the brain, it turns on neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine which makes you more alert.
Have a snack
Blood sugar and fatigue are closely related. Your midday meal can cause a spike in blood sugar, which is followed by a crash and a dip in energy. Having a high-protein snack can help increase your energy and stabilize your blood sugar.
Stay away from processed carbohydrates and foods that are high in sugar. They’ll only spike your blood sugar and cause another crash. Instead, opt for whole grains and high-fiber carbohydrates paired with protein (like whole-grain crackers and cheese).
Exercising regularly is an important move for good health and good sleep. Exercise releases feel-good hormones like endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine.15, 16
An intense workout can increase body temperature, increasing wakefulness. Moving your body doesn’t even have to be intense though. Doing some quiet and simple stretches at your desk can help you feel more awake.
If you enjoy high intensity exercise or heavy weight training, try to workout earlier in the day. Intense exercise can increase alertness and wake you up, making it harder to go to sleep if you exercise too close to bedtime.
Listen to music
Listening to upbeat music in the morning can boost your mood and get your body moving. Instead of waking up to a buzzing sound that you can’t wait to turn off, try setting your alarm to a song with an upbeat tempo and positive vibe.17
Although it may sound a little “woo woo,” earthing can be a good way to wake yourself up. Earthing, also known as grounding, is done by taking off your shoes and putting your bare feet on the earth. The belief is that by standing or walking on the earth barefoot, feeling the grass and dirt under your feet and against your skin, you open yourself to receiving the earth's healing energies and health benefits.18
In the process, you’ll be getting some fresh air and exercise, both of which improve mental health, reduce stress, and boost your energy.
How Controlling Glucose Levels Can Boost Your Energy
Low energy, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating are all associated with rapid fluctuations in blood sugar. Having high fasting glucose is also associated with feeling tired. Keeping blood sugar levels stable and within a healthy, normal range, will help increase energy and prevent excessive fatigue.
The human brain primarily uses glucose for energy under normal circumstances, so it makes sense that unstable glucose levels can negatively affect energy levels and cause decreased concentration and focus.
One study showed that participants had a significant decrease in energy, memory, and attention, plus a delay in information processing when glucose levels rapidly increased to around 300 mg/dL over 20 minutes. The rapid blood sugar spike appeared to directly lead to lower energy levels and poorer cognition.19
There is significant research suggesting a relationship between blood glucose variability, energy levels, and fatigue. Wearing a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) can help people understand how when and what they eat affects their glucose levels and their energy levels. This knowledge can empower them to make lifestyle changes to improve glucose control.
Learn more about how CGM can help you manage your blood sugar and keep your energy levels more stable.
- Burke TM, Scheer FAJL, Ronda JM, Czeisler CA, Wright KP Jr. Sleep inertia, sleep homeostatic and circadian influences on higher-order cognitive functions. J Sleep Res. 2015;24(4):364-371. doi:10.1111/jsr.12291
- Hilditch CJ, McHill AW. Sleep inertia: current insights. Nat Sci Sleep. 2019;11:155-165. Published 2019 Aug 22. doi:10.2147/NSS.S188911
- Marzano C, Ferrara M, Moroni F, De Gennaro L. Electroencephalographic sleep inertia of the awakening brain. Neuroscience. 2011;176:308-317. doi:10.1016/j.neuroscience.2010.12.014
- Van Dongen HP, Price NJ, Mullington JM, Szuba MP, Kapoor SC, Dinges DF. Caffeine eliminates psychomotor vigilance deficits from sleep inertia. Sleep. 2001;24(7):813-819. doi:10.1093/sleep/24.7.813
- Hajak G, Klingelhöfer J, Schulz-Varszegi M, et al. Relationship between cerebral blood flow velocities and cerebral electrical activity in sleep. Sleep. 1994;17(1):11-19. doi:10.1093/sleep/17.1.11
- Chang AM, Santhi N, St Hilaire M, et al. Human responses to bright light of different durations. J Physiol. 2012;590(13):3103-3112. doi:10.1113/jphysiol.2011.226555
- Grivas TB, Savvidou OD. Melatonin the "light of night" in human biology and adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. Scoliosis. 2007;2:6. Published 2007 Apr 4. doi:10.1186/1748-7161-2-6
- Suni E. How much sleep do we really need? Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need. Published August 29, 2022. Accessed December 5, 2022.
- Rosekind MR, Graeber CR, Dinges DF. Crew factors in flight operations 9: Effects of planned cockpit rest on crew performance and alertness in long-haul operations - NASA technical reports server (NTRS). NASA. https://ntrs.nasa.gov/citations/19950006379. Published September 6, 2013. Accessed December 5, 2022.
- Kimberley Luu and Peter A. Hall. Hatha Yoga and Executive Function: A Systematic Review. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.Feb 2016.125-133.
- Davidson, Richard J. PhD; Kabat-Zinn, Jon PhD; Schumacher, Jessica MS; Rosenkranz, Melissa BA; Muller, Daniel MD, PhD; Santorelli, Saki F. EdD; Urbanowski, Ferris MA; Harrington, Anne PhD; Bonus, Katherine MA; Sheridan, John F. PhD. Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine: July 2003 - Volume 65 - Issue 4 - p 564-570. doi:10.1097/01.PSY.0000077505.67574.E3
- Popkin BM, D'Anci KE, Rosenberg IH. Water, hydration, and health. Nutr Rev. 2010;68(8):439-458. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00304.x
- Shevchuk NA. Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression. Medical Hypotheses. 2008;70(5):995-1001. doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2007.04.052
- Li Z, Wu F, Shao H, Zhang Y, Fan A, Li F. Does the Fragrance of Essential Oils Alleviate the Fatigue Induced by Exercise? A Biochemical Indicator Test in Rats. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2017;2017:5027372. doi:10.1155/2017/5027372
- Larun L, Brurberg KG, Odgaard-Jensen J, Price JR. Exercise therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017;4(4):CD003200. Published 2017 Apr 25. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD003200.pub7
- de Vries JD, van Hooff MLM, Geurts SAE, Kompier MAJ. Exercise to reduce work-related fatigue among employees: a randomized controlled trial. Scand J Work Environ Health. 2017;43(4):337-349. doi:10.5271/sjweh.3634
- Jacob Jolij, Maaike Meurs. Music Alters Visual Perception. PLoS ONE, 2011; 6 (4): e18861 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0018861
- Menigoz W, Latz TT, Ely RA, Kamei C, Melvin G, Sinatra D. Integrative and lifestyle medicine strategies should include earthing (grounding): Review of Research Evidence and Clinical Observations. EXPLORE. 2020;16(3):152-160. doi:10.1016/j.explore.2019.10.005
- Sommerfield AJ, Deary IJ, Frier BM. Acute hyperglycemia alters mood state and impairs cognitive performance in people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2004;27(10):2335-2340. doi:10.2337/diacare.27.10.2335