How to wake up in the morning: 15 expert-approved tips to start the day

We've spoken to the experts to find out the best ways to wake up

A woman stretching in bed after waking up
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you struggle with how to wake up and want to feel better about mornings, you've come to the right place...

For some of us getting out of bed in the morning is a daily battle, as we try to shake out of our deep sleep, shrug off feeling tired or force ourselves to recover from a bad night's sleep. But did you know that it's important to take measures to make the most of these early hours and seize the day for the sake of the next 12 hours?

"What you do when you first get out of bed sets the tone of the day," explains Dr. Tiago Reis Marques, CEO of Pasithea Therapeutics. "For some, this may include a strict routine, while for others, it may vary from day to day. But whether you are already in a routine, or you are looking for a new approach to starting your day, there are a few common things to consider in the morning so that you are left feeling as you mean to go on: healthy and mentally strong."

How to wake up: 15 tips to make the morning better

1. Spend less time in bed

Easier said than done, we know, but apparently those who consistently wake up early feel more alert in the morning.

A 2016 Pen Medicine study showed that spending less time in bed can actually help you to sleep better, reducing overall tiredness. The research was conducted on a group of acute insomniacs, and concluded that between 70 and 80 per cent of people can cure their sleeping problems through spending less time in bed.

Dr Michael Perlis, director of the Penn Behavioural Sleep Medicine Programme, explains how to wake up by spending less time in bed: "Those with insomnia typically extend their sleep opportunity. They go to bed early, get out of bed late, and they nap.

"While this seems a reasonable thing to do, and may well be in the short term, the problem in the longer term is it creates a mismatch between the individual's current sleep ability [which is low] and their current sleep opportunity [which is vast, as it has been extended] - and this fuels insomnia."

2. Don't hit the snooze button

Yes, we're all guilty of it. But setting multiple alarms or pressing snooze for an extra few minutes of kip leaves us more tired and groggy when we do then wake up. 

As Dr Lindsay Browning, psychologist, neuroscientist and sleep expert at And So To Bed tells us: "When you press snooze, you are disrupting your sleep cycle and making that interrupted sleep in the morning less restorative."

This is supported by a 2018 study, which found that sleep fragmentation increased daytime sleepiness and decreased overall performance. 

In addition, when you press snooze your body releases hormones telling you to fall back into a deep sleep, so it's no wonder we feel out of sorts both mentally and physically when we then have to wake up 10 minutes later.

"It is a much better idea to set your alarm for the latest time you need to get up and actually get up at that time," adds Dr Lindsay. 

3. Let the light in

If you're looking for how to wake up, this is it. Getting some light is the best way to feel alert in the mornings, says Dr Jeff Foster

“Natural light stimulates the wakefulness centre in the brain which helps you get up naturally,” he tells us. One 2019 study finding that exposure to morning sunlight results in greater alertness.

The science behind this is that the light stops our body from producing melatonin (the sleep hormone) which in turn helps us to wake up. 

There’s further good news too with results of one 2017 study showing that those who got their rays in the morning sleep better at night and feel less stressed and depressed than people who didn’t. 

Dr Jeff recommends light alarms as one way to help you spring out of bed in the morning.

A good example is Lumie's Bodyclock, which emits a natural glow that gradually gets brighter throughout your last half an hour of sleep. This means that by the time your alarm time hits you've had the chance to wake up naturally without being suddenly snatched out of your REM cycle.

And if you need help falling asleep it's got a sleep setting too so you could pop that on too.

Lumie Bodyclock Spark 100 wake-up light alarm clock - £99 | Boots

Lumie Bodyclock Spark 100 wake-up light alarm clock - £99 | Boots

The brightening light of the Lumie Bodyclock naturally brings you round from sleep, prompting your body to reduce the production of sleep hormones such as melatonin, whilst increasing the levels of hormones like cortisol that help you get up and go.

4. Breathe out

“It may seem simple but taking a few minutes out of your morning to pause and breathe is certainly beneficial to your mental health,” says Dr. Tiago Reis Marques.

“Deep breathing is one of the most effective techniques to reduce stress in the body. This can slow the heartbeat and stabilise blood pressure.”

It also sends a message to both your brain and body to slow down, he adds, relieving any tension or stress felt in the morning.

When energy is low, take a deep breath in and then breathe out for longer than you normally would - it's a tried and tested simple fix to make you feel more alert.

5. Listen to music

What better way to start your day than a little jumping about in your pyjamas? 

“It can help you feel connected and positively impact your mood,” Dr Kat Lederle tells us, Head of Sleep Health at Somnia. 

Indeed one 2020 Australian study found that certain alarm noises can help reduce morning grogginess. 

Melodic tunes led to a surge in energy in participants trialled, leaving them more alert for the day ahead. And unsurprisingly this was favoured over the annoying beeping alarm sound which instead ‘confused brain activity’.

The best bit? Scientists of the study shared their top two songs that promised a feel-good morning:  'Good Vibrations' by The Beach Boys and 'Close to Me' by The Cure. But of course, any song that gets those hips shaking is sure to do the trick too.

6. Take a shower

A nice steamy shower in the morning is sure to flush away any signs of snooziness. And science seems to agree.

One German study found that a hot shower not only wakes you up, but it also gets your creative juices flowing too. In contrast (and if you can handle it) a cold shower forces you to take deeper breaths, decreasing your body’s CO2 levels, which in turn helps you to concentrate. 

A shower head with water coming out

(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you can handle a daring douche, we recommend the 90-second shower trick:

  1. Turn your shower temperature down as cold as you think you can bear for 30 seconds, showering as normal. Cold water (and the shock of it!) increases our body's oxygen intake.
  2. Turn your shower temperature up to as hot as you can handle, showering in this for another 30 seconds. Hot water dilates blood vessels and increases circulation.
  3. Lastly, turn the temperature down to cold once again, showering in it for the final 30 seconds.

7. Brush your teeth

Clean teeth = clean mind. Especially if you’re using a minty toothpaste.

Research has shown that peppermint is perfect for perking you up, with one University of Cincinnati study finding that peppermint oil given to students before a test led to increased focus - and better test results. 

Another experiment in 2006 also prescribed peppermint to lorry drivers - and the results speak for themselves - with drivers feeling less tired, frustrated and anxious afterwards.

Be it Colgate, Sensodyne or Aquafresh - just make sure it’s of the peppermint variety to ensure your early morning boost.

8. Drink water

Feeling tired is a classic symptom of dehydration. And not getting enough H2O can cause other problems as the day goes on. 

A 2012 study looked into mild dehydration and found that females suffered from low mood, headaches, poor concentration and difficulties performing tasks as a result. 

Ensuring you drink plenty of water in the morning will help combat this and set you up for the working day. The NHS EatWell Guide recommends 6 to 8 cups a day.

9. Cleanse, Tone and Moisturise

Taking the time to give some TLC to your skin will not only give you a healthy glow - it can wake you up for the day too.

Get the circulation going by really massaging the products in to stimulate blood flow and bring your face out of that groggy morning manner.

Keeping your moisturiser in the fridge so it'll be cool and refreshing to use in the morning will also aid alertness. Whilst investing in a good eye cream that'll perk up your peepers and help get rid of dark circles will help too. 

Cult beauty brand The Ordinary have a Caffeine eye serum that is highly rated by online reviewers. 

The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG 30ml - £6.40 | LOOKFANTASTIC

The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG 30ml - £6.40 | LOOKFANTASTIC

Counteract dark circles and puffiness with the 5% Caffeine Solution + EGCG from The Ordinary. Delivering a highly concentrated dosage of Caffeine and Epigallocatechin Gallatyl Glucoside (EGCG) derived from Green Tea Leaves, the lightweight serum rapidly absorbs into the delicate eye contour to help reduce the appearance of discolouration and alleviate symptoms of fatigue and stress.

10. Don't skip breakfast

We’ve all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And that certainly seems the case when wanting to successfully wake yourself up in the morning. 

“Make sure you don’t skip breakfast, even if it’s just half a banana first thing,” advises Dr Lindsay. “When you eat during the day helps to anchor your circadian rhythm. So if you skip breakfast, your body does not know that it’s actually morning and this can cause you to feel more sluggish at the start of the day.”

Indeed a group of teenagers in one 2008 Australian study reported improved mental health when they stopped skipping breakfast and enjoyed a bowl of cereal instead. 

Fruit is also great first thing - setting you up with important nutrients and vitamins for the day. And look for wholegrains if you're a toast lover. These high-fibre carbs will give you energy that lasts for hours.

11. Avoid sweet alternatives

A sugar hit can be tempting in the morning when you're feeling sluggish, we get it, but it's not the wisest choice. 

This is because sugar subdues the neurons in our brains that help control our wakefulness and how alert we feel.

Avoid ordering a morning coffee that’s high in sugar (goodbye Vanilla lattes), and ditch sweet pastries or less healthy cereals like Crunchy Nut Cornflakes or Rice Krispies.

A high protein breakfast is what the scientists suggest - with researchers of one University of Cambridge study finding that protein promotes wakefulness and helps to kickstart bodily activity. 

12. Stretch it out

Incorporating a morning stretch or two into your wake up routine will do wonders for both your body and brain.

As one University of Washington study explains, our muscles also go to sleep when we do, with our bodies quite literally becoming paralysed during the REM stage of sleep. Some gentles stretches in the am will therefore help you get moving again thanks to those trusty energy-releasing endorphins. 

“If you spend 10 minutes mobilising your body first thing you’ll reap the rewards throughout the day,” says Chatty Dobson, Yoga Teacher & Owner of FLEX Chelsea. "Not only will you feel less stiff, but you’ll also get your blood pumping through your brain, so mentally you’ll benefit too.”

Her go-to moves: cat cow, twists and “several rounds of sun salutations to work the whole body”.

Internet Yogi Adrienne also has a special 11 minute  ‘Wake Up Yoga’ video that also fits the bill.

13. Get out for a walk

Getting out the house for fresh air, exercise and a sunlight hit is a sure fire way to beat the morning blues. 

One study by the University of Rochester concluded that spending time in the great outdoors “makes people feel more alive”, with the same research finding that adults who walked outside for 20 minutes had more energy than those who walked the same indoors. 

The reason for this? Dopamine, endorphins and other chemicals in the brain kick into gear if you go for a stroll in the sun - signalling to the body that it's time to be up and about. And the effect can last up to five hours.

So consider getting up ten minutes earlier to fit in a slightly longer walk to the kids' school or the train station.

14. Prepare for the morning ahead the night before

Having everything organised and in place ahead of time will definitely lessen any anxiety and frantic running around in the morning.

“Before you go to bed at night, set out your clothes for the next day,” says sleep expert, Christine Lapp at Sleep Junkie. “Place your toothbrush, toothpaste, washcloth, and soap beside the sink. Place coffee grounds in your coffeemaker so you just have to push the on button in the morning.”

She also advises to decide your breakfast and place it in an easy-to-reach spot. 

“You can be awake, dressed and ready for your day by the time your grogginess wears off.”

15. Get a good night's sleep

Of course, one of the best ways to feel fresh in the morning is to get a good night's sleep - that way you'll never be wondering how to wake up again - so you'll want to look into ways to help you fall asleep and perhaps even what sleeping position is best.

Key things that will help include ditching your phone and sticking to a sleep schedule.

“To boost your chances of a restful night’s sleep, reduce screen time before bed,” says Niels Eék, psychologist at mental wellbeing app Remente. “Research has shown that increased levels of screen time can actually slow the release of melatonin - the hormone released by our bodies at night that controls the circadian sleep-wake cycle.” 

He suggests the classic advice of leaving your phone in another room, or switching your phone off completely to help your mind nod off.

Hitting the hay at the same time each night has also shown to improve your kip and mood as a result. 

A 2017 study in the Journal of Public Health found that when ‘sleep coaching’ is followed it leads to better well-being, self-care behaviour, and self-care awareness, with a significant decrease in irritability. 

Give yourself a regular wake-up time too, even on weekends. Your body prepares itself to wake up 1 hour before you actually do, so being regular helps set your body's natural alarm clock.

Why is waking up so hard?

It’s natural for everyone to experience some grogginess when they wake up - as our bodies adjust from a state of sleep to being awake and active. 

“For some people this can last a few minutes, for others it can be an hour or two,” says sleep expert Dr Kat. “But if you find it especially hard to wake up, that suggests that either the quality of your sleep is poor or you did not get enough sleep.”

She also explains that waking up in a dark room is a factor that can also make it harder to rouse from bed.

“Your body clock uses the sun rise - perceived via a special photoreceptor in your eyes even when you are asleep - to know day is about to start. If you are in a black environment, your body clock does not get the memo so to speak and can’t prepare the body for waking up,” she adds. “Waking up and opening your eyes is then more of a shock, a sudden switch from one state to another.”

What time is your brain fully awake?

As a general rule, research has shown that the brain is most effective at learning and taking in information between 10am and 2pm.

Yet whilst science may deem this case, our one of a kind nature as humans means some of us will feel more awake at certain times than others. 

“There is no one-time-fits-all to when the brain is awake” says Dr Kat. “It also depends whether you are a lark or an owl.”

The difference between being a morning person or a night person was observed by scientists in one 2019 study. They credited factors like our metabolism, biological clock and the genes that function in the retina (our eyes).

So if you’re more sprightly in the AM or find yourself coming alive during the darker hours - the key thing is to listen to your body and settle on a time that is productive to you.

Video of the Week

Headshot of Dr Tiago Reis Marques
Dr. Tiago Reis Marques

Dr. Tiago Reis Marques is a senior clinical fellow at Imperial College London and a lecturer at the IoPPN, King’s College London. His research focuses on topics including the mechanism of action of psychiatric medication and novel treatment targets. During his career, he has obtained multiple awards for his research. Dr. Marques is an author or co-author of more than 100 scientific publications in peer-reviewed journals in psychiatry and neuroscience, has co-authored international treatment guidelines and written book chapters, including in the leading book in the field, Neurobiology of Mental Illness.

A photo of Dr Lindsay Browning
Dr Lindsay Browning

Dr Lindsay has a doctorate from the University of Oxford, where she investigated the relationship between worry and insomnia, and is passionate about helping people of all ages to sleep well. A Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, Lindsay is also a member of the British Sleep Society, and has published several publications about sleep and game theory.

A headshot of Dr Kat Lederle
Dr Kat Lederle

Dr Kat Lederle has a PhD in Human Circadian Physiology & Behaviour, an MSc in Biosciences and is the author of Sleep Sense: Improve your sleep, improve your health. She believes in a mind-body (holistic), non-drug approach to insomnia and sleep problems, as well as science and evidence-based approaches. In her work, she combines proven sleep science with mindfulness and acceptance- and compassion-based therapies to improve the quality of sleep.   

Emily Stedman
Features Editor

Emily Stedman is the former Features Editor for GoodTo covering all things TV, entertainment, royal, lifestyle, health and wellbeing. Boasting an encyclopaedic knowledge on all things TV, celebrity and royals, career highlights include working at HELLO! Magazine and as a royal researcher to Diana biographer Andrew Morton on his book Meghan: A Hollywood Princess. In her spare time, Emily can be found eating her way around London, swimming at her local Lido or curled up on the sofa binging the next best Netflix show.