Jonathan Crocker

Editorial Director | Journalist

What Happens When… I Wake Up?

Posted by Jonathan On February - 2 - 2010

wake_upWake up fighting fit instead of punch drunk…

1. Stress the point

As you lie fast asleep in the land of bed-fordshire, your stress-hormone cortisol – which, like adrenaline, gives you short blasts of energy, boosts mental awareness and numbs pain – has been tumbling during the night until it bottoms-out around 4am, assuming you hit the hay at 11pm. “At this point, it starts to rise, beginning the waking up process that should cause you to be fully awake by 8am,” says Dr Chris Idzikowski, director of the Edinburgh Sleep Centre. “This rise in cortisol is a major trigger for waking up,” says Sammy Margo, author of The Good Sleep Guide. “You can keep your cortisol lower for longer by ensuring your stress levels are small before bed.” So no arguing with your bedmate – or watching Paranormal Activity – immediately before dropping off.

2. Getting warmer

“As your cortisol levels start to rise, your body temperature (which also hits rock-bottom at 4am) begins to rise again too,” says Idzikowski. Partly because your body is regulating its own heat and partly because as morning approaches, your room is getting warmer – which makes your breathing and heart rate speed up, pumping blood and oxygen into your muscles and brain to beckon full consciousness. “Alternative brain activities like dreams need lower temperatures,” says Margo. “As you wake, your body needs to increase this a few degrees so normal psychological processes can operate effectively. So set your central heating to kick in an hour before you want to get up. A comfortable setting, mind, or you’ll wake up sweating like Vanessa Feltz in Burger King.

3. Shine a light

The morning light creeping through your curtains isn’t just helping your body temperature rise – it’s nature’s alarm clock, signalling your body to stop pumping out sleep-hormone melatonin. “The darker the room, the more melatonin you produce and so the longer you sleep,” says sleep and energy physiologist Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, from the Capio Nightingale hospital in London. “It stops when you’re exposed to light and its absence pushes your body out of sleep,” adds Margo. Buy yourself some dark, heavy curtains and try a Lumie Bodyclock dawn-simulator, which wakes you with gentle light instead of brain-pummelling digital squawks.

4. Cycle track

With cortisol replacing the melatonin sleepy-juice in your ever-warming body, you’re about to emerge from the final cycle of sleep. See, being asleep isn’t like playing in defence for Portsmouth – your brain never completely switches off. It’s actually processing thoughts and information in 90- to 110-minute cycles of light, medium and deep sleep. Seven and a half hours – roughly five full cycles – is the ideal amount, according to a recent study by the American Cancer Society. “You’re likely to start waking naturally during light sleep, as you come to the end of a cycle,” says Margo. “If you’ve eaten foods containing monosodium glutamate or e-numbers – such as delicious Chinese takeaway or pizza – your sleep quality will be reduced, making it more likely you’ll wake up mid-cycle.” A ‘snooze food’ meal of lettuce (calms your nervous system) and turkey (full of sleep-inducing tryptophan) before 9pm will help you complete the right number of laps of the cycle track.

5. Move it!

Now you’re in the final sleep-cycle, it’s time to get up. Only you can’t yet… “When we sleep, our muscles – except for the ones used for breathing – are largely paralysed, possibly to stop us acting out our dreams,” says Dr Idzikowski. Sleepwalking doesn’t occur while you dream – it’s actually an unusual disorder which occurs when you’re partially awoken and then return to light sleep – minus the muscle paralysis.  With more blood and oxygen throbbing into your brain, organs and muscles, this paralysis gradually ceases. You start to stir and your eyes open. Hang on, are you still drunk? No, your vision is blurry because your eyes are scrambling to adjust. “Because of the light exposure, your pupils constrict and expand, before finding the right setting,” says Margo.  “If you’re awoken in the middle of a cycle it’s much more likely you’ll suffer from sleep inertia,” says Itzikowski. “Your muscles remain partially paralysed, giving you a problem performing properly in the first 15 minutes after awakening.” He means moving around. Not what you’re thinking.

6. Dawn delicacies

As you stumble out of the sack and stretch your creaky limbs, your priority is food. “Eat breakfast within an hour of rising and you’ll have higher energy levels all morning,” says Dr Ramlakhan. “Over time, this starts to ‘train’ your metabolism so your energy levels rise as soon as you wake up in anticipation of receiving food.” Kickstart the day with a glass of warm water and a slice of lemon: “This rehydrates you gently by matching your body temperature, instead of shocking your body with heat or cold,” says Margo. If you’re tempted by a lie-in, think again: you could wake up groggier than Ricky Hatton. ”Sleep inertia is far worse after a lie-in,” says Dr Ramlakhan. “Extra cycles of morning sleep are more shallow – meaning the waking-up processes have subsided and your body has re-entered the rest stage when you do decide to get up.” You heard the lady: wakey, wakey!

Publication: Men’s Health

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About Me

Jonathan is a London-based journalist, critic and editor. He currently works for data visualisation agency Beyond Words.



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