Morning Mood: Why Some People Wake Up Grumpy

Ask Healthy Living: Why Am I So Grumpy In The Morning?
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Why am I always so grouchy in the morning when other people (like my boyfriend!) are not?

-- Laura

Some people are deeply, terminally grouchy in the morning -- no one disputes this fact. But if you're "not a morning person," as such moodiness is often more delicately referred to, is this actually meaningful in some way? Does it say anything about the quality of your sleep? Or your life?

Grouchiness, however long it lasts, is associated with the "sleep inertia" phase -- a transitional period of grogginess that typically lasts between five and 20 minutes after a person first wakes, though it can go on for some time longer, according to Allison G. Harvey, Ph.D, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley and director of the Golden Bear Sleep and Mood Research Clinic.

"The process of waking up is slow -- not like a light switch, much slower," Harvey says. "These feelings are not pleasant, but do not necessarily indicate having had a poor night of sleep."

Why some people are able to cheerfully adjoin their sleep inertia phase with the rest of their day is much more individualized and specific. Grouchiness could be associated with not getting enough rest and being tired, but it could also be be symptomatic of having a bad attitude about the day.

"I would be curious if it happens every morning, or only Monday through Friday. If it is only [those days], I would guess that it is either because you aren't getting enough sleep, and being woken up by your alarm clock when you are still really tired can make your grumpy, or if it is because you aren't looking forward to going to work," says Alice D. Domar, Ph.D., executive director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health.

While not having much to look forward to could be a sign of depression -- a chemical inability to see what's beautiful about the day ahead -- that's not usually the issue, Domar explains. "For most people though, morning grumpiness is simply a symptom of our over-scheduled life, with too little sleep and not enough things that bring us joy on a day to day basis," she says.

Indeed, happiness expert Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and a HuffPost blogger, writing in Psychology Today, describes the difficulty that mornings, especially Monday mornings, pose in particular:

Monday morning -- or rather, the Monday-morning mood, which can strike at any time of the week. Even when you love your job, and especially if you don’t love your job, it can be hard to go back to work on Monday morning. After a few days out of the routine, it can feel jarring and overwhelming to jump back into the workday world. If you take care of kids full time, Mondays can feel easier -- or not, depending on what your days are like.

Rubin recommends adding a little something extra to your routine to ensure that some aspect of your day is filled with an activity you like. One example she gives: take a couple of hours in the office in the morning to catch up on emails, read relevant news sources and talk to coworkers. Don't start working at full speed until you've given yourself enough time and space to reenter the workplace, which can be a stressful environment. If it means getting to the office a bit earlier, make that a priority.

As for that sleep inertia phase, shortening it could help. Once you're fully awake, it's easier to be practical and active about making each day count. So what can you do? In an email to HuffPost Healthy Living, Harvey recommended the following techniques for speeding up wakefulness:

  • Open the curtains to let sunlight in
  • Spend the first 30-60 minutes after waking outside or in a room with bright lights
  • Encourage morning activity and social contact
  • Make the bed so the incentive to get back in is reduced

And your morning drink can help, too. "Coffee is a very effective way to counteract sleep inertia," Harvey adds.

Overall, having a happy life could help improve the happiness of your morning -- that means getting enough rest and having a good reason to get out of bed. If you're feeling sleepy, do your best to get moving and snap out of it. Not exactly what a morning grouch wants to hear, so perhaps best to make this gentle suggestion in the evening hours.

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