Expert Tips for Stopping Yourself From Waking Up on the Wrong Side of the Bed

Waking up in a bad mood can take a toll on your mental health. Here are some ways to make sure you wake up refreshed, according to an expert.

Luke Daugherty Contributor
Luke Daugherty is a freelance writer, editor and former operations manager. His work covers operations, marketing, sustainable business and personal finance, as well as many of his personal passions, including coffee, music and social issues.
Luke Daugherty
5 min read
Man in bed with a bad mood.
Ekaterina Vasileva-Bagler/Getty Images

Unless you're an extreme morning person, you've probably been there: The alarm goes off, and the only response that seems right is to hit snooze and roll over.  When you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, it may feel impossible to reset. Your mood is off from the moment your feet hit the floor, stress takes over and you feel mentally foggy the rest of the day. 

Well, research confirms that mental fog is more than a feeling -- it's directly tied to your stress. According to a new study published in JAMA Network Open, those with elevated stress levels are 37% more likely to experience problems with cognition. 

Read more: Best Meditation Apps to Reduce Stress

CNET Health Tips logo

Poor sleep may not be the only cause of your stress and brain fog, but it certainly doesn't help. To understand why, let's delve into some of the science of stress and sleep. We'll look at a few ways you can increase your chances of waking up on the right side of the bed.

When stress goes haywire

The first thing to grasp about the relationship between stress and cognition is this: When stress crowds out your thoughts, it's actually doing its job. 

That's because stress, or at least acute stress, is designed to trigger your sympathetic nervous system and focus your attention on dealing with an immediate threat. This type of stress is deeply rooted in evolutionary biology, at one time helping us escape predators or deal with frequent environmental threats.

As these threats have receded in modern life, they've been replaced instead by a steady onslaught of overstimulation, leading to more pernicious, chronic stress. This type of stress isn't necessarily focused on an immediate danger, but leaves you in a constant state of arousal, worrying about possible or perceived threats. 

It's this kind of stress that persistently clouds your cognitive function, according to Frederic Bertley, a Harvard Ph.D., immunology and physiology expert. Bertley is the president and CEO of the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio.

"Stress, especially chronic stress, constantly producing and over-producing certain hormones and not producing others actually is leading to a cognitive fog during much of the workday," he said.

Stressed man in front of a computer.
Yasser Chalid/Getty Images

The link between sleep, stress and cognitive function

As Bertley notes, there are many reasons for this chronic stress in modern life, most notably our relationship with technology and information overload. But these are connected to another frequent problem: poor sleep.

Recent data show that over 30% of American adults report symptoms of insomnia, and more than a third get less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep per night. Moreover, impaired or insufficient sleep has been associated with mood disorders, memory problems and mental fatigue.

According to Bertley, the reason is simple. 

"Your brain needs time to process its daily inputs and outputs and all the reactions," he said. "It's absolutely critical for proper functioning, the top of which is your brain health and how you feel the next day."

In other words, there's often a reason you wake up on the wrong side of the bed. And when you do, it's not surprising that it affects how you think.

Four ways to improve sleep and start your day with a clear head

The good news is that realizing these connections may help you wake up in a better mental state, setting you up for a more successful day. But how do you do that?

Bertley suggests four sleep habits that will help you wake up on the right side of the bed.

Be consistent with your sleep patterns

The simplest thing you can do to set yourself up for a good night's sleep, according to Bertley, is to establish a consistent routine for when you go to bed and wake up. Even if you get 8 hours every night, it's not as effective if those hours come at different times. 

So, as much as possible, set a bedtime and wake-up time and stick to it. This will help your body establish a rhythm and get your natural sleeping and waking hormones flowing at the right times.

Woman stretching in bed.
Fiordaliso/Getty Images

Set boundaries around your work 

Bertley is quick to acknowledge that establishing a consistent routine is easier said than done, due to the nature of our society.

"You're working at least five days a week, sometimes seven days a week," he says. "And as a bio-species, we've completely gone askew to what other animals do."

He urges going against the grain and setting boundaries around work, technology and other busy or distracting elements of our lives that leave you mentally "on" all the time. When you go from a long day of work to the frenzy of running kids around or dealing with other responsibilities at home, only to end the day with hours of scrolling social media, you keep yourself in that state of chronic stress.

Give yourself a mental buffer at the end of the day

One aspect that's particularly important to how you start the day is how you end the previous one. 

Giving yourself a "mental buffer," as Bertley puts it, can set you up for a better night's sleep and a healthier frame of mind in the morning. What that looks like depends on what helps you relax, release stress and slow down your mind. It may be unplugging from technology, meditating or engaging in other spiritual practices, reading a good book or watching an episode of your favorite show. Whatever it is, designate a time at the end of the day to center yourself and prepare for a restful night.

Woman reading in bed before sleep.
urbazon/Getty Images

Find your sleep 'sweet spot'

When it comes to how much sleep you need, Bertley says it's important to find what's right for you. Yes, research suggests that most adults need at least 7 hours a night. But that's an average, and the real number varies for each person. 

Some people are morning people; some aren't. You may do fine on 6 hours, but someone else may need 9 hours. What's important is finding that sweet spot and sticking to it.

When you do wake up on the wrong side of the bed

Following the above tips will, more often than not, set you up for sleep success. But sometimes, despite your best efforts, you'll still wake up cranky. That doesn't have to lead to a day of stress and brain fog.

There are simple, well-known steps you can take to reset, Bertley says. Exercising and eating well can help your body get back on track. If you have time for a power nap, that may be enough to refresh your mental state. 

Mostly, though, it comes down to your mindset. If you start the day out of sorts, take a few minutes to talk yourself down from a state of elevated stress. Perhaps you're worried about something on your schedule and need to adopt a more positive perspective about it. Maybe you can center your attention on something you're looking forward to instead of something you fear. Whatever it is, shifting your mindset could help you turn your day around.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.