Have you ever noticed that regardless of much sleep you managed to get at night, you always seem to wake up on the ‘wrong side of the bed’? Do you know that your spouse ‘isn’t a morning person’ but you’ve never quite understood why? Experts say there is actually a scientific explanation for morning grouchiness!
Penelope A Lewis, neuroscientist, and author of ‘The Secret World of Sleep’ stated, “Basic perceptions of the world are subtly changed when you’re overtired. People are worse at guessing what smells are and less likely to notice sour tastes. There are also subtle problems with hearing and vision. Evidence suggests that tiredness can lead us to see the world through a negative filter. We are more likely to perceive perfectly neutral facial expressions as negative, and we are less likely to appreciate humor. It isn’t clear why this happens, but one set of studies suggests that the specific region of the frontal lobe that usually filters negative feelings is impaired from lack of sleep.”
The first 5-20 minutes right after your first wakeup is referred to as the ‘sleep inertia’ phase. This is the period where you are working through your initial grogginess and transitioning into the wakeful state that you will feel for the rest of the day. It is during this phase that our perceptions are, as Lewis stated, altered.
For some people, this grouchiness is something that is only experienced once in a while, brought on from a lack of sleep, feelings of being overtired, stress or busy schedules. These feelings are conditional, and when the conditions are improved, so too will your mood. Pay attention to which days you feel this grouchiness most often, and what may have been happening the night before. Did you stay up later than usual? Are you in the middle of a major project at work?
Understanding these triggers will help you to adjust your approach moving forward. If staying up until midnight makes you grouchy, for example, adjust your schedule to get to bed earlier. If you are stressed over a specific project, try to be patient with yourself. This is a temporary situation and there is a light on the other side!
This could also be a sign that you need to reconsider your morning routine. Experts say that eating breakfast shortly after waking up is highly effective in boosting a low mood, fighting off those grouchy feeling. Skipping breakfast, however, can cause a dip in your blood sugar making this feeling worse. Stick with a breakfast high in protein like scrambled eggs, nut butter on toast or muesli with yogurt and steer clear of refined carbohydrates.
“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 you grumpy, or if it is because you aren’t looking forward to going to work,” explained Alice D. Domar, Ph.D., executive director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health. “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.”