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Waking up feeling groggy? Use three-step formula from sleep scientists

Always wake up feeling groggy? Use this three-step formula devised by top sleep scientists… and it’s not just about going to bed early!

  • Sleep scientists have discovered the key factors for waking up feeling refreshed
  • These include sleeping longer or later, according to UC Berkeley researchers 
  • Eating a high-carb breakfast and strenuous exercise were the other factors
  • Dr Raphael Vallat and Professor Matthew Walker studied 833 people’s alertness 

Do you always wake up feeling groggy and sluggish? Well, you may be in luck.

Scientists believe they’ve devised the perfect formula to leave you always feeling refreshed in the morning.

And the three-step process, created by some of the world’s top sleep researchers, does not peddle coffee as a miracle cure. 

But it does entail having a ‘strenuous’ work-out and avoiding sugar at breakfast. 

Researchers at the University of Berkeley have discovered that what you eat for breakfast and how you sleep and exercise are the three key factors that determine if you wake up feeling refreshed

Researchers based at the University of California, Berkeley said the other part of the ‘prescription’ centre around sleep and breakfast.

Getting seven-nine hours is ideal for avoiding grogginess the next day — but even just a little bit longer could help, the team claimed. 

A lie-in also helps to fight off feelings of tiredness, according to author Professor Matthew Walker.

Breakfasts should be packed full of carbohydrates, such as oatmeal and bran cereal, as opposed to sugary pastries or shop-bought smoothies, data suggested.

Having a ‘substantial’ work out the day before was also found to battle sleepiness.

The formula, published in the journal Nature Communications, was based on an analysis of hundreds of people.

They were given different breakfast meals, wore watches to record their activity and sleep quantity, quality, timing and regularity, and kept food diaries for two weeks.

UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow Raphael Vallat, first author of the study, said sleeping longer or later is one of the factors that can increase your alertness 

Participants also recorded their alertness levels from the moment they woke up and throughout the rest of the day.

All the pre-prepared meals were based around muffins and were packed with varying nutrients. 

Some included a muffin on its own, others were paired with chocolate milk, a protein shake or fibre bars. Some participants were given a dose of glucose. 

This was to test the breakdown of a breakfast high in sugar, protein and carbs

A breakfast high in carbs and low in sugar was found to be the best meal to kick the morning grogginess. Sugar-packed breakfasts had the worst effect.

The best type of breakfast for battling sleepiness was found to be a high carbohydrate breakfast with limited sugar and a modest amount of protein, such as oatmeal with nut butter and bananas

Participants were asked to fast for eight hours before eating their meal and three to four hours afterwards. 

They also wore a glucose monitor. 

Dr Raphael Vallat, study co-author and postdoctoral fellow, said: ‘A breakfast rich in carbs can increase alertness, so long as your body is healthy and capable of efficiently disposing of the glucose from that meal, preventing a sustained spike in blood sugar that otherwise blunts your brain’s alertness.’ 

The team said sugary breakfasts can cause a spike in your blood sugar which markedly blunts your brain’s ability to return to waking consciousness following sleep.  

Getting more sleep, in particular good quality sleep, was also shown to help alertness. 

Professor Walker said between seven and nine hours of sleep — the amount UK and US health chiefs already recommend — is ideal for ridding the body of ‘sleep inertia’ — impaired cognitive and sensory-motor performance upon waking. 

Sleeping longer or later than you usually do, or a combination of both, was found to be key to participants in the study ramping up their morning alertness (File image)

  • READ: How listening to pink noise can aid your sleep: Expert offers verdict on the science behind the sounds and finds listening to them really can help us
  • READ: Trouble sleeping? Try exercising: Staying fit can stop you tossing and turning at night, scientists say 


Sleep dispenses a multitude of health-ensuring benefits — and they’re yours to pick up as a repeat prescription every 24 hours, should you choose.

It enriches a diversity of functions within the brain, including our ability to learn, memorise and make logical decisions.

Sleep also recalibrates our emotional brain circuits, allowing us to navigate the social and psychological challenges of the next day with cool-headed composure.

We are even beginning to understand the most impervious of all conscious experiences: the dream.

Dreaming provides a unique set of benefits, including soothing painful memories and inspiring creativity, as I will be explaining next week.

Downstairs in the body, sleep restocks the armoury of our immune system, helping to fight malignancy, preventing infection and warding off all manner of illnesses.

Sleep also reforms the body’s metabolic state by fine-tuning the balance of insulin and circulating glucose. It regulates our appetite, helping to control body weight by encouraging healthy food selection rather than impulsive choices.

It is also needed to maintain a flourishing microbiome within your gut, where so much of our nutritional health begins.

Adequate sleep is also closely tied to the fitness of our cardiovascular system, lowering blood pressure while keeping our hearts in fine condition. 

Recall the last time you had the flu. Miserable, wasn’t it? Runny nose, aching bones, sore throat, heavy cough and a total lack of energy. You probably just wanted to curl up in bed and sleep. As well you should.

Your body is trying to sleep itself well. Sleep fights against infection and sickness by deploying weaponry from your immune arsenal and cladding you with protection.

When you do fall ill, the immune system actively stimulates the sleep system, demanding more bed rest to help reinforce the war effort. Reduce sleep for even a single night, and that invisible suit of immune armour is rudely stripped from your body.

Getting enough sleep can help to clear a chemical called adenosine, which builds up in your body throughout the day and is responsible for making us feel tired. 

Professor Walker said: ‘Considering that the majority of individuals in society are not getting enough sleep during the week, sleeping longer on a given day can help clear some of the adenosine sleepiness debt they are carrying.

‘In addition, sleeping later can help with alertness for a second reason. 

‘When you wake up later, you are rising at a higher point on the upswing of your 24-hour circadian rhythm, which ramps up throughout the morning and boosts alertness.’

The team said it was unclear why physical exercise helped next-day alertness.

But Dr Vallat noted it could be that it simply wears you out and is a known mood-booster.

He said: ‘It is well known that physical activity, in general, improves your alertness and also your mood level.

‘And we did find a high correlation in this study between participants’ mood and their alertness levels. 

‘Participants that, on average, are happier also feel more alert.’ 

Dr Vallat added: ‘It may be that exercise-induced better sleep is part of the reason exercise the day before, by helping sleep that night, leads to superior alertness throughout the next day.’ 

Professor Walker said: ‘Many of us think morning sleepiness is a benign annoyance. 

‘However, it costs developed nations billions of dollars every year through loss of productivity, increased health care utilization, work absenteeism.

‘More impactful, however, is that it costs lives — it is deadly.

‘From car crashes to work-related accidents, the cost of sleepiness is deadly.’

He added: ‘As scientists, we must understand how to help society wake up better and help reduce the mortal cost to society’s current struggle to wake up effectively each day.’

Researchers in Britain and Sweden were also involved in the study, which included identical and non-identical twins to see how much of a role genetics played in grogginess.

Only 25 per cent of differences in next-day alertness across sets of twins involved in the study were attributed to genetics.

Professor Walker said: ‘We know there are people who always seem to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when they first wake up.

‘But if you’re not like that, you tend to think, “Well, I guess it’s just my genetic fate that I’m slow to wake up. There’s really nothing I can do about it,” short of using the stimulant chemical caffeine, which can harm sleep.

‘But our new findings offer a different and more optimistic message. 

‘How you wake up each day is very much under your own control, based on how you structure your life and your sleep.

‘You don’t need to feel resigned to any fate, throwing your hands up in disappointment because, “It’s my genes, and I can’t change my genes.”

‘There are some very basic and achievable things you can start doing today, and tonight, to change how you awake each morning, feeling alert and free of that grogginess.’

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