How to Wake Up Alert and Refreshed
(No Matter How Much Time You Have to Sleep)

Do you often wake up feeling groggy and disoriented? 

Well, you don't have to, no matter how much time you have to sleep.

In this article you will learn about the myth of 8 hours sleep being optimal, what to do if you wake up in the middle of the night, and how to leverage you natural sleep cycle so you never wake up groggy again. 

The Myth of 8 Hours Sleep

Ask just about anyone how much sleep we should get to wake up feeling rejuvenated and ready to tackle the day and the answer will be eight hours.

The myth of eight hours sleep per night being optimal is so pervasive its difficult to trace where the advice originated. And yet there’s new evidence to suggest that “people who sleep between 6.5 and 7.5 hours a night, live the longest, are happier and most productive.”[1]

In fact, just getting those 6.5-7.5 hours of sleep every 24 hours is more important than getting them in one solid block.  

Napping midday remains common in countries like India, China and Spain, and new research shows that prior to the invention of the light bulb it was more common for folks in Western world to get their sleep in two distinct chunks. 

Adults would go to bed around dusk (8pm or 9pm), wake around midnight for a few hours of reading, self-reflection, or lovemaking, and then return to sleep to wake at first light. [2]

Science is now suggesting this biphasic sleep cycle is probably the more natural way for humans to sleep -- so don’t stress out if you do find yourself waking in the middle of the night -- read a book, relax, reflect, or have some fun. 

Remember, it's entirely natural to wake up at night and the last thing you want to do is create anxiety by stressing out. Rest assured, you will fall back to sleep in an hour or two if you keep calm and find a way to occupy your mind until you do.

But let’s face it, in today’s world most of just don't get enough sleep. In fact, 41% of American adults report getting less than six hours sleep per night, and this erratic sleep schedule means we often wake up feeling groggy, lethargic and even, grouchy.

Whether it’s a work deadline that has us up late into the night, or getting the kids ready for school that has us up at the crack of dawn, we’re grateful for whatever sleep we can get.

If this sounds like you, there is something you can do ensure you wake up feeling energized and rested, no matter how much time you have to sleep each night. The secret to doing it lies in understanding the human sleep cycle.
The 90 Minute Sleep Cycle

Most of us can remember learning about REM sleep in school. REM stands for “rapid eye movement”, and it’s the the last part of our natural sleep cycle when our limbs are paralyzed, our breathing and heart rate increase, and most importantly, when we dream.

But we actually have four distinct sleep cycles:

N1 - Transition to Sleep
N2 - Light Sleep
N3 - Deep Sleep
N4 - REM Sleep

N1, or transition to sleep, averages about 14 minutes across the human population. Once we’ve entered light sleep (N2) we cycle from light sleep into deep sleep (N3) and then into REM sleep. 

Each cycle from light sleep through to REM sleep lasts approximately 90 minutes, and then the process repeats itself.

While REM sleep seems to get all the attention due to our fascination with dreams, it’s actually during deep sleep (N3) that our body repairs itself, which is especially important if you follow a consistent workout protocol.

So if you often wake up groggy you're most likely waking up during deep or REM sleep. The trick to waking up calm and refreshed is in waking during the light sleep phase when our mind is most alert. 

But how does one do it?

Luckily, because each transition from light sleep through REM sleep lasts approximately ninety minutes, the best thing to do is to sleep in an increment of 90 minutes, preferably either 4.5 hours, 6 hours, or 7.5 hours, depending on how much time you have until you need to wake up. This should insure you don't wake up during deep sleep and REM sleep if you time it just right.

Don’t forget that the average person takes 14 minutes to fall asleep. Some more, some less, so you may need to experiment with getting the timing just right. Luckily, there are some tools than can make this a whole lot easier.

The first tool that helps one wake during the lightest part of their sleep cycle is called It’s a simple web site and sleep cycle calculator.


As you can see, the application can be used in one of two ways. You can tell the app what time you need to wake up, and then it will tell you the best times to go to bed.

Or, you can tell the application you’re going to bed now, and it will tell you when to wake up to avoid feeling groggy when you do.

One thing to note is that estimates that you, like most folks, will fall asleep in about 14 minutes to make it’s calculations. So you may need to make minor adjustments to their recommendations if it takes you more or less time to fall asleep.

This is the tool I use and it has worked great. Even when I get as little as 3 hours sleep, I wake up feeling refreshed. I know this sounds hard to believe, so you’ll just have to give it a go.

Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock

The second tool is called Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock, which is a smartphone app available for both iPhone and Android.

The app uses the accelerometer in your phone to detect movements in your sleep. Since we move differently or not at all depending on what phase of sleep we’re in, the app claims it can wake you gently during your lightest sleep to insure you get your day off to a good start.


There is one limitation to this tool. Namely, it will only work if you sleep alone. Two bodies together in the same bed are bound to throw the data off.

And I have to admit, I haven’t used this app as is free and I don’t need to worry about having my smart phone fall of my bed in the middle of the night. But if it works for you (or doesn’t), I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Sweet dreams!

This article was brought to you by Xavier, Mexico City's only U.S. trained Fitness + Nutrition Coach serving clients in Cuahtehmoc and Polanco. I'd love to offer you a complimentary session so we can get acquainted. Book now by clicking here.


1. Time Magazine, How Much Sleep Do You Really Need, by Laura Blue.

2. New York Times, Rethinking Sleep, by David K. Randall.

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