It ought to be the simplest thing in the world.

You go to sleep at night, you get up in the morning. Have some breakfast, brush your teeth and out the door you go, to your job, your classes or your chores.

For millions of years, humans and their hairier ancestors have been doing it that way. We all have those genes – getting up each morning should be a breeze.

Try telling that to Jennifer Ritchie, a Mechanic Falls woman who had such a tough time getting out of bed for college classes each morning, she had to resort to the hard stuff – a bottle of ammonia, that is, and some smelling salts.

“I had the bottle on the night stand, Ritchie said, “and hoped to sniff and jump out of bed. Instead I snoozed and missed class.”

Welcome to the fuzzy-headed world of sleep inertia, a phenomenon that makes it so difficult to wake up in the morning, it’s like the bed has its own special form of gravity.

When you’ve got it, you’ve got it. Ritchie had it so bad, she eventually had to resort to watching her college classes on tape because she just couldn’t get to school in the morning.

She graduated with honors, by the way – these people might love their beds more than most, but they’re not lazy or stupid.


Flick on a television pretty much any time of day and you’ll eventually see a commercial for one sleep aid or another. If you have plain old insomnia, there are all kinds of options available.

But what about those poor souls whose difficulties come on the other end of the sleep cycle?

Mike Beaufort, of Buxton, doesn’t necessarily have trouble falling asleep at night. Lay down, close your eyes, what’s so hard about that?

Waking up, on the other hand, is a daily challenge.

“I have an intricate system of alarms,” Beaufort says. “Cellphone, two alarm clocks and a coffee maker. In order for me to be in the shower at 6 a.m., I must begin the process at 5 a.m. Cell phone alarms at 5, 5:05, 5:10, 5:15 in case I turn one off instead of hitting snooze – it has happened. The alarm clock on the nightstand is set for 5:20 and 5:25, in case I turn off all cell phone alarms.

“At 5:30 I’m slightly awake,” Beaufort says, “enough to get up to start the coffee maker and go back to bed. At 5:45 the coffee maker dings – sometimes I hear it, sometimes I’m snoring. The alarm clock in the bathroom – the final, loudest and most annoying alarm – is set for 5:50. At 6, I’m in the shower with a half cup of coffee in my system; this well-oiled machine is out the door by 6:30.”

So, what’s happening inside these sleepy folks to make their mornings such misery?

Sleep inertia is that state of grogginess and disorientation experienced when one is awakened from a deep sleep. Though both mind and body appear to be awake, there is an incredible urge to flop back onto the bed and return to the sweet fuzz of sleep.

At issue, most of the time, is non-restorative sleep, says Dr. Diane Wilson of Central Maine Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine.

“That’s usually sleep deprivation,” Wilson says. “It’s hard to get up in the morning because you’re not done sleeping – your battery doesn’t get fully charged. You might get up to 50 percent, but you never get that full dose of sleep so that you have all your full resources.”

Difficulty waking is a common complaint at the sleep clinic, Wilson says. Which makes sense since studies show that an estimated 35 percent of the U.S. population fails to get the recommended dose of seven hours of snooze per night.

“If you don’t drink enough, you’ll be thirsty,” Wilson says. “If you don’t sleep enough, you’ll be sleepy, and it will be hard to get out of bed in the morning.”

It’s a good bet that in earlier times – in the age before the internet and all-night television – people didn’t have such a battle with the blankets in the morning. Why? Because they had better sleep habits. They went to bed when it got dark because there weren’t many things to stay up for.

“Our biology is built around a 24-hour clock,” Wilson says. “That’s very much dictated by exposure to light. We’re not owls. We’re supposed to be asleep when the sun is down and awake when the sun’s up.”

However, “We have the 24-hour media, we have to work longer and longer, we want to try to see the kids. . . . You want to have a life,” Wilson says. “I think it’s emblematic of trying to do more than our physiology is built for. From an evolutionary standpoint, we’ve mucked with our circadian rhythms.”

Ah, circadian rhythms. You can think of them as your body’s inner clock. It’s not just a catchy thing to say when you’re late for something. Those rhythms are important to the way your body operates.

“Consistency is important,” Wilson says. “Our bodies work best with a structure that’s built around a 24-hour clock that’s predictable and constant.”


Aside from just not getting enough sleep, there are plenty of named sleep disorders related to circadian rhythms. For example:

* Delayed sleep-wake phase disorder: consists of a typical sleep pattern that is delayed by two or more hours, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. This delay occurs when one’s internal sleep clock – circadian rhythm – is shifted later at night and later in the morning. Once sleep occurs, the sleep is generally normal, according to But the delay leads to a pattern of sleep that is later than what is desired or what is considered socially acceptable.

Sound familiar? To those who suffer this brand of sleep disorder, screaming bosses, annoyed friends and disappointed family members are the norm.

* Irregular sleep-wake rhythm: People with these disorders have sleep times that seem to be out of alignment, according to the AASM. Their sleep patterns do not follow the “normal” sleep times at night. The sleep of patients with irregular sleep-wake rhythm is so disorganized that there is no clear sleep or wake pattern.

* Non-24-hour sleep-wake rhythm: People with these disorders have sleep times that seem to be out of alignment. Their sleep patterns do not follow the normal sleep times at night. According to the AASM, the sleep time of these people shifts a little later every day. Sleep time and wake up time continue to move later and later every day. Sleep times go in and out of alignment with other people as weeks go by.

Normal sleep usually comes in four phases, ranging from light dozing to deeper, REM sleep. If your rhythms are out of whack, you might still be in a deep phase of sleep when the alarm starts wailing, the wife starts hollering or the boss is ringing your phone, demanding to know why you’re late again.

“If you’re not aligned with that biology,” Wilson says, when it’s time to get out of bed, “you can find yourself in the wrong stage of sleep.”

Ritchie tried smelling salts and ammonia in college in attempt to make waking up easier. As it turned out, she just needed to wait for some key life changes to transform her way of sleeping.

“Having a baby did just the trick,” Ritchie said. “Once I became a mom, it completely changed. Now I have to try hard to sleep in.”

Beaufort relies on multiple alarms and a lot of coffee, others resort to radical alarm clocks, including those that make the sleeper perform feats – math problems, bicep curls, sharpshooting – before the alarm can be silenced. (See list.)

Those things might get you out of bed, but do they make mornings easier? Probably not.

It’s misery when you can’t drag your butt out of bed, but what can you do?

A few things, actually. Avoid electronics before you hit the sack, get more natural light in your bedroom or try melatonin, for instance.

And, duh, go to bed early enough to get a good seven hours before your alarm goes off.

Wilson also points out that things like alcohol or too much caffeine can wreak havoc with the quality of your sleep.

So can medications.

“There are an awful lot of them out there and a lot of people are on two or three or four of them,” Wilson says. “They come see me and ask, ‘Why am I so sleepy?’ I think sometimes we don’t connect those dots.”

Of course, if you’re skipping the booze, caffeine and pills, getting seven or eight hours of sleep and waking up miserable anyway, maybe there is something else going on.

Breathing issues like sleep apnea or limb movement disorders could be factors. At which point you probably want to get your snoozy self to one of the local sleep labs. The Twin Cities have two, at Central Maine Medical Center and St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center.

For more tips, see the info box. For observations from our readers just keep reading — if they don’t oversleep personally, they know someone who does.


Andrea Libby, Lewiston

As a young night owl, I used to have my alarm clock set to be the radio – at full blast – on a station I hated, all the way across the room. That way, I’d have to run and shut it off or suffer with the blaring, terrible music. Except . . . once I woke up to just the super-grunty end of Fleetwood Mac’s “Big Love” and I haven’t used music since.

Michelle Rouleau, Poland

I have two super-cute and loving Labs. We put up a baby gate at night because my dogs are each 75 pounds and like to sleep with us. Some time around 4 or 5 in the morning one of them will usually lay near the baby gate and whine like they are dying. I’m 99 percent certain they are not, but it’s that 1 percent that gets me up to make sure they’re OK. So I get up, and as I suspected, they’re fine. That’s the alarm clock that gets me every time!

Bonny Gonya, Dixfield

My daughter can have an alarm clock blaring right next to her head and not wake up. I’ve listened to it for up to 10 minutes then finally get annoyed. I yell to her from downstairs and she shuts the alarm off right away.

John Clement, Glenburn Center

Get a cat, feed it at 6 a.m. every day for a few weeks and then forget one day, see how that works out for everyone. Mine is in jumping on my stomach, sitting there until I get up.

Paula Bolduc, Mechanic Falls

Four dogs who have to go pee at 5 a.m. Every day, rain or shine, snow, wind, whatever. They gotta go, I gotta get up.

David Johnson, Topsham

Best alarm clock I’ve ever used is my Fitbit. Something vibrating on your wrist really wakes you up!

Hadley Brewer Taylor, Auburn

Nature’s call! Won’t be denied, can’t be ignored.

Annamarie Pair, Auburn

Set the alarm two hours before I really need to get up so I can hit snooze like 20 times. Not exaggerating.

Velma McConnell, Windham

No alarm. Wide awake by 7:15 a.m. every morning. If I set an alarm, within reach . . . I can hit snooze until the end of time!

Fail-proof alarm clocks of the future

Vote for your favorite at

* Flying Alarm Clock: A propeller sails across the room and you have to fetch it in order to hush the alarm.

* Clocky: It’s an alarm clock on wheels that rolls away from you, making you chase it across the cold bedroom floor in order to silence the alarm.

Wake or Donate: Every time you hit the snooze button, this app will donate money to a charity you don’t like. Brilliant!

* Rocket Launcher: The countdown starts to wake you up and then the six-inch rocket alarm blasts off across the room. You may break a few lamps along the way racing to return the rocket to the base to shut it off, but it will definitely get you up.

* Laser Target Alarm: The only way to shut off the screeching alarm is to aim a laser at the bull’s-eye. Great way to work on your marksmanship while also getting to work on time.

* Police Siren Alarm: Either it’s time to get up or you have warrants and the SWAT team is here. One way or another, you’re getting out of bed.

* Stand Up to Wake Up: It’s like a little fuzzy scale you have to stand on to quiet the screaming alarm clock.

* SmartShaker: Slides under your pillow and shakes you awake when the alarm goes off. If you’re too cheap to buy this, a rattlesnake will serve the same purpose.

* Wake Up, Work Out: The alarm clock is actually a 1.5 pound dumbbell. To silence it, you must do 30 bicep curls. Wake up on time and get at least one arm like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s.

Wake up like a champ!

* Get motivated: Before going to bed, clearly define why you need to be up at a certain time, whether it’s getting to work on time or having breakfast with your family.

* Be a morning minimalist: The less you have to do in the morning, the easier it will be to stumble into your day. Lay out your clothes, take a shower and get your coffee ready to roll the night before.

* Get to know your body clock: Set a sleep schedule and stick to it. After a few weeks, you’ll be able to make adjustments – going to bed earlier or later, for instance – to make waking up easier.

* Try melatonin: Experiment with a low dose – a milligram or even half that – five or six hours before your regular bedtime. After a few nights, this should result in a body clock that’s timed earlier. You’ll hit the sack sooner, fall asleep earlier and get up with less hassle. At least that’s the theory.

* Power down before bedtime: Shut off the electronics and stop staring at harsh computer screens at least an hour before you hit the hay. It will make sleep easier and, as a result, you’ll wake up whistling come morning. Probably.

* Stop being a vampire: Let natural light ease you awake – open up your blinds to let in the morning sun. Don’t forget to put on pants if you have neighbors. Or don’t. You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.

* Keep your sleep schedule on weekends: If you roll out of bed at the crack of dawn all week, roll out of bed at the crack of dawn on your days off, too. But don’t go calling me, because I’m sleeping in.

For more tips go to:

— Mark LaFlamme, Staff Writer

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