I sleep for 10 hours a night – but still can’t get up in the morning | Ask Annalisa Barbieri

Your cycle may start later than average, or you may just need more sleep. A sleep clinic may help

I’ve been bad at getting up in the mornings ever since my late teens. I’m now in my mid-30s and most days I can’t seem to get up in good time for things. I’m almost always a few minutes late for work and this leaves me feeling unprepared.

I struggle to get up naturally before 10am and seem to need more than 10 hours a night. I only work two or three 9-to-5 days a week, and I still can’t get up on time. I have mostly given up caffeine and reduced my dark chocolate intake in the evenings to try to get into a more natural sleep pattern, but this has led to going to bed earlier and still struggling to wake up naturally before 10am. I eat well, avoid excessive alcohol, don’t smoke or take drugs, and get fresh air and exercise most days.

I feel like requiring more than 10 hours a night in order to feel energised is excessive. I don’t feel this is depression because I have a lot that I look forward to, and this has been a problem all my adult life. I’ve been worrying about it more recently because my husband and I are going through the process of adopting a child, and I worry that I won’t be able to get up to see to their needs, or that I’ll be a grumpy parent all the time. I don’t want to burden my husband with all the morning childcare either, nor do I want to miss out on doing fun things as a family because I couldn’t get up in time.

I went to Dr Adam Zeman, a professor of neurology at the University of Exeter medical school who has been treating sleep disorders for 25 years.

He said that if he were seeing you in his sleep clinic he would take a full sleep history. “Conditions I would have in the back of my mind during this assessment include obstructive sleep apnoea, in which snoring leads to pauses in breathing which disrupt sleep and, less likely, narcolepsy which can disrupt both sleep and wakefulness,” he added.

If anything is disrupting your sleep (and you may not realise it) you may not be getting the restorative sleep you need, so need to sleep for longer. Dr Zeman would also look at what you’re like during the day. Do you nap? Do you feel sleepy? There’s a useful Epworth sleepiness scale quiz you can do to test daytime sleepiness. If you score more than 11, that might be something a sleep clinic looks at.

Dr Zeman wondered what happens when you are totally left to your own devices to go to bed when you want and get up when you want, without family or work expectations. If you were to “consistently go to bed in the early hours, that might tell us your circadian rhythm is delayed compared with the norm – and if you sleep for 10 hours, that would tell us you have a longer-than-average sleep requirement”.

I think we can get very hung up on averages and forget that there are people above and below that average. You may be a person who not only needs more sleep, but who has a delayed sleep cycle. When we start to feel sleepy, our body produces melatonin to help us fall asleep. If you have a cycle that starts later than the “norm”, you won’t be producing melatonin until later.

I would go to your GP and ask to be referred to your nearest sleep clinic (it may not be that near and the waiting lists are long). Your GP may also be able to prescribe melatonin for you in the short term to help you get to sleep earlier, and you may want to consider getting a light box, possibly to use in the morning. Both of these things could help to shift your sleep cycle to an earlier sleep/rise pattern. There is some research to show that exposure to sunlight in the morning also helps regulate your body clock, and if you frequently get up late, or don’t go outside, you may not get this exposure. Your GP could also look at any possible underlying health conditions.

Is flexitime at work an option? It may work quite well for your husband to do the early shift with a baby or child, then you do the late shift. Sleep patterns mature in adolescence and it’s common for our body clocks to shift to a later pattern, so once your child becomes a teenager, your sleep patterns may align very well.

• Every week Annalisa Barbieri addresses a personal problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa, please send your problem to ask.annalisa@theguardian.com. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions.

• Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure the discussion remains on the topics raised by the article. Please be aware that there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site.

• The latest series of Annalisa’s podcast is available here.


Annalisa Barbieri

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
You be the judge: should my wife decide what time we go to sleep?
Wilmer says Andrea should let him watch TV in bed. She insists on a strict lights out. Have your say and help put this argument to bed

Georgina Lawton

10, Mar, 2023 @8:00 AM

Article image
My husband was hopeless with our babies and I’m still angry. How do I forgive him? | Ask Annalisa Barbieri
It’s no wonder you are furious, despite your husband’s attitude improving. But living with this resentment is not sustainable

Annalisa Barbieri

13, May, 2022 @1:00 PM

Article image
I’m 40 and my parents are still body-shaming me | Ask Annalisa Barbieri
They could be projecting their own issues on to you. You feel attractive, fit and accept yourself – it’s time to zone out their criticism

Annalisa Barbieri

17, Feb, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
My ex is with a new man but I still love her, and have even proposed | Ask Annalisa Barbieri
This sounds messy. You’ve told her how you feel, now maybe it’s time to leave her to it, says Annalisa Barbieri

Annalisa Barbieri

24, Jun, 2022 @1:00 PM

Article image
My nearly nine-year-old son wants to sleep in my bed. Should I let him? | Ask Annalisa Barbieri
You’re in charge, and as someone once told me – a mother who is always available never really is

Annalisa Barbieri

24, Feb, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
My friends are very flirty with my new partner. What should I do about it? | Ask Annalisa Barbieri
This may be their way of showing they accept your new man. And remember, you can ask him for some reassurance

Annalisa Barbieri

16, Sep, 2022 @1:00 PM

Article image
My partner ghosted me after I miscarried our child. What did I do wrong?
Where did you learn it was up to you to make things better? Now focus on healing yourself

Annalisa Barbieri

08, Oct, 2021 @2:30 PM

Article image
My in-laws won’t accept my post-chemo vulnerability | Ask Annalisa Barbieri
You are well within your rights to ask them to consider your weakened immune system. You deserve to feel safe – even if the chat causes tension

Annalisa Barbieri

09, Dec, 2022 @2:00 PM

Article image
Stop all the clocks: why are we so bad at going to bed?
Putting off bedtime for one more boxset episode, or some ‘me time’? You may be a sleep procrastinator – and doing yourself serious harm

Rebecca Seal

15, Oct, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
What’s the best way to tackle my sister’s violent outbursts? | Ask Annalisa Barbieri
You and your sibling need to recognise the adult women you are now – not the children you once were

Annalisa Barbieri

12, Aug, 2022 @1:00 PM