How to cope with “morning peevishness”

It’s been called getting up on the wrong side of the bed. My grandmother called it feeling ugly (as in waking up in an ugly mood). My default word is pissy.

But one of the best descriptors of starting the day cranky and reluctant to emerge from under the covers comes from Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who was the first to reach the South Pole in 1911. He called it “morning peevishness.”

Gawd knows he and his expedition team had a lot to feel peevish about. During the winter months before their spring trek, they were holed up in a camp at the edge of the Great Ice Barrier—totally isolated and without creature comforts. Temperatures reached minus-70 degrees. Would you want to crawl out of your toasty-warm reindeer-skin sleeping bag in that? I didn’t think so.

In this bleak setting, Amundsen realized that keeping up his men’s morale was vital. So to motivate them and combat morning peevishness—which Amundsen’s biographer called “a considerable emotional hazard”—the explorer devised a “let’s-guess-the-weather!” competition.

According to a write-up on The Art of Manliness, Amundsen told his men they had to step outside first thing in the morning and guess the temperature. He awarded daily prizes to those who came closest to getting it right, promising a telescope to the man who racked up the most correct guesses.

Amundsen said the goal of the exercise was to hone the men’s ability to gauge the temperature in case their thermometers broke. But his real reason for the competition was to get the men to haul their asses out of bed and out the door right after they woke up. And feel good about it.

In his journal, Amundsen explained, “Even if it is but for a minute or two, it is unbelievable how that short time helps to wake a sleepy man and bring feelings into equilibrium before [the day’s first] cup of nice, warm coffee. Even the best-humored person in the world has a touch of morning peevishness and that has to be removed as unnoticeably as possible.”

I have to agree. Granted, I’m not holed up on the frozen tundra in the middle of nowhere with nothing else to do. But I do live in Maine, which in the midst of a howling February nor’easter can feel like the same thing. Bounding out of bed feeling all perky and energized in the dead of winter is a challenge.

And while I give Amundsen props for keeping his team motivated, I’d have to upgrade the carrots he dangled. Sure, the prospect of a shiny new telescope may have been worth a few frigid early-morning minutes to a bunch of guys in the early 1900s, but I’d be much more inclined to arise and brave the elements for a new iPhone, spa gift certificate or case of chardonnay.

But even then, I’m really not amenable to stepping outside first thing on a winter morning. In fact, rather than dispelling my morning peevishness, mandatory early-morning exposure to the elements would just make me even more peevish. Which underscores why it’s a good thing I work at home and don’t have to commute. And have cats that poop in a box instead of a dog that needs walking.

Plus, while estimating the temperature may have been a good ruse to get Amundsen’s men outside, I’d rather just grab the remote and check my local TV weather, or visit on my phone or laptop—without even getting out of bed.

That said, however, I suppose it’s worthwhile to feel motivated to not only roll out of bed, but also end up on the right side of it. So here are some 21st-century strategies for combatting morning peevishness in cold climes:

  • Wake up to the sound of a cat vomiting—you’ll spring out of bed in an adrenaline-fueled attempt to ensure the cat barfs on the wood floor, not the rug. And the cleanup can be invigorating as you try to stifle your gag reflex.
  • For bacon lovers, persuade your partner to cook some for breakfast so you wake up to the aroma wafting through the house
  • For coffee lovers, get a coffeemaker with a timer so you can set it to brew a pot that’s ready when you wake up (another enticing wafting aroma)
  • If you must wake up to an alarm, place it across the room so you have to get out of bed to turn it off. For an extra jolt, set it really loud, or to a station you hate.
  • Convince your partner to get up first and turn up the thermostat so the house is warm when you get out of bed (or get a programmable thermostat)
  • If you feel compelled to peruse social media first thing in the morning, get “Make America Kittens Again,” the Google Chrome extension that replaces any photo of #45 with one of kittens
  • If you work from home, schedule early-morning FaceTime or Skype calls with business associates—it’s sure to get you up and presentable
  • Work out at home or go to the gym first thing. Once you get over your initial reluctance, you’ll feel energized and sanctimonious relieved glad about having done it (and those feel-good endorphins can last for hours)
  • Have morning sex—with a partner or yourself. It may delay the getting out of bed, but generally helps you get up on the right side of it.
  • Make plans for a warm-weather getaway. Or move to a warmer place.

Finally, here’s a strategy that could go either way: Watch the morning news. These days, it’ll either make you want to crawl back under the covers and never come out, or it’ll get you pissed and fired up to fight back against what’s happening in Washington, DC.

Resistance training
used to mean lifting weights; now
it’s watching the news.

What do you think? Got some strategies for combatting morning peevishness? Please share!

Roxanne Jones

About Roxanne Jones

By day, Roxanne Jones is an award-winning freelance copywriter specializing in health and medicine. She launched Boomer Haiku, a humorous blog about life as a baby boomer, in 2015, and a Boomer Haiku greeting card line in 2016 (available at 6 Maine stores; visit to learn more). Born and raised in Brunswick, she left Maine after high school (Class of 1971) and, after living in Massachusetts and California, came screaming back to her home state in 2006. She enjoys chardonnay, laughing at the foibles and frustrations of getting older, and contemplates plastic surgery to get rid of the wattle on her neck.