Sleep Inertia

How to alleviate that feeling of grogginess when you wake up. 

We’ve all felt it in the morning: the alarm goes off, and we feel completely out of it, even though we’ve slept all night. The last thing we want to do is get out of bed; in fact, bed is the ONLY place we’d want to be! 

That feeling is pretty much universal and, luckily, normal (for the most part). There’s a specific word for it: sleep inertia. According to the Sleep Foundation, “sleep inertia is the feeling of grogginess, disorientation, drowsiness, and cognitive impairment that immediately follows waking.” For most people, that feeling lasts for less than an hour. Several factors, such as sleep deprivation and/or sleep disorders like chronic insomnia, can elongate that period, however; if those factors come into play, sleep inertia can last for hours. 

The symptoms of sleep inertia are quite familiar to most of us: grogginess, wanting to go back to sleep, difficulty focusing or performing cognitive tasks, difficulty with memory, etc. The effects of these symptoms are especially prominent in shift workers and those with alternative or abnormal sleeping schedules, like nurses or military personnel who must be on-call and ready at a moment’s notice. 

Severe sleep inertia can also be called “sleep drunkenness,” which isn’t nearly so fun as it sounds. Especially if you’re a factory worker who handles heavy machinery that can take off your finger if you’re not fully awake, or any other kind of work that would be dangerous to do while sleepy. 

While sleep inertia is mostly normal, you would want to make an appointment to talk to your doctor if you’re exhausted or groggy throughout the day. Before your appointment, it would be a good idea to keep a sleep journal to record your sleeping routine (when you sleep, when you wake, symptoms and their severity, etc.) for a while. Bring this journal with you to your appointment to discuss your symptoms and potential treatment avenues. 

Some small steps you can take to alleviate sleep inertia are strategic napping and having a little bit of caffeine. These are the obvious ones – a small nap of 30 minutes or less can help reduce the grogginess and give a little clarity and billions of cups of coffee are consumed each week in the name of waking up the workforce. 

However, here are a few other things you can do if napping and coffee aren’t doing enough: 

  • Change the lighting in your bedroom: indoor lighting at night can impact your circadian rhythm and your sleep schedule. So adjust the light in your bedroom accordingly: turn off all lights when you’re about to go to sleep and, if needed, invest in blackout or room-darkening curtains. 
  • Adjust the temperature: If you’re sleeping in a hot room, your body has to spend energy trying to cool itself down. That expended energy can result in fatigue. Adding fans, turning on the air conditioning or getting a window unit, and wearing lighter-weight pajamas (or perhaps foregoing them, depending on how hot the summers are) can all help adjust your sleeping environment for the better. 
  • “Gentle waking”: the world of technology now offers a range of gentler ways to wake up than an ear-splitting beeping or clanging noise that could lead to waking up in a flustered rush (and make sleep inertia worse). Options include a smart alarm clock that automatically detects when you’re in a light state of sleep and attempts to wake you OR a sunrise alarm clock that simulates sunrise by gradually increasing light and introducing gentle sounds. 




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