Are you one of those people who stumbles out of bed, fumbling into the kitchen to get to the coffee so that you can get yourself to feel like some semblance of a human? If so, you’re not alone. Many people have a difficult time waking up in the morning, keeping them from feeling well and getting things done. That grogginess that makes you walk around in a dazed state for a while after getting out of bed is known as sleep inertia.
What Is Sleep Inertia?
Sleep inertia is that foggy feeling often experienced just after waking up. From a scientific viewpoint, inertia is the concept that an object that is at rest will naturally resist movement. When it comes to sleep, the idea is that the brain will continue on in a state of sleepiness, even after the body has “woken up” and gotten out of bed.
Some people describe sleep inertia as a feeling of thickness or slowness of the brain and body. During this time, although you are technically awake, you still feel very sleepy and your ability to perform even simple tasks is highly restricted. You may be clumsy, drop things, or stumble when walking. Your eyes may not be able to focus and your speech may be slurred if you try to talk. Generally, your ability to function is impaired.
For most people sleep inertia tends to last about 15-30 minutes after waking either from a nap or from a full night of sleep. In certain situations, however, sleep inertia can last for as long as four hours. That’s a significant chunk of your day to have a limited amount of functioning and capacity!
Sleep inertia can be dangerous for people in certain situations. If sleep inertia lasts longer than 30 minutes to an hour that it takes before you leave your house in the morning, then you may be driving in a state of sleepiness and could be involved in an accident. Or if your judgment is impaired, you may walk across the street without remembering to look for traffic. Sleep inertia can affect mental capacity, decision-making, reflexes, and much more.
How to Get Rid of Sleep Inertia
Many people rely on caffeine to get them going in the morning. Although coffee can work, it is important to notice that coffee is like putting a little band-aid onto a major stab wound. It might cover it up but it won’t fix the underlying problem!
Looking deeper into the issue of sleep inertia can help reveal issues that go far beyond what coffee can handle. The good news is that there are actions you can take to reduce and even remove sleep inertia altogether.
Wake Up On Your Own
While the cause of sleep inertia is unclear, one factor that many sleep doctors believe to be true is that alarm clocks may be to blame. Traditional alarm clocks that wake you up while you are in the deepest stages of sleep must draw the brain and body out of a semi-paralyzed state, which takes some time to recover from. When a person is allowed to complete a full sleep cycle, they are more likely to wake on their own and feel refreshed.
Sleep Stage Alarm Clocks
If you are concerned that your brain and body will not wake you up when needed, consider a sleep stage alarm clock. By noting your movement, this type of alarm clock attempts to measure your sleep stage and will wake you up at an optimal time for your body’s sleep rhythms, within 30 minutes or so of when you set your “alarm”. These types of alarms also typically provide a gradual, gentler alarm that does not shock the system with adrenaline upon waking up.
Get Out of Bed!
Even when you don’t want to, getting out of bed is the best thing you can do to fight sleep inertia. Open the curtains to let the light in. Splash some cold water on your face. Jump up and down a few times. Do whatever you can to get your blood flowing and bring your brain back from its state of sleepiness.
Practice Good Sleeping Strategies
Sleep deprivation is a significant contributor to problems with sleep inertia. It just makes sense that people who don’t get enough quality sleep at night will struggle to wake up in the morning. Lack of quality sleep may be due to something simple such as going to bed too late or using electronics in the evening. Or it could be something more severe like a health condition such as sleep apnea.
Using proper sleep hygiene (such as going to bed and waking up at the same time every day) can help you get better quality of sleep which should, in turn, help you feel better when you wake up in the morning. If you suspect that you have sleep apnea or another condition that is affecting your sleep, contact your doctor to work on solutions.
Melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep cycles and makes a person feel sleepy, is less active when a person is exposed to bright light. In addition, light also helps to set the body’s internal circadian clock, telling you that it’s time to wake up.
During the winter, or in geographical areas that are very cloudy, it can be difficult to get enough natural sunlight to help you sleep well. The use of a light therapy box for a few minutes in the morning can help to improve cognitive function and alertness, may increase performance throughout the day, and could even help with better sleep at night.
Sleep inertia is a real battle that many people face each morning, but it doesn’t have to be hopeless! Take these steps toward getting a better night of sleep, try a new alarm clock, practice light therapy, and talk to your doctor if you think you might have a health condition that is affecting your sleep. Working toward a healthy night of sleep can help you battle sleep inertia. You’ll wake up feeling better, so your brain and body with thank you!