What Is Sleep Inertia? How To Combat The Morning Sleepiness

Have you ever heard of sleep inertia? It’s not a common term, however, it’s something most of us are affected by on a regular basis, especially if you’re not a morning person.

Essentially, it’s the transitional physiological state between being asleep and awake, usually marked by impaired sensory-motor performance immediately following waking up. Sleep inertia is usually the result of waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle, explaining why you feel groggy in the morning and have a strong desire to go back to sleep when you hear the alarm go off. 

The effects of this physiological state can last minutes to several hours, normally depending on how you woke up.

Ways to combat sleep inertia

Avoid setting multiple alarms or hitting the snooze button

If you fall asleep between alarms or snoozing, your body isn’t actually reaching restorative or deep sleep, which will only make you feel more tired. The best way to not feel as sleepy is to get up straight away (as hard as it may be), a good way of doing this is by having your alarm go off across the room so you have to walk to it.

Expose yourself to light after you wake up

As hard as it can be opening the curtains or blinds in the morning, exposing yourself to light helps your body stop releasing the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin. The sooner you can embrace the natural light in the morning, the less chance you’ll have sleep inertia setting in.

Try and wake up at the end of a sleep cycle

You’re probably thinking, ‘how in the world can I do that?’. Sleep cycles generally last 90 minutes, reaching the lightest stage of sleep at the end of the sleep cycle. The best way to work out the timings of this is to work backwards. If you wake up at 7:30am and generally get around 7.5 hours of sleep, this means you will be asleep for 5 cycles (5 x 90min cycles = 450min). Whilst some of us can fall asleep as soon as our head hits the pillow, many of us don’t have that luxury, which is why we need to also take into account the time it takes to fall asleep. If this takes 15 minutes (450min + 15min = 465min), we can decipher that we should be in bed and lights out by 11:45pm. If you fall asleep in good time and don’t get up in the middle of the night, you have a fair chance of waking up at the end of your sleep cycle.

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Strategic napping

For those avid nappers out there, this may be the way for you to combat the usual post-lunch sleepiness. Having a 20-minute nap is ideal for a lunch break and is the perfect time to achieve some sleep without entering deep or REM sleep. If you woke up in the middle of those latter stages, you would certainly feel more groggy as a result. To really feel an energy boost, you could also try a ‘caffeine nap’. If you drink a cup of coffee or tea before having your 20-minute nap, the caffeine will kick in as soon as you wake up. Not only will you feel the benefits of short sleep but the caffeine kick too.

Drinking caffeine

We’re sure that many of us already have this embedded in our morning routines anyway, especially because approximately 1.6 billion cups of coffee are consumed daily. Reaching for a cuppa in the morning is a good way to feel more alert, however, you should be wary of how late you’re drinking caffeine in the day. Even though you may not feel it, caffeine can have an effect on our bodies up to 8 hours after consumption. This means you should certainly stay clear of any caffeinated drinks beyond 4pm, depending on when you usually go to bed. 

So there you have our top tips for combatting that groggy feeling in the morning. If you feel like you’ve tried almost everything to avoid sleep inertia yet you can’t shake the symptoms, you may want to talk to your GP or medical professional.

Chloe Baxter

Chloe Baxter

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