What are you like when you wake up in the morning?
Do you wake up refreshed, ready to hop out of bed and start a productive day? Or do you wake up groggy, still feeling tired and disoriented and not ready for the day until after your morning coffee?
If you fall into the latter category, you may be feeling the effects of something called sleep inertia.
Sleep inertia is a temporary physiological state that is characterized by feelings of disorientation, reluctance or inability to get up, and a deficit experienced in your motor skills and decision-making ability. This means, you wake up feeling like your legs and arms are heavy and clumsy and you are in a mental state where you certainly shouldn’t be making any major decisions or operating any heavy equipment.
These symptoms usually last from 1 to 30 minutes but can persist for as long as four hours.
While we all experience some amount of sleep inertia immediately after waking up, it is considered more debilitating in people who regularly experience these types of circumstances:
- Among those of us who are chronically under-rested and who NEED loud alarm clocks to wake up in the mornings.
A study at the University of Colorado at Boulder found that people who suffer from sleep inertia have more impaired thinking and memory skills than people deprived of sleep for 24 hours.
- Sleep inertia can also affect those who take regular naps, often leaving people feeling more tired after the nap than before it.
In many cases, sleep inertia may actually become dangerous, particularly when an individual doesn’t recognize the symptoms or realize that he or she is not functioning well. While it can lead to being chronically late to school or work and may result in lower productivity once you get there, there are even worse possibilities. Coping with sleep inertia while going about your daily activities can raise the risk of accidents and injuries, including auto accidents (a growing number of which are related to “drowsy driving”).
- Those who regularly self-treat with coffee in the morning.
The cause of sleep inertia is still unknown, but researchers can pinpoint when it happens. It occurs when a person is awakened suddenly from a period of slow-wave sleep, the deepest phase of the normal human sleep cycle. It has been theorized that sleep inertia may be caused by a buildup in the brain of adenosine, a chemical that is strongly linked to feelings of tiredness. This may explain why many people “self-treat” their feelings of grogginess and disorientation after waking with coffee. Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors in the brain. Another “self-treatment” that is common is resorting to the use of extremely loud alarm clocks, which shock the body and causes it to release adrenaline, thus speeding the wakening process.
Unfortunately, both of these “treatments” can have negative effects on your health, especially if you have to resort to them for years.
Among the more effective methods of reducing the symptoms of sleep inertia and to prevent it are the following suggestions from sleep experts:
- Step 1 Maintain a regular schedule, both during the work week and on weekends; your circadian rhythms are sensitive, and disrupting them can lead to sleep inertia.
- Step 2 Open your blinds or curtains before you go to bed; gradual morning light fights sleep inertia.
- Step 3 Consider a “smart” alarm clock that tracks your sleep cycles and wakes you at the “right” time during the sleep cycle to avoid sleep inertia.
- Step 4 Get up immediately after waking; if you need to hit the “snooze” button, do it for only 5 minutes and then force yourself to get up.
- Step 5 Avoid caffeine in the evenings, and work at cutting it out of your diet completely. Instead opt for more nutritious beverages and meals like fresh juices and blended healthy protein or fruit smoothies.
- Step 6 Get moving by planning to get sufficient exercise. Morning exercise is best. Night exercise may harm your ability to move smoothly into your sleep cycle.
- Step 7 Get your joints and muscles moving better so you feel comfortable in your bed and on your pillow. When your body feels good while at rest you will benefit additionally by having improved energy levels during the day. You can improve the way you feel, heal and rest through regularly scheduled chiropractic adjustments.
The best general advice may be to get to sleep at an appropriate hour and then to ignore any promptings from your own body to go back to sleep after you first wake up in the morning. Instead, get up and get active. The sooner you do that, the sooner the symptoms of sleep inertia will go away.