Sleep Inertia: Symptoms, Causes, and Management

Fact Checked Medically reviewed by Tanja Premru-Sršen
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If you have ever experienced feeling groggy, disorientated, drowsy, and cognitively impaired right after waking up, you have experienced sleep inertia, one of the common sleep disorders.

The biological reason for this sleep disorder, called sleep inertia, is not well known. Still, many peer-reviewed studies have suggested that sleep inertia is a protective mechanism that helps the body maintain sleep during moments of waking up involuntarily.

Keep reading to learn more about sleep inertia.

Symptoms Of Sleep Inertia

The symptoms of sleep inertia will be the most noticeable upon waking up, and they are very likely to slowly decrease as time passes.

Sleep inertia symptoms are often present upon waking from a lengthy sleep or longer naps (naps that are longer than thirty minutes).

The most common symptoms of sleep inertia are:

  • A desire to cancel all of your plans and go back to sleep
  • Grogginess and an overall uncomfortable feeling
  • Impaired visual attention
  • Impaired cognitive ability
  • Impaired spatial memory
  • Slowness
  • Confusion
  • Lack of coordination

Causes Of Sleep Inertia

As previously mentioned, the research has failed to prove what the definitive cause of sleep inertia is, just like with many other sleep disorders.

However, many peer-reviewed studies do connect sleep disorders and sleep inertia to a few different factors and triggers.

Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation is one of the most common causes of sleep interia.

Sleep deprivation puts the body in the state of sleep dept, and sleep deprivation can can cause sleep interia and sleep drunkenness, especially if sleep deprivation goes on for longer periods of time.

Sleep deprivation can also cause some other adverse effects on the body, not just the effects of sleep inertia and sleep drunkenness.

Taking Long Naps During the Day

Naps can be great for lowering sleep debt, and they can be great for getting the energy levels up when you need to be productive (especially if you suffer from some sleep disorders that make sleeping difficult or impossible during the night).

However, the longer naps are very likely to make you experience sleep inertia once you do wake up from your nap. Naps that are longer than half an hour almost always lead to sleep inertia.

Those are the naps that make you even more tired than before taking them, as well as confused and groggy.

On the other hand, shorter naps (also called power naps) tend not to result in grogginess caused by sleep inertia.

High Levels of Adenosine

Adenosine is a nucleic acid compound that is found in the brain, and it is an essential part of the sleep and wakefulness cycle.

Once you wake up, adenosine levels in the body should be low.

However, several studies have found that sleep inertia often happens when levels of adenosine are high upon waking due to prolonged sleep deprivation.

The Unwanted Effects of Sleep Inertia

Sleep inertia does not only feel uncomfortable; it can also affect a number of different aspects of your productivity and performance.

Experiencing sleep inertia definitely comes with the negative effects of the sleep disorder called sleep inertia.

Some of the negative effects of sleep inertia include:

  • Poorer decision-making
  • Reducing reaction time
  • Inciting negative feelings

How Long Can Sleep Inertia Last?

Sleep inertia usually lasts from fifteen minutes to about an hour, but in some cases, it can also last for a few hours after waking up.

How To Manage Sleep Inertia?

If you are suffering from severe sleep inertia that is ruining your mornings, you should know that it is not all doom and gloom.

There are some small lifestyle changes that can help you manage the downsides of severe sleep inertia with simple tweaks to your daily routine.

Here are some changes that will make sleep inertia go away faster.

Play to Your Auditory Senses

Many people will agree that there is absolutely nothing more annoying than the sound of their alarm going off. It feels like your body has a physical reaction to that uncomfortable sound.

However, several studies have shown that switching up the ugly alarm sound to your favorite melody can help lessen morning sleep inertia.

Pay Down Sleep Debt and Deal with Sleep Deprivation

Sleep debt is the amount of sleep you owe to your body over the last two weeks, and prior sleep deprivation is one of the main culprits of severe morning sleep inertia, as well as sleep and mental disorders.

Considering this fact, it only makes sense to keep your sleep debt as low as possible, to avoid severe morning sleep inertia. Meeting your sleep need is going to help your body fight the grogginess in the morning.

It might seem a bit obvious, but the best possible way to fight morning sleep inertia is to get enough sleep in the first place.

Indulge In Caffeine

If you have the habit of relying on caffeine to get you out of your grogginess state caused by sleep inertia, you are on the right track, and you definitely have the right idea.

Caffeine is going to help fight drowsiness-inducing adenosine, which is going to boost your alertness and make you feel more awake.

However, it is important to note that caffeine stays in your system for up to ten hours, and drinking it too close to bedtime can make it difficult.

Enjoy Sunlight When You Wake Up

Sunlight will send clear signals to your brain that it is time to wake up and start working actively and being alert.

Sunlight will send visual cues to your master clock, and it will raise your core body temperature to shake off the sleepiness and jump-start the day.

For those that do not have sunlight available right when they wake up, such as night-shift workers, giving artificial dawn light a try will be a life-saver for you.

The alerting effects of artificial dawn light will help stimulate the natural sleep cycle, which will make you feel less groggy when you wake up.

This will be especially beneficial for night shift workers that suffer from sleep inertia and sleep drunkenness.

Nap Strategically

If you have an issue with meeting your sleep needs during the night or excessive daytime sleepiness, napping during the day can keep you energized and focused, as well as productive.

However, there is an art to napping during the day, and there is a way to do it wrong.

Napping for less than twenty-five minutes (often called power napping) is going to replenish your energy levels for a few hours.

Utilize Physical Activity

If you often feel sleep-deprived or feel daytime sleep episodes, working out in the morning will help you minimize the drowsiness that comes with sleep inertia by improving your blood flow.

Exercise will also increase your core body temperature and release cortisol and serotonin to promote wakefulness and alertness.

Working out also adds energy to your day and boosts blood circulation.

Be Consistent with Your Schedule

If you often experience difficulty falling asleep, a great way to keep your energy levels up during the day is to stick to your circadian rhythm, which means being consistent with your wake and sleep times every day and sticking to a consistent sleeping schedule.

Sticking to your circadian rhythm, which means getting up and going to bed at the same time is going to help your body adjust faster, as well as wake up easier, as well as help you in managing sleep inertia.

Utilizing sudden awakening or abrupt awakening in the morning, instead of taking too long to get up, can also help fight severe sleep inertia and sleep drunkenness.

Related Questions to Sleep Inertia

How do I get rid of sleep inertia and sleep drunkenness?

Unfortunately, there is no way to get rid of sleep inertia and sleep drunkenness completely.

However, some lifestyle changes can make sleep inertia and sleep drunkenness go away faster, which allows you to start your productive day earlier.

Some of them include taking power naps, going to bed at the same time every night, working out in the morning, and drinking caffeine.

What happens during sleep inertia?

During sleep inertia, the brain is switching between sleep stages and wake stages.

Sleep inertia is characterized by sleep drunkenness, reduced vigilance, impaired performance, and a desire to return to sleep.

Conclusion

Experiencing sleep inertia means feeling groggy, disorientated, drowsy, and cognitively impaired right after waking up.

Sleep inertia tends to wear off pretty quickly for most people, but it can also last longer for some.

Some simple strategies, such as working out and drinking caffeinated drinks or taking a short nap, can help fight off the grogginess and confusion in the morning.

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