Sleep Inertia is that groggy feeling that you have just after waking up where your mental circuits don’t seem to have switched on. The less scientific term would be ‘sleep boogers’. Perhaps your alarm went off while you were in the middle of a vivid dream & now you’re up & reality is still foggy, your brain hurts & you just don’t feel like moving at all. The sensations can last anywhere from 30 minutes to many hours. If you’ve gone to work feeling like crap due to sleep inertia, it is not a great feeling & your entire day essentially gets impacted.
People deal with sleep inertia in various ways, most of which are ineffective. A frequent complaint made by sleep inertia sufferers is the lack of action taken by people after waking up. You might have goals like head to the gym, get ready for work, meditate, journal daily or talk to your kids in the morning but none of these goals would be possible to achieve because your brain is offline after waking up. Many hours later, you might feel regret for not having done enough in the morning. Your ‘morning blueprint’ if you will, is not getting translated into reality.
Fixing disruptive sleep inertia can have a significant positive impact on your life. Here’s some unique advice that I recommend to deal with sleep inertia:
- Use the right alarm clock – I’ve already written a lot about using an alarm clock that respects your sleep cycle instead of waking you up in a jarring fashion. I’ve already talked about the stages of sleep before & if you are woken up by an alarm clock during deep or stage 3 sleep, you are going to feel like you had a hangover for quite a while afterward. Apps like Sleep Cycle (check out our Apps page) will wake you up only when you are in your shallowest phase of sleep, thereby lessening the impact of sleep inertia. I do recommend using an old smartphone you might have stored away so that you may leave sleep cycle running on that phone close to your bed or pillow in flight mode. This way you negate the bad microwave & emf frequencies being emitted by a live cell phone. Your actual phone can be placed a distance away from your body & head – cellphone radiation is not a great thing for your health obviously & using a spare phone for running your sleep cycle alarm clock is highly recommended.
- Eliminate your sleep debt – Slow wave sleep levels increase if you have a sleep debt so if you’ve made it a habit of sleeping lesser than optimal levels, your sleep inertia is going to be worse. Chronic bedtime procrastinators (for whom this blog is written for) are likely to suffer from more severe forms of sleep inertia. Social jetlag where one postpones their sleep times on weekends before trying to wrestle their circadian rhythms back into control on the forthcoming weekday is going to have a really rough time with sleep inertia. Fixing delayed sleep times at night would automatically address the heavy grogginess experienced at morning.
- Hack sleep inertia with supplements – Although a permanent fix for morning grogginess & lethargy can only be done through lifestyle changes supporting regular sleep schedules & adequate sleep times, it is possible to occasionally reduce grogginess upon waking by using certain supplements intelligently. Activated charcoal for instance taken at bedtime before going to bed would likely allow you to wake up feeling less groggy and without sleep cobwebs. The dosage varies from each person but you can buy activated charcoal tablets from most drug stores and take them right before going to bed. Maybe you’ve got an important meeting in the morning or you have to catch a flight or you have to be focused for a sporting event you are taking part in but for whatever reason have not got enough time to sleep. Having activated charcoal the night before will allow you to wake up a bit easier without the foggy head. Conversely, stay away from supplements that would affect your sleep negatively. Ambien, for instance, can really mess you up in the morning after waking up to the point where it could take hours before you feel close to normal.
- Come into the light – Part of good sleep hygiene involves sleeping a dark room. People use blinds, blackout curtains & the like to prevent light from disrupting their sleep cycles but this can also induce sleep inertia because of the lack of natural daylight your eyes & body is exposed to upon waking up can cause grogginess to set in. There are multiple ways to combat grogginess due to lack of natural sun exposure. You can strive to get your skin & face exposed to sunlight as soon as you wake up. If you can afford it, you can try synchronizing smart home lighting like a Philips Hue lighting system so that lighting switches on with your audible alarm. The lights can be programmed to start out red (in color) and then gradually fade into blue. You can also repurpose a ‘human charger‘ type device for rebalancing your sleep rhythm & reducing sleep inertia. These devices are generally designed to help fix jetlag when moving across time zones by allowing earplugs to be placed in the ear that then shine high-intensity white light into your ear to allow your brain to adjust to new wake up timings & follow a revised sleep schedule. I haven’t used these devices personally but have been told by clients that this technology has worked well for them to prevent issues related to delayed sleep, disrupted sleep patterns, social jetlag & associated symptoms like sleep inertia. Brands like human charger retail such devices that are pocket-sized & easy to carry.
Bottom line is that fixing your sleep patterns are the main way to address sleep inertia. So if you slept at the same time every night & woke up at a consistent time every morning, you are unlikely to have severe sleep inertia. That is why disrupted sleep patterns pose such a challenge to people today as the body never gets a chance to adjust its sleep rhythm so those mornings are an easy time to get up at. Social jetlag involving sleeping late on weekends filled with alcohol-fueled parties with noisy clubs & strobe lighting is a serious price to pay in the long run from a health perspective. Hitting the clubs on weekends are a recipe for impared sleep rhythms as the loud music & lighting of a club is going to elevate your heart rate at a time when your body is usually winding down towards restful sleep. Once you drink alcohol it further messes up your neurotransmitters normally associated with lowering stress levels & going to bed. I’m not advocating that you become this boring person who has no fun in life just because you should ideally be having a predictable sleep schedule. But at least trying to maintain a regular sleep schedule on weekends will go a long way in reducing symptoms like sleep inertia that have further impacts on your overall health.