Everything you need to know about Sleep Inertia

Each of us has experienced sleep inertia at some point or another. It is common across populations, with everyone from babies to old people falling victim to it. While it has not been classified as one of the sleep disorders along with sleep apnea, insomnia, and so on, you should consider visiting a doctor if the symptoms persist and it interferes with your regular functioning.

What is it?

Most often, people who have sleep inertia try to cope with it by drinking caffeine or by forcing themselves to jolt awake with loud alarms.

What does it feel like?

What causes it?

The only fact that has been ascertained is that this condition is caused by an interruption in the REM cycle of sleep. Melatonin is the chemical in the body that enables you to sleep. When your REM cycle is disturbed, you wake up with high levels of melatonin. Further, there has been a link between longer sleep cycles and increased levels of melatonin during the REM cycle.

Conversely, during non-REM sleep, your blood pressure, heart rate and brain activity are at much lower levels. This allows you to become active and get into your usual routine much faster.

Essentially, waking up in the middle of a sleep state causes sleep inertia, whereas waking up at the end of a sleep cycle ensures better sleep quality. This holds true for short naps as well.

What can it cause?

But, if you suffer from chronic sleep inertia, the ramifications can be significantly more harmful. Firstly, the severe drowsiness you feel can be detrimental in carrying out the most basic tasks in the morning, such as having breakfast and getting ready for work. If you drive to your workplace, this drowsiness can also increase your chances of meeting with an accident since you are not able to concentrate on your driving properly. You may also find it hard to coordinate your movements, increasing the risk of getting injured.

Regularly experiencing sleep inertia can result in you being poorly rested. This, in turn, can lead to what has been termed as ‘wake-up stress’. Further, constant low energy levels can cause memory loss and a lower capacity to retain new information.

If you are unable to get out of bed on time, you may become a regular latecomer at work or university. Chronic sleep inertia also lowers your productivity levels significantly, especially in the first half of your day. This may affect your performance at work and may even affect your relationship with your colleagues.

In trying to deal with your sleep inertia, you may inadvertently cause more harm. For example, for those of you that rely on your morning caffeine fix to wake you up, continuous consumption of large amounts could result in a variety of heart-related issues. For others who rely on loud alarm clocks to wake them up, high adrenaline levels can result in increased levels of stress which in turn could lead to chronic stress issues.

These effects of sleep inertia are especially dangerous for individuals who work in fields that require them to be on top of their game at all times, making quick decisions that could impact several other people. People who fall into this category include firemen, policemen, and doctors. If you work in a sector that necessitates quick thinking and actions, you might want to consult a doctor before your sleep inertia worsens.

What can I do to stop it?

  • Today, the market does have products that will help you deal with your sleep inertia. One of these is an alarm clock that monitors you during different stages of sleep and wakes you up at the right point in a sleep cycle. This will ensure you are well-rested and that your melatonin levels are at an optimum level for you to wake up.
  • Research has also shown that a caffeine infusion when you are sleep deprived and chewing caffeine gum for five minutes after waking up can reduce sleep inertia after naps.
  • Another solution that has been found to work in three studies is something called ‘dawn simulators’. These simulators gradually increase the amount of light available in the room before awakening, impersonating daybreak. These studies have found an improvement in the level of drowsiness that people feel, but more research will have to be done to ensure the durability of the solution.
  • Further, since your body’s temperature fluctuates when you are asleep, studies have also shown that applying a wet cloth to your face right after waking up along with a cool breeze from a fan, could promote quicker responses and lessen sleep inertia.
  • Other than what research has shown, there are simple steps you can take at home to reduce sleep inertia. The first of these is getting into a proper sleep routine. You will feel less rested if you are constantly waking up at a time that your body thinks it should be asleep at. Try and form a pattern wherein you go to sleep and wake up within the hours of a “biological night”. This is that time period in which your body is producing melatonin and allowing different organs to rest. If your work does require you to wake up at an early hour and get to work, try and keep important tasks that need you to focus on and make decisions in, for later in the day.
  • You could also take short naps, that are not longer than 20 minutes, to help you fight the constant drowsiness. Beware, however, because napping for too long can result in more severe sleep inertia.

In conclusion

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