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What is Sleep Inertia?

Posted On February 18, 2015
February 18, 2015

Wakening up this morning was more difficult than normal. Why? Pretty obvious when you slammed your hand down on the alarm’s snooze button, which sent the entire clock flying across the bedroom. You were extremely angry that the morning arrived so quickly. And then to make matters worse and despite the fact that you fell back asleep for 10 more minutes, a feeling of brain fog lingered. Could there be something wrong with you? Well you just may be a victim of sleep inertia.

Sleep Inertia Explained

Since 1976, sleep inertia describes what happens to an individual who routinely uses an alarm clock to get up. You are awake but feel anything but awake. What you experience is more accurately characterized as grogginess. For the most part, there are areas of your body that are quite simply put, still asleep.

Typically, people who suffer from sleep inertia will be in a state of being half awake and half asleep anywhere from a couple of minutes to hours, and yet the average is 15 to 30 minutes. To rid the feeling of being quite literally ‘out of it,’ many reach for a caffeine jolt to lift the cobwebs. Short term, yes, the brain fog disappears but long-term effects can linger and be detrimental to your health. Why? Whether sipping a cup of Sumatra or Earl Grey tea, or swallowing a couple of NoDoz tablets, morning caffeine can stimulate your heart and circulatory system. This can occur to such a degree that it can do more harm than good.

What Causes Sleep Inertia?

For the most part, people who have a normal sleep cycle pass through five different stages of sleep: stages one through four, and rapid eye movement (REM). Stages one through four are collectively considered non-REM sleep. As we sleep, our body moves from one stage to another and then cycles back through them again. Time spent in each cycle is not equal. Half of sleep time is spent in stage 2, then 20 percent in REM and the remaining percentage of time is within the other stages.

Simply speaking if you suffer from sleep inertia, you wake up in a stage of sleep that is not associated with awakening. You are woken up during a REM cycle, which is the deepest stage of sleep. One might think that sleep inertia strikes people who are not getting enough sleep, but you’d be wrong. The longer you sleep the more melatonin (substance generated in the body that promotes sleep) is produced during REM or the dream stage of sleep. Hence, even people who get enough sleep can experience sleep inertia.

When you set your alarm clock to go off at the same time every day, your body might or might not be in a stage of sleep that will allow you to wake up feeling refreshed. And believe it or not, you can still experience sleep inertia after taking a nap. It all depends on what stage of sleep you are in when waking up. In fact, most sleep inertia studies have focused on its association with naps rather than a night of sleep. Published in Chronobiology International, researchers discovered that it takes 15 minutes of sleep inertia before performance issues get back to the normal range after a 60-minute nap.

Remedies for Sleep Inertia

Thankfully in today’s technologically driven society, there are available solutions. A person with sleep inertia can use a sleep stage alarm clock or an app such as Sleep Cycle or Sleepbot on his or her Smartphone, in order to counteract the brain fog. Both the clock and the apps take into account sleep stages to optimize the best time to wake up.

Lastly, even gum was evaluated as a remedy for sleep inertia. Results of a study printed in Perceptual and Motor Skills demonstrated that gum infused with caffeine helped offset sleep inertia in test subjects.

If you have sleep inertia and would like to learn more, we can help. Please contact one of our medical concierges today at 1-855-863-4537 to schedule a consultation.

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