Almost all of us experience some grogginess in the morning, tempting us to roll over and hit the snooze button one more time, but sometimes the groggy feeling persists and makes it feel almost impossible to get up and get our day started.
This lethargic feeling, which can last up to a couple of hours after waking, is known as sleep inertia and it’s the lag time between when you wake up to when your brain actually feels awake and is functioning properly.
"Sleep inertia is the overwhelming feeling of sleepiness which makes it nearly impossible to get out of bed," says clinical psychologist and sleep doctor Dr. Michael Breus. "It seems to happen for a few reasons, but the main theme here is that the person experiencing it usually wakes up in the middle of a sleep cycle."
For the most part, sleep inertia isn’t particularly harmful, but it can be if you’re in a position where you need to be alert and fully responsive shortly after waking up. Shift workers, for example, may be able to take naps while on shift but then find it difficult to work effectively once they’re awake again. Another example is someone who has to operate machinery or drive shortly after waking up. Sleep inertia has been found to have the same effect as being drunk, so doing these things while dealing with sleep inertia can potentially be quite dangerous.
Even if these don’t apply to you, sleep inertia can still be an annoyance and can make it difficult to get your day started. The following tips will help you to overcome your morning slump and start your day off right.
Wake up at the right time
While the specifics of sleep inertia still aren’t fully understood, it’s generally believed that one of the main factors is waking up during the wrong part of your sleep cycle. A complete sleep cycle consists of five different phases, each taking you progressively into a deeper level of sleep.
During the first phase, you begin drifting in and out of sleep and can very easily be woken up with no sleep inertia symptoms.
In the second phase, your body is beginning to prepare for deep sleep. Your heart rate and breathing begin to slow and your body temperature drops. It’s slightly harder to wake up during the second phase, but overall quite easy as well.
During the third and fourth phases you’re getting into the deeper levels of sleep, and in the fifth you’re in your REM cycle of sleep (when you dream). If you wake up during these phases, you’ll be much more disoriented when you’re waking up.
If you’re used to waking up to an alarm and find that you’re really groggy when it goes off, it’s likely that it’s going off during one of your deeper levels of sleep.
You can try playing around with different wake up times or let yourself wake up naturally, if this is an option. There is also an app called Sleep Cycle that tracks your sleep patterns by monitoring your movement during the night and goes off when you are in a lighter sleep phase.
Wake up with light
We’ve spoken before about the importance of natural light on our sleep wake cycles and using light to effectively regulate your sleep can be very helpful in supporting your morning energy levels.
Throughout the day and night, your sleep-wake cycles are regulated by a series of changes in hormone levels. Natural daylight and darkness play a huge role in monitoring these levels and helping us to fall asleep at night and wake up feeling refreshed in the morning.
Often, we fall asleep to the blue light of our phones and wake up in a dark room to the sound of an alarm. Historically however, our ancestors would go to bed and rise in accordance with the sun, which is a much more natural way of sleeping and waking.
There are a few ways to use light to help you wake up properly in the morning. First off, you can install black out blinds that work on a timer. Lower the blinds at night to block out any outdoor lights and then set them to rise in the morning as the sun is coming up (or to a time of your choosing).
You can achieve a similar result (with a much lower price tag) by using a smart bulb. Simply screw in the bulb like you would with any regular light bulb and connect it to an app on your phone. You can set it on a timer and have it slowly brighten in the morning to gradually wake you up.
If neither of these are of interest or an option, trying to get outside and get some natural light as early as possible after waking up. The light will help to signal to your body that it’s time to be awake and can help you reduce sleep inertia symptoms.
Check your Chronotype
Your chronotype tells you your individual ideal time to go to sleep and wake up (amongst a number of other things). We’re all highly individual, so there is no standard ideal sleep time, and learning your chronotype can help you to find your own personal best sleep cycle. Of course, we don’t necessarily need a quiz to tell us when our best sleep times are. Play around with a few different times and listen to your own internal guidance to begin figuring out the ideal sleep schedule for you.
To discover your own chronotype, you can take The Power of When quiz.
Get your caffeine fix
When people say they need their morning coffee, they do really mean it! Caffeine has been shown to help counteract sleep inertia, so your morning coffee really can help to get you going in the morning. Just make sure you’re not overdoing it or using it as a substitute for a proper night’s sleep.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol at night
While coffee can be great at helping you to kick your sleep inertia in the morning, it can have the opposite effect if you consume it at night.
Coffee and alcohol can both disrupt your quality and quantity of sleep as well as your sleep cycles, so it’s best to skip these before bed. Some people are able to tolerate caffeine later in the day, while others are more sensitive to it, so pay attention to your own body to find the balance that’s right for you.
Do some light exercise
Mornings are often very rushed, but if you can fit in some light exercise your body will really thank you for it. Exercise is one of the best ways to get you going and shake off morning grogginess. This doesn’t have to mean a workout class or a long run- even just a few minutes or movement, such as dancing to a song while you getting ready or doing a few jumping jacks while your coffee brews, can be enough to get you energized and out of your morning slump.
With just a few simple tips you can revamp your mornings by eliminating, or at least reducing, your morning grogginess. It’s normal to feel a bit sleepy for a few minutes after you wake up but these tips will help you to cut down on the time it takes you to be energized and ready to go for your day.