8 Ways to Tackle Sleep Inertia and Wake up Energized Every Morning

Photo by Miikka Luotio on Unsplash

Ever wonder why you wake up tired? Here’s why and how to fix it.

Sleep is that part of the self-improvement whose importance is hard to overstate. That’s simply because good sleep habits aid everything you do in all aspects of life like health, career, relationships, and so on.

Bad sleep, however, ruins your concentration, focus, mood and pretty much spills lethargy into each aspect of your life.

Do you know that feeling of getting up in the morning feeling demotivated even to walk towards the washroom? Yes, I know it’s frustrating. And it’s called Sleep Inertia.

It’s the groggy feeling you get after you wake up, leaving you demotivated no matter how hard you try to start the day. You feel tired, disoriented, and brushing your teeth seems like a big challenge.

The tricky fact however is that this problem shows up even if you sleep enough. In fact, it can also happen if you’re sleeping more than you need to.

Clearly, tackling sleep inertia is no joke.

But why bother, you ask?

While sleep inertia doesn’t last long, it is still a huge detriment because it sets a bad tone for the day. It can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours to come back to your senses.

This happens typically when you wake up between your sleep cycle or REM sleep. During this time, you still have high levels of melatonin, causing sleepiness. Your body doesn’t like to leave things in the middle — you’re much better off waking after 3 REM cycles than 3 and a half. So even if you sleep less, you’ll feel better if you woke up just at the right time.

The perfect time to wake up, then, is during non-REM sleep when your blood pressure, heart rate, and brain activity are slowed down, making you feel alert much quicker. Thus, counterintuitively, sleep inertia is not often cured by just sleeping for “five more minutes!” which is the common phrase we moan in the morning.

Given the unfavorable effect that sleep inertia has on us, we all would like to avoid it. Let’s see a few ways to do that.

A Fixed Alarm is Your Enemy

According to Valley Sleep Center, if you use a regular alarm clock, your chances of sleep inertia can be as high as 89%.

This is because fixed-time alarm clocks wake you up at the time you set for it. They have no way of knowing in what stage of the sleep cycle your body is in. And there’s no way you can predict your sleep cycle manually to set the right alarm.

Valley Sleep Center also writes,

Statistically speaking, there is a 45% chance that a fixed-time alarm clock will wake you up from REM sleep, and a 49% chance from non-REM sleep. These are your approximate chances to have sleep inertia.

And there is only a 9% chance to be awakened around the optimal moment of sleep stage transition. You can play this roulette all your life and suffer from morning grogginess in the majority of cases.

While ditching the alarm clock will not fix sleep inertia permanently, it will greatly reduce your chances. Whether you know it or not, your body has an internal clock that will wake you up at the right time. People lived for a long time before alarms. You can too.

As another solution, many fitness bands and smartwatches come with “Smart Alarms” that only wake you at the end of the sleep cycle in a particular time window that you set.

Your Chronotype Is Crucial

Since avoiding sleep inertia depends on waking at the right time, we need to determine what the “right time” means for us. This is where your chronotype comes into the picture.

Dr. Michael Breus or the “Sleep Doctor” says, “Your chronotype is your genetically determined time to go to sleep and wake up, and your chronorhythm is a schedule of the optimal physiological time to do just about any activity at your best.”

Many people go to bed too early or too late according to their chronotype. There are four chronotypes — the bear, wolf, lion, and dolphin. You can find which chronotype you fit in, here.

When you learn your chronotype, you can go to sleep at the right time to support your life.

Add Meditation To Your Morning Routine

Since meditation has been proven to increase focus and cognition, it makes it one of the perfect tools to tackle sleep inertia. While our minds are foggy just after we wake up, meditation helps to clear the fog and instill clarity.

If you’re having trouble with the practice, sit up straight in your bed and meditate for 5 mins. You’d definitely feel much clearer on your priorities and tasks.

When we don’t give the mind a chance to wake up or ease into the day, the anxiety and mental fog carries over to everything we do. Meditation, thus, is a great way to heighten our awareness and overcome the dreamy state we’re in.

Give the Sun a “High 5”

Going for a walk right after you wake up, even for 10–15 minutes helps to regulate the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Going out in the sun signals your body that it’s time to wake up.

Your circadian rhythm (the internal body clock) works best when you’re exposed to a regular pattern of light and dark.

Earlier, when humans weren’t as advanced, we used to sleep when it was dark and rise with the sun. This set a good rhythm for our bodies, making the problem of sleep inertia trivial.

These days, however, few of us follow that cycle. Instead of nature, we let our tasks and plans decide our sleep cycle. There’s nothing wrong with that. But we need to be careful to not force our bodies into artificial sleep cycles that negatively affect our health.

Unfortunately, unlike our cave-dwelling ancestors who rose with the sun and retired with the moon, most of us let the demands of everyday life dictate the times for sleeping and rising. Millions of people today force their bodies to adjust to artificial sleep schedules, negatively affecting both their sleep and their health.

Thus, going for a walk or even standing in your balcony for some time will fix your sleep cycle.

Drink The Best Beverage of All Time

One of the best things you can do is drink a glass of water immediately after waking up.

Obviously, your body is dehydrated for you haven’t had any water while asleep. “A large glass of water can rehydrate and make your insides come alive, helping you to quickly shake off the grogginess,” says Wayne Anthony, a hydration expert with WaterFilterData.

Get Your Caffeine Fix

While I don’t drink coffee in the morning anymore, a small cup can definitely be your “pick-me-up” in the morning.

In fact, a 2016 study published in the journal Industrial Health found that caffeine is one of the best options for counteracting sleep inertia. It was found to be even more helpful than exposure to light.

I found morning coffee to make me a little more restless than I’d like to be. This is probably why Healthline recommends being careful and experiment with it because it can disrupt your ability to sleep during your regular sleep time.

Another option, if you’re in dire need of it, is to pop a stick of caffeinated gum which was found to help night-shift workers combat sleep inertia after a nap.

Final Thoughts

While all the above tips work great to wake up energized, you should also experiment ceaselessly until you find your unique solution. For some it might be splashing cold water on their face and for others it may mean keeping an ice pack on the neck.

Whatever it is, experiment to find what works for you.

It’s also crucial to arrange your morning routine in a way that excites you. Do the things you enjoy and you won’t have as hard a time getting out of bed. And of course, it goes without saying that the importance of good sleep hygiene shouldn’t be discounted.

While sleep inertia is not a serious problem for most of us, we can still do well if we find ways to increase our energy levels in the morning and start the day on the right foot.

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Written on August 29, 2021