What is Sleep Inertia? What Is It and How to Beat It

You know that feeling when you wake up, but you just can’t get yourself out of bed, or you feel completely out of it? 


That feeling you experience is called sleep inertia. This phenomenon can be a real challenge, especially in our world today. With so many demands and things we have to take care of, struggling to get out of bed and not feeling ready for the day can be a challenge.

Curious about sleep inertia ourselves, we dove deep into the current research to provide you with all you need to know to overcome this concern. In this article, we’ll explore what sleep inertia is, why it happens, and what you can do about it to overcome the struggle.

What is Sleep Inertia?

Sleep inertia is best defined as the state between sleep and wake where you feel impaired, whether it be cognitively or even in your motor skills. Typically, according to Sleep Medicine Reviews, people who struggle with sleep inertia will find themselves immediately upon waking up feeling like they are not fully aware. For some, it can take up to two hours to get rid of this groggy feeling!

Some of the most common symptoms of people who experience sleep inertia include struggles with their memory, vigilance, logical reasoning, and even their decision-making skills. For those who struggle with this, it can be a risk to their safety, especially if they have to be on duty but still find themselves not as awake as they would like to be!

Why Does Sleep Inertia Happen?

There are many reasons why sleep inertia happens, but some of the most reported makes sense when looking at the facts. If you wake up during the night, during your slow wave sleep or REM sleep, or even lose sleep over time, you might find yourself struggling with sleep inertia. So, in other words, if you struggle with poor-quality sleep, you may be more likely to have sleep inertia and challenges related to your alertness upon waking.

Some studies even show that people can experience sleep inertia because of the demands of modern society. When we say this, what we mean is that our busy schedules can sometimes lead us to lack quality sleep. The good news? You’re not alone if you experience. The bad news is that some are more likely to experience this because of their professions.  

Who is Most Affected by It?

Some people are more affected by sleep inertia due to their jobs and the on-call nature of their line of work. If you’re in healthcare or emergency services, you might be more likely to struggle with sleep inertia. Most people can recall moments where they suffered from sleep inertia, but emergency and medical personnel who are on-call report struggling with it the most out of other populations

Other populations that also report more sleep inertia challenges are those who drive at night or do so for their work. After a nap, drivers will likely feel sleepy and drive at a reduced rate of speed, clearly showing a drop in their overall alertness and their ability to navigate without challenges. As you can see, sleep inertia happens to many people, but fortunately, even if you struggle with it every day, we have some ways you can beat it. 

How Can I Beat Sleep Inertia?

Beating sleep inertia is possible, and we have the research to prove it! We’ll explore five tips that we found that are proven methods for improving your wakefulness and alertness after waking up. Here’s what you can do to avoid sleep inertia in the future:

#1: Get Light Exposure Upon Waking Up

Did you know that waking up and being exposed to light can help you wake up faster? According to Sleep Health, light from any source can improve your alertness and your overall working memory. So, in the morning, simply open up the blinds or turn on the light to give yourself a boost of energy!

#2: Exercise Upon Waking Up

If you have the time, exercising upon waking up can be another great way to avoid sleep inertia. Even just a short, high-intensity exercise can be a great awakening tool to help you shrug off the cobwebs of your sleep and get prepared for the day. 

#3: Use a Pleasant Alarm

No one wants to wake up to the sound of sirens going off, and it can be bad for sleep inertia. To avoid the grogginess, opt for a more pleasant alarm, one potentially with nature sounds or a melodic tone. This can improve your attention and motor skills upon waking up without jolting you awake.

#4: Create the Right Sleep Environment

How you go to sleep usually is a good indication of how you’ll wake up. For the best sleep and morning wake-up, ensure you have a cool, comfortable environment with breathable sheets. 

#5: Keep a Good Sleep Schedule

Going to bed in the wee hours of the night is no way to combat sleep inertia. Ensure your sleep schedule matches your needs, matching your sleep to your circadian rhythm. Let your body sleep during the nighttime, and you’ll feel well-rested by the time the sun rises. 

Sleep inertia can be overcome as long as you follow the tips we have discussed. No matter if you’re a healthcare worker or someone struggling to get the right sleep routine, we hope that this article helped you and allowed you to gain insight into how to improve your overall sleep health and hygiene. 


Written by

Emily Mendez

Emily Mendez is a former therapist and mental health author. She is one of the leading voices in mental health. Emily's writing has appeared in eCounseling, SonderMind, and more. Emily is frequently interviewed by Healthline, Fatherly, INSIDER, Family Circle, and other national media for her advice and expert opinion on the latest mental health topics.

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