Is Sleep Inertia Ruining Your Day? Here's How to Stop Hitting Snooze

Do you tend to hit the Snooze button more than once each morning? Or maybe you're one of those people who set no less than 12 separate alarms for 12 different times (6:37am, 7:09am, 7:32am and so on) hoping that once you hit that magic number you'll access a version of yourself that wakes up full of energy and excitement about the day ahead.

If you do struggle to wake up in the morning, you might be experiencing something called "sleep inertia". It's that groggy, confused feeling that makes it really easy to fall back into a deep sleep, and can have knock-on effects into the rest of the day.

Trying to catch a few extra minutes of sleep in the morning might seem innocent enough, but you're actually just prolonging the process of waking up and making it way harder on yourself.

Read on to find out more about sleep inertia including how you can prevent it from happening.

What is sleep inertia?

"Inertia" describes the state of something remaining unchanged. Like, if you roll a ball down a hill it will continue rolling until something stops it, whether it's that the hill levels out into flat ground or it bumps into an unsuspecting passer by. It is inertia that keeps the ball rolling—it will keep doing what it's doing until something stops it.

Sleep inertia, therefore, is a state in which sleep persists even upon waking. It is essentially the transitional state between being asleep and being awake, and it's during sleep inertia that the desire to return to sleep may be too strong to fight. In its more severe iteration it's sometimes called "sleep drunkenness".

Why is hitting the Snooze button so bad for you?

Sleep inertia negatively affects our memory, reaction time, ability to perform basic maths, alertness and attention. This means that even simple tasks are far more difficult than they would be during the day, and that we're more likely to do something we normally wouldn't—like hit Snooze again even though there's now only 10 minutes before we have to leave the house for work (or relocate to a cosy home office set-up).

When you fall back to sleep during sleep inertia, you're basically taking a nose-dive back into the beginning of the sleep cycle, which is the worst phase of sleep from which to be woken. When the alarm sounds next, the concept of waking up will feel even more impossible. (Remember, one of the techniques of lucid dreaming is to wake up after five hours of sleep and then return to sleep—not exactly ideal for someone who's meant to wake up and stay up.)

Most people wake when they do because they're socially obligated (primarily for work), rather than waking naturally. As per the New Yorker, this "social jetlag" can cause increases in alcohol, cigarette and caffeine use and lead to obesity and high-risk behaviour. According to German professor Till Roenneberg, who coined the term social jetlag, this is why poor sleep timing leads to shift workers often suffering from higher-than-average rates of cancer, heart conditions and other chronic illness.

How to prevent sleep inertia

If you're waking up groggy every day, know that there are changes you can make to help improve the situation. It will take some time, but stay strong and soon you'll be waking up on the right side of the bed.

1. Spend more time in nature and under natural light

This one's tricky in 2020, with much of the world socially isolated indoors/ But by spending as much time as possible away from artificial light and in sunlight you will help to reset your circadian rhythm. A week camping in the bush (when allowed) could be what you need to reset your body clock, removing the need for a Snooze button entirely.

2. Establish (and stick to) a bedtime ritual

Do what you can to allow enough melatonin (the sleep hormone) to do its thing at least two hours prior to sleep time, and eventually upon waking it will dissipate naturally and you'll feel less sleepy. Try the 4-7-8 breathing technique or burn a relaxing scented candle—whatever works.

3. Improve your circadian rhythm, however you can

This one may be tricky for shift workers, but if your livelihood doesn't depend on being awake during the night, do your best to rise and fall with the sun. If your ideal sleep time is 11pm, this means no screens after 9pm, no food and no caffeine or other stimulants. Make this two-hour period all about relaxation and rest.

4. Don't hit Snooze

Pro tip (from someone who hits Snooze way too often): plug your phone in (or whatever you use as an alarm) way out of arm's reach—like on the other side of the room—so you're forced to actually stand up to turn it off.

If you're still struggling, see a health professional—it's worth it to wake up feeling good!

What is REM sleep, how is it different to "deep sleep", and why is it so important for our brain development and wellbeing? We investigate.

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