Feel groggy in the morning? How to overcome sleep inertia

Do you sometimes rise in the morning feeling even more tired and groggy than when you first went to sleep?

There’s a name for that – sleep inertia. It’s the sensation of grogginess and drowsiness when you first wake up, characterised by temporary sleepiness and poor cognitive function. 

While it clears up quick enough, sometimes sleep inertia lingers for up to 90 minutes, which can make you feel sleepy and dazed for some time in the morning. 

The main cause for sleep inertia is unknown, however, there are theories explaining this phenomenon.

For example, some research suggests that sleep inertia could be caused by high levels of adenosine – an important substance in the brain for sleep and wakefulness.

‘From my understanding, sleep inertia can happen for different reasons,’ says Dr Elena Touroni, consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic.

‘It can also happen when we wake up suddenly in the wrong part of our sleep cycle, such as slow-wave sleep or REM.’

Sleep is incredibly important – it can be used as a ‘barometer’ for our psychological and emotional health. Any imbalances here could also account for poor functioning.

‘If you are struggling to get a good night’s sleep or you’re waking up without feeling refreshed, it could signal that there are areas of your life you are not addressing,’ Dr Elena adds.

There are different things you can do to try and combat sleep inertia – one of these is to make changes to your morning routine.

The key thing is to boost your energy levels in the morning, which can be done in a variety of ways.

Below are some things to try.

Rise and sleep at the same time 

When it comes to fixing your sleep routine, keeping your circadian rhythm in check is very important.

Usually, your body realises when it has had enough sleep so it will naturally wake up – but you’ve got to ‘train’ your body to wake up refreshed at the same time every day. 

Try and keep to a sleep schedule that works best for you. It means that your body is ready for the day ahead, and reduces any sort of grogginess you may encounter in the morning.

Dr Elena also suggests to ‘remove distractions’ to help your mind and body to wind down for a good night’s sleep.

‘Keep your phone in another room overnight and stick to a regular sleep routine, so your body knows when bedtime is approaching,’ she says.

Start off with alarms to keep you in check, but once your body is used to it, then you may not even need them.

Start the day with simple exercises 

One way to beat the morning grogginess is by moving your body.

It doesn’t have to be complicated – you can do some simple stretches and yoga moves to get your day started. 

If a morning jog is your preferred way to go, then you can do that, too.

Exercising has numerous benefits, including releasing endorphins which boost your wellbeing. Pair that with a refreshing shower afterwards and you’ll be awake for the day. 

Not only will this wake you up, get your heart pumping and stretch your muscles, but simple exercise will reduce anxiety and increase your focus throughout the day – essential for getting your head clear and ready for the day. 

Eat an energy-boosting breakfast and carry a snack 

According to experts, eating a well-rounded breakfast is crucial to overcome sleep inertia.

It’s important to keep it light and include a variety of nutrients, not just a quick pastry as you’re leaving for work.

For example, try to include a good source of protein (such as eggs) to keep you satisfied for longer, and pair that with a fuelling carbohydrate source (such as bread or oatmeal).

If you can, finish off with fruit and a glass of water to keep you hydrated. 

Once you’re ready to leave the house, try to grab a snack to fight the mid-morning slump. It’s very common to be caught up in things to do and then forget to have a bite.

It’s recommended to have foods that release energy slowly, to prevent any dramatic drops in blood pressure, such as bananas or breakfast bars.

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