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3 Reasons For Your Sleep Inertia

Struggling to wake up in the morning? Still feeling sluggish and sleepy by midday? These are just a couple of the signs you’re dealing with sleep inertia. Let’s unpack what it is and what could be causing it.

Despite getting a full night’s sleep, there are a number of people who still feel groggy, confused and sleepy after waking up. While a little sleepiness is normal in the mornings, most of us shake it off quickly. Sleep inertia, on the other hand, can last for hours and may involve some disorienting symptoms. These include:

  • Decreased alertness after waking – this can last for anything from a few minutes to multiple hours.
  • Sluggishness, sleepiness and fatigue – this can include wanting to go back to sleep.
  • Impacted cognitive ability and reaction times – this can make driving or completing complex tasks a challenge, and is especially dangerous regarding the former.

Let’s take a look at some of the major causes for this exhausting condition.

Overexposure to blue light

A lot of us are guilty of falling asleep to screens every night – whether you’re watching a movie, scrolling social media or even just watch a relaxing meditation video, the blue light is still wreaking havoc on your sleep cycle. Here’s how: these lights suppress our natural secretion of the “sleep hormone”, melatonin – we need this hormone to keep our circadian rhythm in balance. This rhythm is responsible for our sleeping and waking functions. With Aussies spending an average of 5.5 hours on their mobile phone screens alone, it’s safe to say we have a bit of a problem. To make matters worse, screens and lighting are only getting brighter with an influx of ultra-bright efficient lights, along with high-quality computer and phone screen displays. While they might look good, that’s where the benefits stop.

While some blue light is fine – in fact, blue light is produced naturally from the sun – most of us are getting overdosed with hours of exposure each day. Research has found a direct link between this overexposure and sleep inertia – so it’s worth changing your habits. Here are a few ways to limit your exposure:

  • Buy a pair of blue-light glasses: You might feel strange wearing what looks like sunglasses indoors, but your eyes and sleep cycle will thank you later.
  • Reduce screen time: Try to limit your time scrolling on social media or watching videos, and be sure to switch screens off in the hours before you go to bed.
  • Go for red light: Unlike blue light, studies have found red light may actually prevent sleep inertia. So, it could be worth switching your LED lights for some red-light lamps – especially in the bedroom.

Reduced circulation

Decreased blood flow is another contributor to sleep inertia, and this comes down to effects on our sleep cycles. A properly functioning sleep cycle relies on adequate blood flow to the brain, and research has shown that inadequate flow causes a condition with similar symptoms around tiredness, fatigue and reduced alertness. Researchers have drawn links between the two conditions, suggesting that this cerebral blood flow impairment could be partly to blame. So, how can you improve this? To get your circulation pumping, it’s essential to steer clear of highly-processed, sugary foods and opt for gut and brain-healthy foods like legumes, fruits and veggies, seeds and nuts, whole grains and fermented foods instead. Try to get moving during the day, especially if you're a sedentary worker sitting at your desk all day.

Inadequate exercise

Exercise provides a number of health benefits that tie in to our sleeping patterns, including sunlight and increased circulation. As we mentioned above, poor circulation can do a number on your sleep cycle, and exercise happens to be a simple way to get things moving. In fact, exercise has been directly linked with improving our sleep quality, thereby reducing the risk of sleep inertia. But try to keep your exercise earlier in the day – exercising intensively right before bed can throw your sleep cycle off kilter. Another reason to get outside for a walk or jog is because, unlike artificial blue light, a little bit of natural light from the sun actually stimulates melatonin production, helping us regulate our sleep cycle hormones.

Tip: If you’re getting up for an early morning jog, consider using a less jarring alarm to wake you. Those loud, blaring alarm clocks often cause anxiety and confusion, which can increase your sluggishness. Softer alarms are ideal to help your body adjust to waking.

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