A case of morning moodiness

When people wake up, they often find themselves to be in a bit of a state of sleep drunkenness. They are tired, groggy, a little drowsy, and may be somewhat cognitively and physically impaired in terms of concentrating and moving with purpose.  

The problem is that some people, especially those who struggle(d) with chronic insomnia, tend to think that this feeling is because of their insomnia problem. They rate the quality of their sleep based on this initial feeling upon waking up.

In reality, sleep inertia is a common phenomenon – most everyone experiences this initial feeling of being worse for wear in the morning regardless of how they slept the previous night. This is because the sleep chemicals in our body are still being flushed out of our body and requires time for us to become fully alert.

In some ways, we can’t really get rid of sleep inertia. What I can do in this post is provide some information on how to move past the sleep inertia stage as quickly as possible to get you going on your day!  

Strategies to reduce sleep inertia

There are a few different strategies you can employ to break through sleep inertia quickly:

1. Get up as soon as you wake up. Although it can feel nice to cozy up in bed and scroll through social media for some time, getting up as soon as possible allows your body to start moving and feel more energized. Moreover, you begin building up more pressure for sleep once your feet hit the ground, which can support deeper sleep the next night!

2. Get some light exposure. Light works as a time-setter for our internal body clock (i.e., circadian rhythm) and gives provides input for wakefulness. Getting some sunlight early in the morning can send signals to our body to become more alert.

girl getting sunlight
Getting some sunlight is a great way to become more alert and set our circadian rhythm

3. Proper hydration. Our body is usually in a state of dehydration after a night of sleep. One easy way to feel more replenish our body to start feeling better is by drinking some water.

4. Getting active in the morning. Sometimes you have to give a little to get a little. A little bit of activity in the morning will help generate momentum to reduce fatigue. This does not have to be anything strenuous – a short walk, light exercise, or yoga will do the trick!

5. Taking a nice cool shower. If you enjoy showering in the morning, then a shower in the morning can be helpful to get your blood running.

Along with these recommendations, sleep expert Allison Harvey, provides some additional excellent strategies, such as phoning a friend or playing some upbeat music, using a strategy called RISE-UP.

Woman doing yoga pose
Yoga as a light morning activity!

Leveraging our sleep systems for the morning

Beyond strategies to tackle sleep inertia directly, there are a couple ways to leverage our sleep systems to get some more refreshing sleep and feel better during the day.

The two sleep systems are: circadian rhythm and homeostatic sleep-wake system. The circadian rhythm is what tells our body when we should be more alert and more sleepy. The homeostatic sleep system builds up pressure for deep sleep the more we are awake and active.

To get strong alerting signals in the morning, we should keep to a fairly regular bed/rise time. Waking up at the same time every day and getting some sunlight will be helpful in 1) providing our internal circadian rhythm with alerting signals and 2) getting our body in a regular rhythm which can tell our body that this is the time to wake up and be active.

To leverage our homeostatic system, we can get out of bed when the alarm rings and stay generally active throughout the day. We build up pressure for sleep by staying active and reducing times we spend resting, napping, or sleeping in. By doing so, we build up a lot of sleep drive to get the deep, restorative sleep that we need.

People with insomnia often engage in behaviours that focus on catching up on the previous night’s poor sleep; however, we usually see the best results when we focus on the next night’s sleep.

Circadian clock

Are there ways to reduce sleep inertia?

Although there is some research to suggest that waking up in certain phases of sleep can be helpful to reduce sleep inertia (Ferrara et al. 2000), apps designed to do so are probably not very accurate. Moreover, the worry about waking up feeling groggy is usually more damaging than simply accepting that sometimes sleep inertia will happen. I would personally encourage you to recognize that sleep inertia is a normal part of life, but to know that you are now equipped with strategies to tackle it when it comes.

I hope this post was helpful in understanding a little more about how to feel better when we are dealing with morning tiredness!

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Best wishes,