Have you ever wondered why some people just don’t seem to be morning people? Or why some mornings you just can’t seem to get yourself or perhaps your kids going? The answer could be sleep inertia. So what exactly is sleep inertia and is there anything you can do to reduce its severity and length?
Segen’s Medical Dictionary describes sleep inertia as ‘the time it takes to become fully alert after waking; it is most marked in the first 10-15 minutes after waking, but can last hours, and is worse with chronic sleep deprivation and circadian misalignment.’
Put simply, sleep inertia is that groggy feeling you sometimes feel when you wake up. Your motor coordination will be poor which means you may be clumsy and a bit wobbly. Your cognitive function will be impaired; you may feel disorientated and have difficulty remembering things. You may feel irritable and in children this may manifest in the form of tantrums and uncooperative behavior, which can be frustrating to parents trying to get families ready for the day. They may also wake up crying and disoriented.
Sleep inertia is your body’s natural response upon waking but its severity and length has a lot to do with what stage of your sleep cycle you wake up in. In order to reduce sleep inertia it is helpful to understand the stages of sleep, of which there are five. The first four stages are NREM (Non Rapid Eye Movement) stages
- STAGE 1 is SLEEP INTRODUCTION. During this stage your muscles relax. This is when you might experience muscle twitches or jerks
- STAGE 2 is when your body temperature drops and your breathing and heart rate slows.
- STAGE 3 is the beginning of deep sleep. Your brain begins to emit Delta waves.
- STAGE 4 is a very deep stage of sleep. Delta waves are strong; your breathing is deep and steady and your movements are limited.
- STAGE 5 is REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. During this stage your muscles actually become paralyzed, except for those responsible for vital life functions such as breathing and your heart. REM sleep is important for the developing brain as it helps to form stronger neural pathways and memories. It is also just as important for adults to restore brain function.
These five stages make up a sleep cycle of approximately 90 minutes. The first few cycles of sleep at night are dominated by lighter NREM sleep while the last few have longer phases of deep NREM sleep and REM sleep.
While sleep deprivation may contribute to sleep inertia in some cases and will definitely cause tiredness and impaired responses throughout the day one of the best things we can do to stop lingering grogginess is to wake up correctly. You may think you have little control over how you or your child wake up but we have all felt the difference between gently waking up of our own accord as opposed to the harsh sound of an alarm clock jolting you awake. You struggle to get your bearings and just want to stick your head under your pillow and go back to sleep. Once up, you can feel like you just can’t wake up and yet you get into a car to drive to work. According to www.drowsydriving.org there are over a 100 000 accidents reported as result of fatigued drivers. The majority of these accidents happen in the early hours of the morning or on the way to work.
In another scenario you wake up your child with a cheery and optimistic greeting as you fling back the curtains and give them a little shake. You hope for a good start but your child is grumpy, impossible or spaced out. The reason for this is most likely because you have woken them from a deep sleep. The key is not only getting enough sleep but waking up at the right stage in your sleep cycle. However since we are not sleep experts it may be hard to recognize which stage of sleep your child is in. A kid’s alarm clock like Tick Tock Turtle is a great way to solve this problem. It has a wake light which gently introduces light into the room and a sensor to ensure your child wakes at the best time in their sleep cycle. Other ways to gently wake your child include opening curtains to let natural light in or opening the door and putting soft music on to let sounds in to wake your child. You could also come into the room and get clothes ready for the day and then sit on the bed and gently place you hand on your child’s back or arm. Give this process about 20 minutes as you go about your morning chores. Make it a gentle transition, your child just might wake up on the right side of the bed…