4 Ways To Beat Sleep Inertia & Start Your Day With Less Grogginess
Think back to how you got out of bed this morning: Did you perk up without an alarm, ready to take on the day? Or did you begrudgingly press snooze only to wake up a few minutes later wishing you were still asleep? It turns out, that groggy morning feeling many of us are all too familiar with has a name: Sleep inertia.
Here's what research has revealed about the cause of sleep inertia and how to keep it at bay.
What is sleep inertia?
In a 2017 literature review aptly named Waking up is the hardest thing I do all day1, "sleep inertia" was defined as "the transitional state between sleep and wake, marked by impaired performance, reduced vigilance, and a desire to return to sleep."
Sleep researchers aren't totally sure what causes or intensifies sleep inertia, but they suspect it has something to do with the body's circadian rhythm, also known as our internal clock.
In one small study on emergency workers2 who need to be "on" as soon as they wake up, the effect of sleep inertia was tested throughout the night. Twelve workers were woken up at various points of the night and early morning and asked to solve math equations (sounds fun, no?).
Their cognitive performance seemed to be lower when they were woken up during the "biological night," when their bodies' circadian clocks were telling them it was time to sleep, indicating that this clock can contribute to grogginess and increased processing time.
Waking up during a deeper sleep stage, like REM sleep or slow-wave sleep, also seems to contribute to sleep inertia and lead to morning grogginess. The ideal time to wake up is just after you've completed a sleep cycle, as that's when your body will feel the most refreshed.
How long does it last?
Sleep inertia is a natural response that can last anywhere from minutes or hours, depending on the person. Most people will find that their grogginess starts to fade within 15-30 minutes of waking—especially if they start their day with an energizing morning routine.
How do I get rid of sleep inertia?
Take a morning walk.
Since sleep inertia is so connected to lighting cues, the best way to beat it is to go outside and get some sun first thing in the morning to let your body know that it's time to wake up and ease into the day.
Take magnesium at night.*
When the internal clock is off—either because of a change in scenery or a late-night—the dreaded sleep inertia might feel worse. That's where magnesium comes in.
As a GABA agonist, magnesium is an essential mineral with important relaxing actions to help calm the body and mind for sleep.* Magnesium may also increase melatonin, helping keep our circadian rhythms running smoothly and by extension, easing grogginess.* And case in point, clinical studies of magnesium supplementation3 have shown this mineral to improve not only the time it takes to fall asleep and overall sleep duration but also early morning wakening.*
It's why mbg chose magnesium as the star of our first sleep supplement, sleep support+. When taken 30 minutes to an hour before bed, this nightly supplement calms the overactive mind and promotes relaxation, helping you fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and wake up feeling rejuvenated.*
Stick to a consistent sleep routine.
"If one comes to the end of a full night's sleep, one wakes up naturally—that's the ideal way to wake up," Girardin Jean-Louis, Ph.D., professor of population health and psychiatry at New York University, previously told mbg. To get your body used to waking up refreshed without an alarm, keeping a consistent bedtime and wake-up time is key—even on weekends.
Ideally, you can schedule bedtime so that you go to bed around three hours after sunset and wake up with the sunrise. "When the body wakes up at the end of a sleep cycle, after sufficient sleep, and it happens to coincide with sunrise, that's the sweet spot when you're most likely to feel good upon waking," says holistic psychiatrist Ellen Vora, M.D.
Keeping your bedroom dark and staying off your devices at night will help you ease into this earlier bedtime.
Stay away from the snooze button.
As tempting as those extra 9 minutes may be, experts say that pressing the snooze button only makes morning grogginess worse. "When you hit the snooze button, you're more likely to fall back into a deeper state of sleep," which will make waking up even harder and grogginess inevitable, holistic nurse practitioner Victoria Albina, N.P., MPH previously told mbg.
The bottom line:
Sleep inertia describes that groggy feeling that persists after we wake up. Maintaining a consistent sleep-wake schedule, supporting your circadian rhythm, avoiding the snooze button, and taking the right sleep supplements can all help you conquer the mornings feeling more energized and alert.*
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.