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That groggy feeling when you wake up might be sleep inertia: 3 ways to prevent it

Ever had a busy day ahead of you, but you just couldn’t get out of bed? You’re probably experiencing sleep inertia.

Scientifically, “sleep inertia refers to the temporary degradation of alertness and performance,” says Dr. Abhinav Singh, sleep physician and medical director of the Indiana Sleep Center. It occurs “immediately after [waking up] after a prolonged sleep period.”

And no one’s exempt from, says Singh, who is also an expert for SleepFoundation.org and co-author of “Sleep to Heal: 7 Simple Steps to Better Sleep.”

The state can last a few minutes to a half hour for some people, but for others it can persist for even longer, he tells CNBC Make It.

To determine if that feeling you have when you’re waking up is sleep inertia, look out for symptoms like:

  • Grogginess
  • Disorientation
  • Lowered alertness
  • Decreased mental and physical performance

In honor of World Sleep Day, we asked Singh how to start each day feeling well-rested, and fortunately there are things you can do day-to-day to keep sleep inertia at bay.

3 ways to prevent sleep inertia

1. Focus on the quality and quantity of your sleep

Make sure you’re feeling rested. “If you have poor quality of sleep [and] poor quantity of sleep, that can leave you feeling more sleep inertia,” he says. “It’s like you’re trying to drive when the handbrakes are still on.”

If your sleep inertia is due to you sleeping less, it can carry on for two hours potentially and impact your ability to get things done, Singh adds.

“Let’s say you show up at work, you have a meeting at nine, and you still have sleep inertia,” he says, “you’ll still struggle to be alert [and] cognitively sharp. When responding to emails, you may not be the best.”

“All of these [things] can impact both your physical and cognitive performance, and that can cost you,” in multiple aspects of your life, including work and social relationships, Singh adds.

2. ‘Avoid social jet lag’

Heading to bed around the same time each day is key, according to Singh. “The most important thing is a regular sleep/wake schedule. Your body, your brain [and] your organ systems don’t know Saturday and Sunday from Monday and Tuesday,” he says.

“So, avoid social jet lag.”

That’s when you feel tired and groggy at the top of the work week after drastically shifting your sleep schedule on the weekend, Singh says.

“Don’t vary your sleep/wake time by more than an hour, if possible,” he suggests.

3. Go down the list of other potential factors

Sometimes sleep-related problems happen as a result of outside factors. Consider small things like the atmosphere of your room, or larger issues like the medications you’re taking, says Singh.

A good starting point would be to ensure that your room is “dark, quiet, and cool” when you’re heading to bed, he says. And “avoid waking up abruptly from deep sleep,” by taking shorter naps and getting a more gentle alarm clock.

“If you’re sleeping seven to nine hours and you still are experiencing sleep inertia frequently, beyond 20 minutes, then it’s time to say something to your doctor,” says Singh.

It’s possible that you may be experiencing problems as a result of the medications you’re taking or a potential disorder, he adds.

And it might be helpful to keep Singh’s mantra in mind: “Don’t sleep on your sleep problems.”

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