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What to Do if You Wake Up Feeling Groggy

Medically reviewed by: 

Dr. Areti Vassilopoulos

Yale School of Medicine

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Areti Vassilopoulos, Yale School of Medicine

There are few things more frustrating than going to sleep on time and getting the proper amount of sleep only to wake up feeling tired and groggy. Why does this happen, and what can you do about it?

If you try to get a good night’s sleep and you don’t wake up feeling refreshed, you might be having trouble with your sleep inertia. In this article, we’ll be talking about why you may be waking up groggy, what sleep inertia is, and what you can do to get quality sleep so you can wake up feeling well rested. Read on to learn more.

Learn How To Wake Up Refreshed

Why Can’t I Wake Up Feeling Refreshed?

Even when you do everything right, there’s a chance you might not wake up feeling refreshed. A variety of factors can be at play here, but one that is sometimes forgotten is sleep inertia. You may find yourself going through the motions in the morning, but your brain isn’t operating in an alert state yet.

If this is happening to you, sleep inertia could be the culprit. Sleep inertia is a concept that doesn’t always correlate with the quality of your sleep. You may have gone to bed on time and slept through the night, but sleep inertia could be causing you to feel tired despite your efforts. So why does this happen?

Understanding Sleep Inertia

Though it’s something that everyone has likely experienced at some point, the concept of sleep inertia wasn’t named until the 1950s. U.S. Air Force pilots would sleep in their planes when they were on duty, and when they were called to action, they would sometimes make easily avoidable mistakes right after waking up. This is because their minds were still catching up to their bodies after being abruptly awakened. In short, they couldn’t operate at optimum efficiency.

The name is based on the concept of inertia. This physics concept states that an object will resist changes in velocity and that the state of an object won’t change unless met by an external force. In the context of sleeping, your brain is asleep and your body is awake, but it’s easier for your brain to stay asleep, so it offers resistance initially, causing you to feel foggy and groggy until your brain catches up with your body.

Common Causes

The exact cause of sleep inertia is not known, but there are some theories as to why it happens. One of these theories attributes sleep inertia to abrupt awakenings, as observed in the Air Force pilots. If you’re in the middle of a deep sleep stage and you’re awakened abruptly, you may experience the symptoms of sleep inertia.Another reason could be sleep deprivation. If you’re missing out on sleep, then your body and brain may try to compensate for that, making it more difficult for you to wake up in the morning.You may also feel symptoms of sleep inertia if you didn’t get enough hours of sleep. Everyone needs a certain number of sleep hours, and if you don’t get what you need, you may find it difficult to hop out of bed feeling refreshed.Finally, sleep disorders could be the cause. Various sleep disorders can reduce the quality of your sleep and make it so your night isn’t restful. Sleep apnea can be especially disruptive to sleep, causing sleep inertia on a regular basis.

Typically, the symptoms of sleep inertia will go away relatively soon after waking up, but for some people, it can take over an hour. If you’re feeling drowsy throughout the day, a sleep disorder is a more likely cause than sleep inertia. With that being said, sleep inertia could still be a symptom of your sleep disorder.

How Does It Differ From Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Sleep anxiety actually shares many common symptoms with generalized anxiety disorder. In fact, the two often go hand in hand. You don’t necessarily have to have both, but many people with one will have the other. This is especially the case with generalized anxiety disorder. Difficulty sleeping is a very common symptom for people with GAD, and being sleep deprived can make their anxiety worse.

With that being said, people who have sleep anxiety don’t always have a generalized anxiety disorder, though the lack of sleep can increase their risk of developing it. The biggest difference between the two is that sleep anxiety is specifically fear and worry about falling asleep and is usually most prevalent near bedtime. Generalized anxiety disorder will be recurring throughout the day, and the stressful thoughts don’t necessarily center on sleep.

Who Has Trouble Getting Quality Sleep?

Anyone can have trouble getting quality sleep. Sleep disorders and general sleep problems are very common, so you’re not alone. Certain medical conditions can also contribute to sleep troubles.

How to Get More Restful Sleep

Fortunately, there are good methods for getting deeper and more restful sleep. Let’s talk about some of the sleep habits that can help with your sleep inertia problems.

Things To Do

Do Get Natural Light

It’s a good idea to get some natural light as soon as you wake up. Exposure to natural light can help set your internal clock and tell your mind and body that it’s daytime. If you can let sunlight into your room in the morning, this can help the symptoms of sleep inertia subside faster. Since the sun won’t always be out or shining in your window every morning, you may want to consider getting a light therapy lamp to turn on when you wake up. This can mimic the feeling of sunlight in the morning.

Do Exercise

Exercise can wake up your mind and body. Exercise is also a good way to promote better sleep, helping you to fall asleep better and sleep more deeply at night.

Do Eat Breakfast

This is especially important for those who are exercising to help with their sleep inertia. Eating a healthy breakfast can provide your body with energy and help you wake up in the morning. Foods that are high in protein can be especially beneficial. Carbs are also good for an energy boost, but make sure what you’re eating is not too carb-heavy. If your breakfast is too big, it could have the opposite effect and cause your body to expend extra energy toward digestion.

Do Wake Up at the Same Time Every Day

It’s a good idea to get on a regular sleep schedule and maintain it to the best of your ability. Your sleep needs may vary, but generally, you’ll want to get anywhere from six to nine hours of sleep per night. Plan to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, so you can get used to that schedule.

Do Address Any Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders can make it more difficult to get up in the morning and also make it harder to get good quality sleep. There are a variety of sleep disorders that can affect your sleep in various ways. If you suspect that you have a sleep disorder, it’s important to treat it properly so you can get better sleep. Typically, you can go to a doctor to get your sleep disorder diagnosed.

Sleep apnea is particularly detrimental to quality sleep and may require machine therapy to be treated. Machine therapy usually involves a positive airway pressure machine (CPAP or BiPAP) that gently forces air into the airways to keep them open and prevent sleep disruptions.

Things Not To Do

Don't Hit Snooze on Your Alarm Clock

Your alarm can help get you moving in the morning but only if you use it for its intended purpose. Hitting snooze can allow you to reenter your sleep cycle and potentially go into a sleep stage that is difficult to wake up from, like rapid eye movement, or REM. Waking up in the middle of REM sleep can make you feel foggy and confused. It's best to stick to your planned wake-up time.

Don’t Drink Caffeine Too Late

Caffeine in the morning can help you wake up your mind and get past your sleep inertia, but drinking it too late in the day can cause you problems falling asleep. Try to limit your caffeine intake to morning and early afternoon, so the lasting effects don’t keep you up later.

Don’t Eat Before Bed

Eating a big meal right before bed can cause your body to expend energy to digest the meal. This can keep you up longer than you want.

Don’t Use Your Bed for Work or Leisure

Limit use of your bed to just sleep and sex. Working or spending too much time in your bed will associate it with those activities instead of sleep.

Start Sleeping Better Today!

If you want to wake up well rested, Sleep Reset can help. Sleep Reset is a self-sleep clinic you can do at home. We provide a personalized solution via sleep coach to get you long-lasting results and help you stop waking up exhausted. Sleep Reset is a natural solution without sleeping pills or melatonin, so there are no groggy side effects to worry about.

Our science-backed program uses proven sleep methods and is designed to work with your lifestyle and address your sleep concerns. With Sleep Reset, you’ll fall asleep faster, sleep through the night, and wake up feeling refreshed.

Take our sleep assessment today to find out how Sleep Reset can help you with your sleep inertia problems.

Dr. Areti Vassilopoulos

Dr. Vassilopoulos is the Clinical Content Lead for Sleep Reset and Assistant Professor at Yale School of Medicine. She has co-authored peer-reviewed research articles, provides expert consultation to national nonprofit organizations, and chairs clinical committees in pediatric health psychology for the American Psychological Association. She lives in New England with her partner and takes full advantage of the beautiful hiking trails.