By Jennifer Nelson
If you hit the snooze button every morning when that blasted alarm beeps, you may be doing your brain a disservice.
The snooze button may offer up a few extra minutes of sleep, but during those extra minutes your brain can go back into the sleep cycle and possibly into deeper sleep, making it much more difficult to wake up. And the more difficult we feel it is to wake up, the worse we think we’ve slept.
The consequence of this sudden awakening during a heavy sleep cycle or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is known as sleep inertia, that period between waking and being fully awake during which we are groggy and disoriented.
During sleep inertia, which can last from 30 minutes to four hours, our decision-making abilities, self-control, ability to focus or concentrate and perform up to par all may be affected.
Simple tasks, basic math, alertness and attention all can suffer. In a study at Harvard Medical School that monitored people’s sleep for three days, researchers found that although study participants felt wide awake after two-thirds of an hour after waking, their cognitive function didn’t catch up for several hours. The brain, researchers noted, simply takes more time than we expect to gather speed after sleep.
In another study at the University of Colorado at Boulder, lead study author Professor Kenneth Wright noted sleep inertia had a significant impact on participants’ brain functions. “We found the cognitive skills of test subjects were worse upon awakening than after extended sleep deprivation. For a short period, at least, the effects of sleep inertia may be as bad as or worse than being legally drunk.“
Waking up naturally is the best way to fight sleep inertia. Usually we get the right amount sleep—our internal alarm clock (or circadian rhythm) is pre-set for our best wake-up time, which helps reduce that "sleep drunkenness” feeling.
But since not all of us have the ability or luxury to wake up naturally every day, here are some best practices to ward off sleep inertia:
- Keep a regular sleep routine. Go to bed and rise at the same time each day.
- Don’t close your curtains or blinds all the way; rather, allow them to let in morning light to help wake you.
- Never hit snooze if you use an alarm.
- Splash water on your face. Use cold water in summer and warm in winter to create a temperature change that helps you wake up.
- Allow plenty of time to wake if you need to be at the top of your game early in the morning.