A Closer Look at Sleep Inertia

A Closer Look at Sleep Inertia

Sleep inertia or sleep drunkenness is one of the most common symptoms of idiopathic hypersomnia. Namely, according to research, one-third of idiopathic hypersomnia patients have sleep inertia. It is characterized by having trouble waking up from sleep, and when eventually you do, you feel extremely groggy and disoriented. This can last for as little as half an hour or as long as a couple of hours.

Sleep Inertia Causes

Even though experts haven’t clearly defined the causes of this condition, they still have some theories. The first one is that sleep inertia occurs as a result of the body making too much of a small molecule in the clear liquid that protects the brain and spinal cord, called cerebrospinal fluid. This small molecule interacts with GABA and other brain chemicals to create an effect similar to the one of a sleeping pill.

Furthermore, other theories claim that idiopathic hypersomnia is an autoimmune condition, meaning that it occurs when the immune system attacks the body by mistake rather than an invading germ. And, being brought on by a viral illness, is yet another possible theory of what causes idiopathic hypersomnia and sleep inertia.

Sleep Inertia Symptoms

So, what’s it like to experience sleep inertia? We’ve already mentioned that you find it hard to wake up and once you do you feel groggy and disoriented. However, sleep inertia also makes it hard to focus on your daily, normal activities, which can lead to issues such as:

  • Slower thinking and reaction time
  • Poor coordination and short-term memory
  • Moodiness or irritability

Managing Sleep Inertia

If you suspect you may have sleep inertia, you’d rather make an appointment with your doctor and discuss everything you’re concerned about including your symptoms and how they affect your everyday life.

Luckily, there are several things you can do at home to help you wake up faster from sleep inertia, i.e. manage its symptoms. These include:

  • Drinking a cup of coffee – research has found that 100 milligrams of caffeine can help you wake up more quickly from sleep inertia.
  • Follow a strict sleep schedule – although you may find it hard sometimes, waking up and going to bed at the same time every they can relieve sleep inertia symptoms.
  • Increase exposure to light – sunlight is key to suppressing the sleep hormone called melatonin which means that it helps you wake up.
  • Do a short high-intensity exercise – a study suggests that sleep inertia patients feel less sleepy if they do 30 seconds of intense exercise after waking up.
  • Avoid taking naps – naps can indeed lead to severe sleep inertia, so you’d better try to stave off the urge by doing physical activity, for example.

Sleep Inertia Treatment

Finally, let’s see how sleep inertia is treated. Namely, there aren’t any FDA-approved medicines specifically for sleep inertia. However, some of the treatments approved for idiopathic hypersomnia can also help you relieve this symptom. These may include:

  • Bupropion (Wellbutrin) and methylphenidate (Ritalin) – a combination of these two helped relieve severe sleep inertia, according to a small study.
  • Melatonin – if taken at bedtime, it helps control the body’s sleep-wake cycle.
  • Sodium oxybate (Xyrem, Xywav) – this drug interacts with GABA, a brain chemical, to help you stay alert. Research suggests it relieves severe sleep inertia in around 70% of idiopathic hypersomnia patients.