When you are pulled suddenly out of a deep slumber (say, by a blaring alarm), the sudden jolt stimulates your body’s fight-of-flight response, releasing a dose of adrenaline that can make a triple-shot espresso seem weak by comparison. Yes, these rude awakenings make for an awful way to start the day, but they can also impact how you act and feel for hours to come. According to a study conducted at the University of Colorado at Boulder, the immediate effects of sleep inertia can be as bad or worse than being drunk. The study found that in a dazed-and-confused state, your short-term memory, counting skills and analytic abilities all falter, and while the more serious impairments generally taper off within minutes, the effects can often linger for up to two hours.
“Some days you have [sleep inertia] and feel bad all day. The days that you do not have it, you feel like you’re full of energy and can conquer the world,” says Glen Sullivan, deputy director of the Atlantic Health Sciences Sleep Centre in New Brunswick. “There is just no way of escaping the basic point that to feel good you need enough good-quality sleep, but if you wake up to a clanging alarm clock at the wrong time, you will have that feeling of not fully waking up.”
So can you sensibly toss your clock radio out the window? Although today they can be found at practically every bedside, audio-based awakening devices actually conflict with our biological needs. People were programmed to rise with the sun, whose rays signal the brain to stop producing melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep. Of course, you can’t always rely on natural daylight and your internal clock to get you up in time, but you can pick up a progressive alarm clock, which claims to reduce sleep inertia by waking you up gently and gradually. By introducing light and other factors such as sound and smell before jump-starting your day, “you are going to wake up better because you are in a more fragmented lighter sleep stage, one that is closer to being awake,” says Sullivan.