Don’t you just hate it when you wake up and you’re really groggy. It can seem like it takes forever to get going. Sometimes the only thing that will get your day flowing is a cup of coffee, or maybe a quick shower. But did you know, that grogginess actually has a name? Sleep inertia!
And it’s not just us grown ups that get it. I’m sure you will have noticed that your little ones aren’t always in a better mood when they wake up, particularly from naps? It’s that heart sinking moment when you realise that they were actually in a better mood before they had a nap. Arrghh!
So what is it that causes it? Well, you may already be aware that when we sleep, we cycle through different stages of sleep, with some being lighter than others. Generally when we wake from the lighter stages of sleep, we feel pretty refreshed as that’s naturally the point that our body is approaching wakefulness and we are ‘ready’ to wake up. Unfortunately though, if we’re woken in the deeper stages it can take our brains a little time to catch up with our bodies.
Although it’s harder to wake someone in a deep stage of sleep, it’s not impossible. Our children crying out is a good example, more so for mothers as we are biologically programmed to respond to our offspring. That horrid fumbling around in the middle of the night when you hear your baby crying, being pretty disorientated and thinking that you’re just dreaming? Yup, that’s all part of the same thing! Interestingly, fathers are more likely to be woken by something that could threaten the whole family, so a car alarm going off for example!
Generally, this drowsiness should only last for 5-30 minutes after waking, although in some cases it can last as long as 4 hours. Yikes! The more sleep deprived you are and the more frequently you’ve been awoken in any sleep period makes a difference to how quickly you can get your mo-jo back.
A nap is never a bad idea, unless…
Napping can actually be the worst culprit for causing the grogginess, as depending on how long we actually nap for, we don’t complete a full sleep cycle (which for adults is approximately 90 minutes, but can be as short as 40 minutes for babies – I’ll be talking more about sleep cycles next week, so stay tuned!).
So the ‘art of napping’ (however old you are) relies on waking at your sweet spot, obviously this can be easier said than done. Certainly for adults, a power nap of about 20 minutes should be long enough to make you feel less tired as you won’t have sunk into too deep a sleep, reducing the chance of you feeling lethargic when you wake (interestingly, caffeine takes about the same amount of time to kick in, so when you’re REALLY tired, a cup of coffee followed by a power nap can do you the world of good!).
For little ones who win the Grump Meister General award for grumpiness when they wake after a nap, a snack and some quiet cuddles for 5 – 10 minutes before launching into activities is generally enough to help perk them up a bit. Obviously, if they’re not getting the overall amount of sleep they need, it could last a little longer, in which case you might need to lengthen those snuggles a bit.
So what can you do when you or your little one are a slave to the sluggishness in the mornings?
Find your rhythm
I’m sure you’ve heard me banging on about routine, routine, routine for little ones? Well, that can really help both of you. Our bodies have their own (circadian) rhythm, which cleverly lasts about 24 hours. With little ones who stick to a routine (the same wake up time, the same nap time, the same bedtime etc etc), their bodies naturally wake them in the mornings at pretty much the same time every day and signify when it’s time to go to bed.
Unfortunately, as adults, we sort of forget this. Life just gets in the way a bit, doesn’t it? Maybe one night we’ll be in bed for 10, the next night 11, the following night 9, so our body clocks really don’t know what to expect, even though for most of us, our alarm clocks are set for the same time every day (at least during the week). So, it might be worth considering getting yourself into a bit more of a routine too. Bearing in mind our sleep cycles are about 90 minutes, you can even work it backwards based on what time you need to wake in the mornings. So for example if you need to be up and at ‘em at 7 am, going to bed about 10 pm would give you 6 sleep cycles and 9 hours sleep. OK, there’s more to it than that (I’ll go into a little more detail next week when I talk about sleep cycles), but you get the idea.
If you can’t get into a rhythm, for whatever reason (maybe you work shifts or social activities dictate different bedtimes), making sure that you flood yourself in as much daylight as possible upon waking up will definitely help signify to your brain that it’s morning time (yes, not always possible in the winter here in Blighty, but artificial light is a good alternative).
Of course, if you’re struggling because of a little sleep thief in your house, you know where I am if you need my help!