One thing keeping you from getting to your morning practice: sleep inertia

Good news for all of you who always have to drag yourself out of bed to get to your morning Ashtanga practice.

There’s a name for what’s ailing you: sleep inertia. Let’s let The New Yorker explain:

One of the consequences of waking up suddenly, and too early, is a phenomenon called sleep inertia. First given a name in 1976, sleep inertia refers to that period between waking and being fully awake when you feel groggy. The more abruptly you are awakened, the more severe the sleep inertia. While we may feel that we wake up quickly enough, transitioning easily between sleep mode and awake mode, the process is in reality far more gradual. Our brain-stem arousal systems (the parts of the brain responsible for basic physiological functioning) are activated almost instantly. But our cortical regions, especially the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain involved in decision-making and self-control), take longer to come on board.

In those early waking minutes, our memoryreaction timeability to perform basic mathematical tasks, and alertness and attention all suffer. Even simple tasks, like finding and turning on the light switch, become far more complicated. As a result, our decisions are neither rational nor optimal.

Well, a little good news to end that: If you perhaps don’t think all those crazy asanas are rational, a morning practice might be the right time to do them. There’s that.

The piece goes on to report that some studies have found sleep inertia can last up to two hours or longer — well into and maybe after your practice is done. Yikes.

The good news: Sleep inertia is reversal, studies have found. The solution is pretty basic:

Wright concluded that much of our early morning grogginess is a result of displaced melatonin—of the fact that, under current social-jetlag conditions, the hormone typically dissipates two hours after waking, as opposed to while we’re still asleep. If we could just synchronize our sleep more closely with natural light patterns, it would become far easier to wake up.

Now, I hope you’re wondering about one of our favorite topics around here: coffee. Yes, it and its caffeine compatriots get a plug:

Roenneberg and the psychologist Marc Wittmann have found that the chronic mismatch between biological and social sleep time comes at a high cost: alcohol, cigarette, and caffeine use increase—and each hour of social jetlag correlates with a roughly thirty-three per cent greater chance of obesity. “The practice of going to sleep and waking up at ‘unnatural’ times,” Roenneberg says, “could be the most prevalent high-risk behaviour in modern society.”

I sense the next New York Times piece brewing: How sleeping hurts your body.

Posted by Steve

Published by


Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

4 thoughts on “One thing keeping you from getting to your morning practice: sleep inertia”

  1. Well. . . I’ve always found that using a “sunrise alarm”, i.e. a full spectrum lamp that slow ramps up at the desired time, makes waking much easier. — Consistent with the melatonin/light cycle theory

  2. To start morning practice at 6.15am, I need to wake up at 5am. In most of cases it is ‘machinery’ wake up, but sun salutations help to wake up for real 🙂

    Thank you for an interesting article! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s