Strategies for Overcoming Sleep Inertia with IH

Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on March 22, 2024
4 min read

Sleep inertia is a common symptom of idiopathic hypersomnia (IH). With sleep inertia, you feel very groggy and out of sorts when you wake up. It usually happens after you’ve been asleep for at least 30 minutes and lasts for 15 to 30 minutes before gradually getting better. 

People with IH often have severe sleep inertia, which is sometimes called “sleep drunkenness.” If your sleep inertia is serious, you can sleep through several loud alarms and attempts by others to wake you. You can’t think or remember things clearly and may be in a bad mood. It can make you do things you’re not fully aware of, called automatic behavior. These symptoms can go on for up to a few hours. 

Luckily, there are some strategies and therapies to help you overcome sleep inertia. 

There are some things you can do to feel less “out of it” when you wake up. You might want to:

Take a nap. A quick nap may improve sleep inertia. Some studies have suggested that naps need to be shorter than 15 minutes in the late afternoon to have a positive effect. But there’s really not a lot of research on how long a nap should be to avoid sleep inertia. 

Change your sleep schedule. You’re less likely to have sleep inertia if you go to sleep around the time the sun sets and wake up when it rises. But some studies have found each person has a different internal clock that determines their natural sleep/wake cycles. 

Adjust the temp. A hot room can disrupt your sleep. You might want to turn down the air conditioning, use a fan, or sleep with lighter blankets. 

Use light. Some studies have shown that exposure to bright light can bring back alertness after a nap. You might want to open the blinds or step into sunlight right after you wake up. But while you sleep, your room should be dark. Blackout curtains are a good way to keep out the light. 

Wash your face. It may help wake you up.

Try gentle waking. Loud alarm clocks can leave you groggy or confused. You might want to try an alarm that wakes you up slowly with gentle sounds.

Some research suggests you may want to reach for caffeine to help overcome sleep inertia. 

One study found that people who drank 100 milligrams of caffeine when they woke up recovered faster from sleep inertia than those who took a placebo. Their reaction times also bounced back more quickly. 

Another small study showed that 200 milligrams of caffeinated gum helped night shift workers feel more alert after they took a nap. 

Some people take caffeine right before they take a short nap. Caffeine takes about 30 minutes to fully affect you. So, the idea behind this “caffeine napping” strategy is that you can get the combined benefits of the caffeine and the nap if you use them together.

In general, a sleep hygiene routine may help you get a good night’s rest, which could lead to fewer episodes of sleep inertia. Here are some tips:

Stick to a schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on your days off.

Check your bedroom conditions. Your room should be dark, quiet, cool, and comfortable. 

Don’t use electronics before bed. The blue light from phones, computers, or tablets can affect your sleep quality. Try to put away the devices about an hour before bed.

Avoid alcohol and smoking. They can cause sleep problems.

Exercise. Physical activity can help improve your sleep quality. But don’t exercise right before bed.

Get enough sleep. Make sure you get at least 7 hours a night.

Buy a quality mattress. A comfortable mattress and bedding can help you sleep better. It can also ease any pain you might have.

Don’t eat a heavy meal before bed. A heavy or spicy meal right before bedtime can make it hard to fall asleep. If you’re hungry, stick to small snacks or light meals before bed.

Try relaxation methods. Techniques like meditation or breathing exercises can help you relax before you fall asleep.

If you struggle with sleep inertia, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor or sleep specialist. They can help you decide on the best treatments and lifestyle changes to tackle your symptoms. 

Some medications used for IH can help with sleep inertia. Your options might include: 

Bupropion (Wellbutrin XL). Wellbutrin is an antidepressant that may promote wakefulness. 

Melatonin. It’s a hormone that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle.

Methylphenidate (Ritalin). Ritalin is a stimulant drug that can prompt you to feel more awake. A very small study found that a combination of Ritalin and Wellbutrin XL improved sleep inertia in people, but we need larger studies to confirm this.

Protriptyline (Vivactil). Vivactil is an antidepressant that may help ease sleep inertia symptoms.

Sodium oxybate (Xyrem, Xywav). This medication is FDA-approved for IH in adults. It’s thought to affect brain chemicals to reduce brain activity while you sleep. Some studies have found it helps lessen sleep inertia in about 70% of people who take it.