Sleep inertia”, also called sleep drunkenness, refers to the temporary, time-limited state between sleep and wake, marked by impaired cognitive functioning and motor clumsiness. It does not begin to abate for 4-15 minutes. Motor recovery comes first. Mental status is slower to recover. Sleep inertia is a normal state that affects all ages, but its impact on those who are older and experiencing normal age related changes (ARCs) creates special risk..
After living with conscious awareness of sleep inertia for over a year (See the 3/17/21 EWA blog for my initial encounters), I became aware that the sleep inertia knowledge I’d gained and the associated adaptations I’d made represented important milestones in my growing-old experience.
Of course, sleep inertia had been going on my whole life without my awareness so, in the beginning, conscious efforts to deal with this sleep drunkenness seemed so impossible, given its simultaneous impact on both motor and cognitive functions. But there was no choice if I wanted to avoid the growing risk of falls. I discovered that my distractibility ARC, kept making my watchfulness and control efforts flying off. And my sleep inertia and imbalance struggled with each other despite my trying valiantly to take control.
The initial battle ground was wakening with an urge to empty the bladder and then immediately getting up to go to the bathroom safely in the wee hours of the night, and hours later upon my rising for the day. I discovered that using my “Focus! Focus!” mantra helped to constrain my distractibility and allow me to address my controlling both my walker and my feet (with their stiff ankle joints), as I negotiated around the angles and furniture to reach the nearby bathroom. It remains a work in progress but there have been no falls, yet.
After going to sleep and awakening in the morning I once again had to contend with sleep inertia. This time I lay abed and allowed myself more time to awaken before dealing as I once with the trek to the bathroom.
Not long afterwards I needed to deal with both motor and cognitive functions involved in breakfast preparation. Here my advanced ARCs involve not only my balance as I move about the kitchen, turning from one counter and cupboard to another, but also working memory. I summoned all four of my mantras as I entered the kitchen: Nose and Toes!” “Center! Center!”, “One thing at a time!” and “Finish what you start!” Somehow, they seemed to do the needed tasks centering my balance as I lifted and carried things, and hand strength and dexterity as well as walking. I was able to remember to take my one pill and set out the noon vitamins, set out the cat’ s food and refresh her water, remembering my morning weight as I set out the portions of food , recalling food locations in the refrigerator,. Then I used my Center! Center! mantra as I moved about and carried things to set them up, the tray and then place it on the seat of the walker. Once I’d maintained my center as I walked it to my recliner in the living room and settled in, I felt safe. For the rest of the day the sleep inertia would have worn off, unless I happened to nap.
After living with sleep inertia awareness for so many months now, I realized that adding this knowledge and making the associated adaptations represented an important, complex milestone of linking knowledge to action and discovering new adaptive skills to add to my growing-old experience.
Note: There are excellent articles on sleep inertia on the web site you can use to compare with your own experiences.