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June 29, 2006

BehindTheMedspeak: Sleep Inertia


Researchers at the University of Colorado have determined that "the average person is not able to perform at peak level for the first two hours after waking up," according to WJRT-TV (Flint, Michigan) reporter Leslie LoBue.

In her May 25 report she noted that grogginess after awakening is greatest during the initial ten minutes after waking, but that "the entire two-hour window can be especially dangerous for people who have to make split-second decisions upon waking."

Tell you what: maybe from now on I'll spend another half-hour reading the paper before starting my first case.

When the surgeon asks what's going on with the delay, I'll reply, "I'm improving patient safety."


Here's the full story from the WJRT website.

    Sleep inertia

    Have you ever awakened feeling sleepy? Most of us do, and now experts say that grogginess is a lot like being drunk.

    HealthFirst reporter Leslie LoBue says the average person is not able to perform at peak level for the first two hours after waking up.

    Though the worst effects go away after about ten minutes, that entire two-hour window can be especially dangerous for people who have to make spilt-second decisions upon waking.

    Firefighters are jolted awake for an emergency. "The adrenaline kicks in; you jump out of bed; you head for it," said fire rescue worker Lt. Max Twombly.

    Adrenaline may help get them going, but it won't prevent the serious effects of morning sleepiness. "The brain takes a little while to wake up. We can't just go from zero to 60 in a few seconds," explained psychologist Kenneth P. Wright Jr.

    Researchers at the University of Colorado are the first to scientifically measure the effects of what's called "sleep inertia" - a period of impaired thinking after waking up.

    For one week, researchers studied sleepers. Upon waking up after eight hours of sleep, subjects were given a math test.

    "A simple mathematic test that an elementary school child should have been able to do, and they had impairments in their ability to do it," Wright said. "This suggests that the doctor being woken up on call or the emergency firefighter or the paramedic being woken up out of sleep to go respond quickly to an emergency, that they are going to be potentially at risk."


    So what can you do to get rid of morning grogginess? Turn on a bright light. Crank up the volume on the radio or television. Exercise. And drink soda, coffee or tea, but they take about 30 minutes to have an effect.


The report by Wright's group, entitled "Effects of Sleep Inertia on Cognition," appeared in the January 11, 2006 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

June 29, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


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There's a myth in various of the world's armed forces that you're officially not held responsible for anything you do during the first minute/five minutes/whatever after waking up. This can seem plausible enough, in the various sleep deprivation environments that soldiers have to endure.

Every now and then, this myth results in a court-martial.

Posted by: Daniel Rutter | Jul 1, 2006 10:37:34 AM

Phew, I'll be around another 21 years....

Posted by: Jackie Keesee | Jun 29, 2006 9:58:00 PM

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