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Sleep Disorders

Oversleeping

11/23/2007

Question:

I am 21 and a college student. Since entering college I have had BIG issues waking up in the morning. I would hit snooze so many times and eventually I would turn my alarm off and think I would be ready to get up. The next thing I knew, I would have missed two classes. Even more frightening, I have turned my alarm, gotten up hours later, and had no idea that I had turned off my alarm. When it was suggested that I put my alarm across the room, I would get up, walk across the room and hit snooze and go back to bed, often times simply turning the alarm off and not even knowing it.

Last week I woke up thought about what has been happening to me, and I literally couldn`t imagine getting out of bed, like my body was rebelling or something. This is happening more often lately, despite the fact that I am getting around 6-7 hours each night. All of my peers can get whatever amount of sleep they want and can still get up in the morning. This is starting to make me late to too many classes, and has made me late to MUCH more important (like employment type) things.

Might I have some kind of mild sleep disorder, or am I just profoundly lazy? Thanks

Answer:

I apologize for taking this long to answer your question and I am glad you have been looking for an answer to your sleep and wake problems. Let me assure you that laziness does not explain what you have.

The problem, as you describe it very well, is called "sleep inertia" or "sleep drunkenness". It represents a period of impaired performance following awakening from sleep. This impairment may be severe, and may last minutes to hours. During this period the person may forget most of what went on. Having conversations and appearing awake to others can occur during these episodes. The person also may perform a few mechanical activities, like turning an alarm off, fixing a snack, or answering the phone without remembering any of it, even after being fully awake. This is similar to sleep walking except that during sleep inertia episodes, the person appears mostly awake by brain wave assessment, while during sleep walking, the person is actually asleep.

The main causes of sleep inertia include insufficient sleep and disturbed sleep. Some people are more sensitive to limitations of sleep quantity and quality than others, and these individuals are more likely to have sleep inertia.

Insufficient sleep is a very common problem in our current 24/7 community. While sleep duration needs are different between individuals (range from 5 to 9 hours), most people function well on 7 hours of sleep per night. You can discover your sleep need by keeping a 7 day sleep log similar to the one attached below, which I borrowed from the National Sleep Foundation website. For the log to work, you have to fill it out hen you have no scheduled commitments and when you don't need to wake up at a particular time during the day (say on a long holiday or vacation). If you find you are getting less sleep on work/school days than what you need, then the answer is easy: Get more sleep!

Even when quantity of sleep is appropriate, the quality may be sub-optimal, and this may precipitate sleep inertia. Sleep can be disturbed by a number of things. Sleep apnea, restless legs, and poor sleep hygiene are the most common causes. Narcolepsy and idiopathic hypersomnia are less common. If suspected, the evaluation and management of these sleep disorders is best discussed with your primary care provider, but may need the help of a specialist in sleep disorders.

I understand your concern about the impact of sleep inertia on your potential job opportunities. Therefore, If you'd like additional information regarding sleep and sleep disorders, you can obtain it on the American Academy of Sleep Medicine website. This website also contains a list of Sleep Centers across the country so you can locate one near you if need it. Good luck, and sleep well.

Related Resources:

Sleep Diary

For more information:

Go to the Sleep Disorders health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Ziad  Shaman, MD Ziad Shaman, MD
Assistant Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University