Sleep inertia is a transitional state of lowered arousal occurring immediately after awakening from sleep and producing a temporary decrement in subsequent performance. Many factors are involved in the characteristics of sleep inertia. The duration of prior sleep can influence the severity of subsequent sleep inertia. Although most studies have focused on sleep inertia after short naps, its effects can be shown after a normal 8-h sleep period. One of the most critical factors is the sleep stage prior to awakening. Abrupt awakening during a slow wave sleep (SWS) episode produces more sleep inertia than awakening in stage 1 or 2, REM sleep being intermediate. Therefore, prior sleep deprivation usually enhances sleep inertia since it increases SWS. There is no direct evidence that sleep inertia exhibits a circadian rhythm. However, it seems that sleep inertia is more intense when awakening occurs near the trough of the core body temperature as compared to its circadian peak. A more controversial issue concerns the time course of sleep inertia. Depending on the studies, it can last from 1 min to 4 h. However, in the absence of major sleep deprivation, the duration of sleep inertia rarely exceeds 30 min. But all these results should be analysed as a function of type of task and dependent variables. Different cognitive functions are probably not sensitive to the same degree to sleep inertia and special attention should be provided to dependent variables as a result of the cognitive processes under review. Finally, sleep disorders represent risk factors which deserve new insight in treatment strategies to counteract the adverse effects of sleep inertia.