‘Sleep Drunkenness’ Is a Thing, and It’s More Common Than You Think

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

At some point in life, you have probably woken up dazed and confused and blamed it on the natural state of grogginess when you wake up in the mornings. But now scientists have a name for this condition — yes, it’s a condition! — and it is officially known as as “confusional arousal” and colloquially referred to as “sleep drunkenness.” That’s fairly self explanatory.

In a new study — conducted by Dr. Maurice Ohayon, a sleep psychiatrist at Stanford School of Medicine, and his colleagues — scientists have found that as much as one in seven people may suffer from this disorder. The authors, who published their findings in the journal Neurology, looked at over 19,000 American adults and monitored their sleep habits and history of confusional arousal.

Confusional arousals are highly prevalent in the general population,” write the authors of the study. “They are often reported allegedly as a consequence of the treatment of sleep disorders. For the majority of subjects experiencing Confusional arousals, no medications were used, but among those who were using medications, antidepressants were most common. Sleep and/or mental disorders were important factors for Confusional arousals independent of the use of any medication.”

Now, just being confused in the morning does not suffice as sleep drunkenness. Instead, it is when you wake up and engage in confused (or even inappropriate!) behavior. For instance, Fox News cites examples like answering the phone when an alarm goes off or even engaging in acts of violence. Dr. Ohayon explains that such activity occurs when an individual is suddenly woken up and the individual usually will not remember the incident.

“It’s like they are totally drunk — they don’t know where they are or what they are doing,” Ohayon told Live Science.

The researchers also found that a whopping 15 percent of the surveyed population had suffered an episode of sleep drunkenness in the past year and more than half of the subjects admitted to having an experience once a week. On average, each episode reportedly lasts for less than 15 minutes with 37.6 percent of those surveyed admitting the episode to last for less than five minutes.

What’s more, a previous study found that 17 percent of children under the age of 13 have experienced sleep drunkenness and the prevalence of the episodes decreases with age. Prior research has also found that the likelihood of suffering from sleep drunkenness increases if you drink alcohol before going to sleep.

“These episodes of waking up confused have received considerably less attention than sleepwalking even though the consequences can be just as serious,” said Dr. Ohayon in a statement. “These episodes of confused awakening have not gotten much attention, but given that they occur at a high rate in the general population, more research should be done on when they occur and whether they can be treated. People with sleep disorders or mental health issues should also be aware that they may be at greater risk of these episodes.”

Dr. Ohayon and his team also discovered that those suffering from sleep drunkenness also had a co-morbid sleep disorder, a mental health disorder, or were on psychotropic drugs (e.g. antidepressants). The researchers also found that those with a mental disorder — say, depression, bipolar disorder, alcoholism, panic or post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety — were more likely to experience sleep drunkenness.

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