1 in 7 suffer from sleep 'drunkenness'
August 25th, 2014
05:51 PM ET

1 in 7 suffer from sleep 'drunkenness'

Have you ever answered the phone in the morning to discover it was actually your alarm clock going off, or had a conversation in the middle of the night and woken up the next day with no recollection of it?

A new study suggests you are not alone. Researchers found many of us have had a similar experience in our lifetime.

The study, out Monday in the journal Neurology, says one in every seven people suffer from sleep "drunkenness" disorder, also called confusional arousal.

Confusional arousal is when a person wakes up and remains in a confused state for a certain period of time before either going back to sleep or fully waking up.

These episodes typically happen, according to the National Institutes of Health, when someone is awakened during non-rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is a deeper sleep period. And they're usually triggered by a forced awakening, like an alarm or phone call.

The study authors had more than 19,000 adults fill out a survey about their sleeping habits. They found 15.2% of the participants experienced one episode of confusional arousal during the past year.

Dr. Maurice Ohayon, lead study author and a sleep expert at Stanford University, was surprised by the substantial percentage. When he looked carefully, he says, he found over half of these participants have "confusional arousal one time or more a week, and that is considerable."

What's even more interesting, says Ohayon, is how long confusional arousal seems to last. While more than one third of the participants who experienced episodes once a week reported they lasted under 5 minutes, 32.3% of people said their episodes lasted between 5 and 15 minutes and 30% of people experienced episodes lasting 15 minutes or more.

If someone is experiencing these episodes, they need to let their doctors know, says Ohayon. An episode can cause violent behavior during sleep, according to the study.

"You can hurt yourself physically, hurt someone (else). You wake up irritable and possibly violent." He compares it to waking up in a hotel room - you don't know where you are or what hour it is, so your reaction or responses to the environment are not adapted.

Ohayon says shift workers, such as doctors or pilots, who nap during work and can be awakened suddenly, should block at least 15 minutes of time for their bodies to truly wake up before, say, taking command of a plane or making life-or-death decisions.

The study found that 84% of those with sleep drunkenness disorder also had another sleep disorder, a mental health disorder or were taking psychotropic drugs such as antidepressants. Less than 1% of the people with sleep drunkenness had no known cause or related condition.

Dr. David Alexander Schulman, director of the sleep lab at Emory University in Atlanta, says having these episodes isn't uncommon. "Fifteen percent sounds shocking," but when you think about it, most of us have had these type experiences.

One of the things that can make confusion arousal worse is sleep deprivation. Schulman says it's well known that American's don't sleep enough. "If you are getting less than 6 hours a night, and you are having confusional arousal, then the first thing you need to do is try getting more sleep," he says.

Schulman was skeptical of the number of participants whose episodes lasted more than 15 minutes. While he says these episodes can be common and often funny, most people don't continue to talk into the phone for 15 minutes when their alarm clock is going off.

"I'd be surprised if the episode lasted more than 15 minutes," he said. "That's one of the struggles with a subjective survey."

soundoff (157 Responses)
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  3. Kimberlee

    I have been back and fourth with too many doctors to many times. I used to be able to wake up at 4 AM in the morning bright eyed bushy tailed and ready to go and get on with my day . Now I have a one and 1/2 year old daughter , a three-year-old little boy that are getting treatment they don't deserve . Now when my kids wake up in the morning between 6 and 7 AM , when I hear something I start screaming at them . I used to think it was a dream , but now my three-year-old son is telling me that I am waking up screaming at them and then I go back to sleep . Every once in a while I wake up and I do realize that I really was screaming at them . I have been on and off antidepressants and they don't seem to help . I recently stopped taking my Wellbutrin , for month and 1/2 that I was taking at night I was able to wake up just fine early and in a good mood . After that month and 1/2 I started waking up moody and really mean again , so I stopped taking the medicine . I don't want to take medicine if it's not going to help me . Is this sleep drunkenness ?

    December 8, 2016 at 11:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • dimsoldier

      It is a sleep disorder, yes. It is your anxiety manifesting while you are unconscious. When you have lived with a mental disorder for a length of time you will learn coping mechanisms to suppress these intense negative emotions in the company of others, but you do not have this ability while your brain is in certain states, associated with sleep. You need to see an exceptionally good cognitive behavioral therapist in conjunction with a psychiatrist. Unfortunately, we are experiencing a wave of quackery in the US and elsewhere that has deeply rooted itself in the system like a cancer, so beware.

      February 27, 2017 at 20:15 | Report abuse |
    • Loopygrlk

      Screw that! There is nothing wrong with you, youre just tired out from work and kids and need more sleep! 8 or 9 hours a day. Try going to bed earlier!

      April 12, 2017 at 05:33 | Report abuse |
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