Sleep drunkenness may affect 1 in 7, new study says

Sept. 11, 2014—Few people enjoy waking up, particularly if an alarm clock or a rude shake to the shoulder is the prompt that puts an end to sleep. But some people respond to awakening with behavior that seems downright strange. They might wake up confused—trying to answer the phone instead of hitting the alarm clock, for example—or they might even become aggressive.

These episodes are sometimes called sleep drunkenness, a type of sleep disorder known as confusional arousals that happen in the morning, and a new study suggests the issue may affect as many as 1 in 7 people. Fortunately, there are ways to diagnose and treat the condition.

The study

Researchers interviewed 19,136 people ages 18 and older for this study. Participants were asked about their sleep habits, mental health and medication usage. They were also asked if they experienced any symptoms of sleep drunkenness.

The study found that more than 15 percent of participants had experienced a sleep drunkenness episode in the last year. Of those, more than half reported having more than one episode a week.

In addition, 84 percent of participants who experienced sleep drunkenness also had a related condition, such as another sleep disorder or a mental health disorder, or were taking psychotropic drugs, like antidepressants.

Researchers found an increased risk of sleep drunkenness in people with:

  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Alcoholism
  • Panic or post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep apnea

They also discovered that the disorder was associated with both short nights of sleep (6 hours or less) or long nights of sleep (9 hours or more).

Learn more about the study in the journal Neurology here.

The take-home message
An episode of sleep drunkenness can sound a little silly, but according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, this disorder can cause a plethora of problems, including poor performance at school and work, conflicts at home and dangerous driving. It’s clear that this isn’t an issue people can ignore.

But diagnosing the problem can be tricky, because people with sleep drunkenness often don’t remember the episodes. Here’s a self-test that can help:

  1. Has anyone told you that you act confused or in a strange way when he or she wakes you up?
  2. Did he or she describe your behavior as hostile or aggressive?
  3. Were these responses inappropriate in any way?
  4. Does this behavior happen regularly?

If you answered yes to each of these questions, a visit with your doctor may be in order.

Your doctor may recommend a sleep specialist. This professional may ask you to keep a sleep diary, and you might also be asked to stay overnight for a sleep study called a polysomnogram, which will chart your brain waves, heartbeat and breathing while you sleep. There’s a video component, too, so doctors can watch for unusual motions you might make as you sleep.

If your doctor finds that you do have sleep drunkenness episodes, treatment might involve addressing other sleep or mental health disorders. Medications might also play a role.

Sleep studies can help diagnose other sleep disorders as well. Click here to find out more about how sleep studies work and what the results of the tests might mean.


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