A new study says that 15 percent of Americans, or one in every seven people, suffer from something called “sleep drunkenness.” But what is it, and why does it happen?
Sleep drunkenness, more accurately referred to as confusional arousal, can occur as a person wakes, leading them to feel extreme confusion, disorientation and, in a minority of cases, a short burst of amnesia. It’s likely many of us have been in this state at least once in our lives, and a good indicator is if you’ve ever turned your bedroom alarm off in the morning but then have no memory of doing it. However, some people regularly suffer sleep drunkenness, and there is cause to say that this problem can be dangerous. In fact, the stupor people experience has led to some getting injured and, in a few cases, even losing their lives.
The study, conducted by a team at Stanford Medical School and published in August in the journal Neurology, analyzed the waking behaviors of 19,136 people from across the United States. That 15.2 percent of the population group appeared to have experienced confusional arousal showed that the condition may be much more widespread than first thought. As this population sample is reflective of general trends, it may be that up to 75 million people in the United States could suffer from sleep drunkenness.
In addition to this, 8.6 percent of the sample said that they’d had partial or complete amnesia after their sleep drunkenness experience, so they didn’t even know they had been having conversations or were acting as though they were awake. Also 14.8 percent of people said that they had got up and walked about while in the confusional arousal state — and, obviously, this is where the condition becomes quite dangerous.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, the research team found a significant overlap between sleep drunkenness and other sleep disorders, with 70 percent of people reporting sleep drunkenness also having a diagnosed sleep disorder like a circadian rhythm disorder. There was also a correlation between confusional arousal and anxiety and mood disorders (37 percent). However, while people who were being treated for mood disorders with psychotropic medications (like anti-depressants) were shown to be at particular risk of confusional arousal, once the researchers controlled for all other associated factors they found only a relatively small connection between psychotropic medications and sleep drunkenness at just 0.9 percent.
Currently, sleep drunkenness is treated as an adjunct to treating wider sleep or mood disorders, but this research may add weight to calls to treat sleep drunkenness as a potentially distinct problem or at the very least that it may need its own particular treatment strategy.
“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,” lead author Dr Maurice Ohayon of Stanford University is quoted as saying. “People with sleep disorders or mental health issues should also be aware that they may be at greater risk of these episodes.”
The group most likely to suffer from sleep drunkenness is children, who will usually grow out of it. However, and as above, if adults do suffer from bouts of confusional arousal, and if that problem occurs multiple times over a long period, it may be an indication of an underlying mental health complaint or sleep problem and so should be brought to the attention of your doctor.
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