August 26, 2014
News Review From Harvard Medical School -- 'Sleep Drunkenness' Common, Study Finds
A new survey suggests that about 15% of Americans have what's sometimes known as "sleep drunkenness." Doctors call it confusional arousal. This means that you wake up feeling confused and not knowing where you are, perhaps for up to 10 minutes. The new study was based on interviews with more than 19,000 adults. They were asked about their sleep habits, mental health and medicines. About 15% said they had a confusional arousal incident in the last year. More than half of this group said they had the incidents more often -- more than once a week. Most of those who had episodes of sleep drunkenness also had another sleep disorder, mental health disorder or both. Just over 70% had a sleep disorder. About 37% had a mental health disorder. More than 31% took medicines for a mental health issue, mostly antidepressants. The journal Neurology published the study. HealthDay News wrote about it August 25.
By Howard LeWine, M.D.
Harvard Medical School
What Is the Doctor's Reaction?
I suspect all of us have had an occasional episode of brief confusion when suddenly awakening from a deep sleep. Usually it lasts 5 to 10 minutes. Doctors call it confusional arousal. It's sometimes called "sleep drunkenness."
This new study gives us a real-life glimpse of just how often sleep drunkenness happens. It also suggests what might predispose a person to have these episodes.
The researchers surveyed more than 19,000 adults. About 1 in 7 had an episode of confusional arousal within the last year. And half of those people had frequent episodes, one or more a week.
Some people are more likely than others to have sleep drunkenness. They include those who:
- Have a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea
- Have depression, anxiety or panic disorder
- Take medicine for a mental health disorder, such as an antidepressant
- Sleep less than six hours or more than nine hours a night
About 9% of people who experience sleep drunkenness don't recall some or all of what happened during the period of confusional arousal.
Interestingly, confusional arousal happens less often as we get older. The likely reason is that older people have shorter periods of very deep sleep during the night than younger people. People are more likely to have confusional arousal if they suddenly wake up from the very deep part of sleep.
What Changes Can I Make Now?
It would be terrific if we could arrange our lives to wake up naturally every morning. No alarm clock, no kids jumping into your bed, no loud noises outside your window. But that's not a reality for most of us.
Confusional arousals are much more common than we previously recognized. You might not realize it if you experience these episodes. So it's important to be aware that the time after you first wake up from sleep is a bad time to be making major decisions. Perhaps even minor ones.
During that first 10 to 15 minutes after awakening, tell yourself you need to concentrate and focus on what you are doing. For some people, it may take longer than that to reach full brain power.
Confusional arousals have the potential to be dangerous. It's possible to unknowingly inflict harm on a bed partner or on yourself during a spell. However, that's rare.
What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?
There is so much more we need to learn about confusional arousals. For example, when might they be a symptom of some other problem or condition? What might be done to more quickly resume clear thinking when an episode occurs? These are just a couple of the questions that future research will address.