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Sleep drunkenness may affect more than 1 in 7 people, study finds

Scientific Research
Feeling 'sleep drunk'? You're not alone, study finds

Ever heard of "sleep drunkenness"? If you’ve ever tried to reach for your phone when your alarm clock rings or been so disoriented when you wake up that you don’t know where you are, you may have experienced what’s known formally as "confusional arousal."

More than 1 in 7 people in the U.S. may suffer from the condition, according to a study in the journal Neurology – which would make sleep drunkenness far more common than thought.

In confusional arousal, sleepers wake up in a disoriented state and perhaps behave strangely in the process. They may not even remember what happens during the episodes.

The condition often occurs when someone wakes up during non-REM sleep, and can be triggered by a "forced awakening," the study authors wrote. It can potentially cause violent behavior during sleep or right as the person wakes up.

Confusional arousals "have received considerably less attention than sleepwalking even though the consequences can be equally serious," according to the study, led by Maurice Ohayon of Stanford University.

To find out how prevalent sleep drunkenness is, the researchers surveyed 19,136 people age 18 or older in 15 states, including California. They found that 15.2% of respondents said they had experienced a confusional arousal episode in the previous year. A full 84% of those incidents were connected to sleep or mental disorders or psychotropic drugs. But the episodes were overwhelmingly linked to sleep disorders, which were present 70.8% of the time.

The majority of those who’d experienced confusional arousal were experiencing it regularly – 53.8% reported having at least one episode per week, and 24.7% reported two to five episodes per month.

For 37.6% of sufferers, the episodes were brief – less than 5 minutes. But 30.1% of them said the episodes could last 15 minutes or more after waking up.

Many shared similar symptoms: 57% reported being disoriented as they woke up, 34.4% said they had difficulty talking or thinking clearly, and 19.9% said they experienced "inappropriate behaviors" such as grabbing the phone instead of flailing for the alarm clock.

Confusional arousal isn’t officially classified as a disorder, the researchers pointed out, "probably because it has received little attention from the scientific community."

But if it was, they said, it could raise awareness that could lead to a better understanding of the condition and better treatment options.

"Our study shows that underestimating the importance of CA leads to a misunderstanding of the disorder and its effects," the study authors wrote. 

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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