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February 21, 2019

Feeling 'drunk' when you wake up? For 15% of sleepy Americans, it's an issue

Daily Briefing

    Editor's note: This story was updated on February 21, 2019.

    "Sleep drunkenness," or confusion arousal, affects about one in seven Americans, according to a study in Neurology.

    For the study, researchers at Stanford Medical School interviewed 19,136 adults about their sleep habits and other health issues. They found that 15% of the participants had experienced symptoms of sleep drunkenness.

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    Overall, the researchers estimate that 75 million people suffer from the disorder, which involves waking up with amnesia, disorientation, or extreme confusion. The muddled state of mind lasts for fewer than five minutes in 37% of affected individuals, but it affects about one-third of those affected for up to 15 minutes.

    According to National Institutes of Health, the episodes generally are triggered by a forced awakening, like an alarm during non-rapid eye movement sleep. The reaction may be a defense mechanism similar to that in animals who are woken suddenly, according to the study.

    Lead study author Maurice Ohayon compares the episodes to someone waking up in a hotel room, unaware of the time or surroundings. "You can hurt yourself physically, hurt someone (else). You wake up irritable and possibly violent," he told CNN.

    The study is relevant for health care workers, who tend to be sleep-deprived: Doctors and other shift workers should allow at least 15 minutes after a nap before returning to the floor, says Ohayon. "A person in this state doesn't have his cognitive abilities," he told Newsweek.

    Those most at risk

    People with mental health issues or sleep disorders are at a higher risk for confusion arousal, says Ohayon.

    In the study researchers found that, of the people who suffered from confusion arousal:

    • 71% had another sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea;
    • 37.4% had a mental health disorder, such as post-traumatic stress or depression;
    • 31% were on psychotropic medications such as antidepressants;
    • 20% slept fewer than six hours a night;
    • 15% slept more than nine hours a night; and
    • More than half experienced an episode once a week.

    Confusion arousal often disappears when other sleep problems are treated, experts say (Reinberg, HealthDay, 8/25; Main, Newsweek, 8/26; Blaszczak-Boxe, CBS News, 8/25; Henry, "The Chart," CNN, 8/25).

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