Sleep drunkenness is when a person wakes up confused and disoriented, so much so that they are unaware of their behavior. This state is also called confusional arousal.
Imagine being awakened from a deep sleep where, instead of feeling ready to take on the day, you feel confused, tense, or a sense of an adrenaline rush. If you’ve experienced such feelings, you may have had an episode of sleep drunkenness.
Read on to learn more about sleep drunkenness and how to deal with it.
Sleep drunkenness is when your brain has a particularly challenging time waking up, leading to feelings of confusion and grogginess. The symptoms can be so disorienting that it feels as if you are drunk even if you didn’t drink any alcohol the night before. Instead, you may act on automatic behaviors instead of rational thoughts.
Symptoms of sleep drunkenness may feel like:
- confusion on waking
- startled reflexes
- blunt responses
- physical aggressiveness
- slow speech
- poor memory
- brain fog during the day
- difficulty concentrating
While it’s common to want to hit the “snooze” button after your alarm goes off, sleep drunkenness causes many people to repeatedly go back to sleep without fully waking up first.
Typically after sleeping, a person’s brain doesn’t just suddenly wake up — it has to first go through a natural process called sleep inertia. It’s common to experience grogginess and perhaps an initial difficulty with getting out of bed right away.
Sleep drunkenness, however, bypasses the sleep inertia phase, so your brain and body don’t get the opportunity to transition into the awakened phase.
Episodes of confusional arousal tend to last for 5 – 15 minutes, but some episodes may last as long as 40 minutes.
The potential causes of sleep drunkenness may be related to other factors that affect your sleep. These can include sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, as well as general sleep deprivation.
Other factors that can trigger sleep drunkenness include:
- work schedule, especially varying shifts
- changes in mood
- drinking alcohol
- anxiety disorders
- stress and worries
Sleep drunkenness may also result from getting either too little or too much sleep.
People who experience sleep drunkenness are also more likely to have longer periods of deep sleep. Confusional arousals also most commonly occur in the first part of the night during your deep sleep cycle.
Risk factors of sleep drunkenness
Sleep drunkenness is a common occurrence that doesn’t have one particular cause. Instead, researchers have identified possible contributing factors, such as:
Diagnosing sleep drunkenness is often a multi-step process. Your friends or your partner may tell you that you’ve acted strangely upon waking up, but you might not remember. An occasional episode isn’t concerning. However, if sleep drunkenness occurs at least once a week, it’s recommended you see a doctor.
Your doctor will review your records, looking for any risk factors, such as preexisting medical conditions or psychotropic meds you currently take. A sleep study may be ordered as well. This might show some clues, including a higher-than-normal heart rate during sleep.
There’s no single treatment used for sleep drunkenness. Most of the treatment measures involve lifestyle measures.
Your doctor may recommend one or more of the following:
- avoiding alcohol, especially right before bedtime
- getting a full night’s sleep — between seven and nine hours — every night
- limit daytime naps to before mid-afternoon
- taking antidepressants as prescribed
- starting sleep medications, which are only prescribed by doctors in severe cases
- avoid caffeine after mid-day, including coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate
While sleep drunkenness doesn’t necessarily require treatment, you might want to see your doctor if it’s causing dangerous side effects. These can include:
- injuries to yourself and others upon waking up
- missed work
- sleeping on the job
- frequent daytime naps
- persistent insomnia
- waking up tired
- problems in your relationships
Your doctor will evaluate your symptoms and your overall health history to determine if any testing is needed. This may include a sleep study.
Sleep drunkenness is not inherently dangerous. However, there are cases where sleep drunkenness has led to self-harming behavior or violence toward others. Generally, if sleep drunkenness is not a regular occurrence, it’s not considered dangerous.
Generally, a person will “sober up” from sleep drunkenness within 5-15 minutes. But for some people, it can take as long as 40 minutes.
Sleep drunkenness specifically includes a feeling of grogginess and confusion after waking up. When a person wakes up suddenly, they may not necessarily have symptoms associated with sleep drunkenness.
Yes, one risk factor for sleep drunkenness is stress. In fact, a preexisting mental health condition, such as anxiety, is one of the main risk factors for sleep drunkenness.
Sleep drunkenness is a common event. If you’re feeling confused, aggressive, or panicked upon waking, then you might have had an episode.
Seeing your doctor is the first course of action. A sleep study can also determine what’s going on and help your doctor develop a treatment plan for a good night’s rest — and awakening.