What's Sleep Drunkenness?

10 February, 2021
For many people, waking up in the morning is a real effort. But sleep drunkenness goes far beyond that. Find out what it is here!

Some people wake up completely energetic, lucid, and ready to face the day as soon as their alarm goes off. On the other hand, others have a really hard time getting up in the morning. If you fit into the latter category, then you may suffer from sleep drunkenness.

For many people, waking up in the morning implies a great effort. Their brains don’t seem to want to collaborate in their attempt to be functional.

Waking up sleepy, tired, or irritated doesn’t imply that you suffer from sleep drunkenness. This is relatively common and has no major repercussions. The disorder we’re going to talk about today can significantly affect the lives of those who suffer from it.

However, there isn’t a lot of information about it. This is because, unfortunately, this condition has gone largely unnoticed among the scientific community.

A person with a pillow on their face.

What’s sleep drunkenness?

Sleep drunkenness (also called confusional arousal) is a disorder that occurs at the moment a person starts to wake up. Sufferers wake up confused, disoriented, with their cognitive abilities not functioning as they should. Some describe it as a mental fog that prevents them from thinking clearly and acting appropriately. They have significant problems trying to wake up.

These episodes usually occur after the nighttime sleep period, but they can also occur in the middle of the night or after a daytime nap. They’re usually generated by a sudden awakening that puts the person in a state of alertness where they feel they have to defend themselves from danger or face an urgent situation.

How does it manifest itself?

Some of the most common examples of what happens with sleep drunkenness are the following:

  • Upon awakening, the person doesn’t know where they are. They may try to get out from the wrong side of the bed or may have serious difficulty getting to the bathroom.
  • When the alarm clock goes off, the person may react by answering the phone or trying to go to the door because they think it was the doorbell.
  • The “sleep-drunk” person could also wake up during the weekend, or on a national holiday, totally convinced that they have to go to work and that they’re going to be late. They’ll panic and start to get ready and not be aware of what’s happening until some time later. This confusional state can last for a few minutes to several hours.

Why does sleep drunkenness occur?

The causes of this disorder aren’t yet entirely clear. However, some research has found that it tends to occur more frequently in people who suffer from other sleep disorders and other mental illnesses.

Anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder have a significant comorbidity with sleep drunkenness. In addition, the consumption of certain drugs (such as antidepressants) can also favor its appearance.

Similarly, it seems that sleep habits can also play an important role. Thus, sleeping less than six hours, sleeping more than nine hours, or suffering jet lag can often cause this disorder. It’s also closely linked to sleep apnea, alcohol consumption, and chronic stress.

A sleepy man.

Is there any treatment?

Experts estimate that sleep drunkenness affects up to one in seven people. Thus, more research should be conducted into this condition. However, as of yet, there’s no specific treatment for it.

We should take into account that, for many people, these are isolated episodes that don’t produce any significant discomfort nor interfere in their daily lives.

However, those who suffer from it on a recurrent basis are seriously affected in their personal, family, and work lives. It can take hours for them to fully recover their cognitive faculties.

Therefore, at present, the most important step would be to address underlying issues. If the person is suffering from any of the other conditions we mentioned above, their doctor should treat those conditions directly.

Similarly, it’s also essential to adopt good sleep habits. Getting good sleep and reducing stress can relieve symptoms in many cases. However, we’re still waiting for more conclusive results regarding the treatment of this disorder.

  • Ohayon, M. M., Priest, R. G., Zulley, J., & Smirne, S. (2000). The place of confusional arousals in sleep and mental disorders: findings in a general population sample of 13,057 subjects. The Journal of nervous and mental disease188(6), 340-348.
  • Trotti, L. M. (2017). Waking up is the hardest thing I do all day: sleep inertia and sleep drunkenness. Sleep medicine reviews35, 76-84.