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One in seven people may suffer from a bizarre condition simply known as “sleep drunkenness” which is more than sleep experts previously thought.  The rather unusual sleep disorder generally involves a prolonged period of disorientation and confusion such as reaching to answer the phone instead of switching off the alarm clock. The average person may experience moment or two of similar disorientation upon waking up but people who suffer from sleep drunkenness may behave strangely for up to half an hour or more.

It is thought that an episode of sleep drunkenness may be triggered by the person being forced awake and this can lead to sometimes violent behaviour whilst sleeping and even temporary amnesia about the entire event afterwards.

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A new study carried out in the US, found that out of the 136 people aged 18 and upwards; 15% had at some point suffered at least one episode of sleep drunkenness in the previous 12 months which was nearly 4 times more than previous estimates of 4%. The official name of the disorder is “confusional arousal” and it is often linked with sleep and mental disorders and even taking certain types of medication. It has been found that less than 1% of people that experience sleep drunkenness had no known cause or existing condition. Among those who had an episode, one-third also had a mental disorder, says a report in the journal Neurology.

People with depression, bipolar disorder, alcoholism, panic or post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety were more likely to experience sleep drunkenness. The research also found that one in three people with sleep drunkenness were taking psychotropic medications such as antidepressants.

The study found sleep drunkenness was linked with both getting too little sleep and too much sleep. Sleeping more or less than usual can upset the body’s circadian rhythms, which regulate sleep cycles. About one-fifth of those getting less than six hours of sleep per night and 15% of those getting at least nine hours experienced sleep drunkenness.

People with sleep apnoea; which causes snoring, fatigue and dangerous pauses in breathing at night were also more likely to have sleep drunkenness.

Experts agree that these episodes of prolonger confusion were likely to be linked to similar mechanisms found in the animal world where sudden awakenings result in the need to be instantly responsive to a potential threat and that in our evolutionary past this was probably a common behavioural trait. They also agree that these episodes of confused awakening have not gotten much attention, but given that they occur at a high rate in the general population, more research should be done on when they occur and whether they can be treated and that people with sleep disorders or mental health issues should also be aware that they may be at greater risk of these episodes.


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