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A sudden wake-up call can cause an episode of sleep drunkenness.

There is a term for the times when you are so exhausted and disoriented that you do things that make no sense: sleep drunkenness. Research from Stanford University School of Medicine evaluated the phenomenon of sleep drunkenness, which affects people when they are forced awake, typically by their alarm clock. The sleep drunk are unaware of their actions, may forget what they did while sleep drunk, and may even be violent. According to the study, sleep drunkenness may affect one in seven people. Individuals with sleep disorders are especially prone to sleep drunkenness.

The researchers interviewed 19,136 people aged 18 and older. They asked questions about sleep habits, experiences with the symptoms of sleep drunkenness, diagnoses of mental disorders, and medication use.

Approximately 15 percent of the survey respondents had experienced an episode of sleep drunkenness in the past year. People who regularly slept more or less than the recommended seven to eight hours per night were more prone to sleep drunkenness. Around 20 percent of people who normally slept less than six hours and 15 percent of those who normally slept more than nine hours had problems with sleep drunkenness. Sleep disorders were also a risk factor for sleep drunkenness: 71 percent of people who experienced sleep drunkenness also had a sleep disorder.

People with mental health disorders were at increased risk of sleep drunkenness. Thirty-seven percent of the people who experienced sleep drunkenness had a disorder like depression, PTSD, or anxiety. Moreover, 31 percent of people with sleep drunkenness were using psychotropic medications.

Only one percent of survey respondents had no sleep or psychiatric disorders and experienced episodes of sleep drunkenness.

The findings emphasize the importance of getting a good night’s sleep. Individuals with disorders should work with their doctor to find an appropriate sleep therapy.

“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. People with sleep disorders or mental health issues should also be aware that they may be at greater risk of these episodes,” explained Dr. Maurice Ohayon, study author, of Stanford University School of Medicine.

This research is published in the journal Neurology.

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