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‘Sleep Drunkenness’ Is Why You Don’t Know Where You Are When You Wake Up

woman confused in bed

Have you ever woken up and had no idea where you were, what time it was or even what day? It happens to more people than you might think.

It may seem like merely the effects of being somewhere unusual, but for some people, this unfortunate and sometimes scary sensation happens even in familiar places. It’s called sleep drunkenness and it happens to nearly 15 percent of us.

New research conducted in part by Dr. Maurice Ohayon, a physician and researcher at Stanford Medical School, took into account the sleep habits of about 20,000 people. What researchers found is that one in seven of these people reported experiencing at least one bout of sleep drunkenness during the last year. This figure is much higher than previously thought and means this condition of “confusional arousal” affects far more people than other sleep disorders, like narcolepsy, but gets far less attention.

According to experts, sleep drunkenness involves waking up with extreme confusion, disorientation and sometimes amnesia. It usually affects people who are woken suddenly, although not always. It normally lasts about five minutes, although for some people it can continue for up to 15 minutes.

Since the state of confusion is temporary and requires that the sufferer is already asleep, the consequences aren’t of extreme concern. But Dr. Ohayon calls the findings troublesome “because a person is this state doesn’t have his cognitive abilities.” The real issues come into play with those who operate heavy machinery, people who provide medical attention immediately after sleeping (like a doctor on call) or those who may be required to drive right after waking up. It can also become more serious if it happens frequently.

Problems with sleep drunkenness can be addressed by making sure the sufferer is awake no fewer than 15 minutes before they need to be aware of their surroundings and to have a system in place whereby others around can make sure someone is fully awake before operating machinery or doing anything that requires being fully alert. Doctors can also recommend lifestyle changes or prescribe medications to help with sleep issues.

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