Ever experienced a moment of serious disorientation in the morning—like when your alarm goes off and you mistake it for a phone call?
Turns out, these episodes of “confusional arousal” have a name—sleep drunkenness—and the sensation is a common one, according to a recent study led by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and published in the journal Neurology. They conducted telephone interviews with 19,136 adults ages 18 and older about their sleep habits, mental health, and medication use, and found that about 15 percent of individuals had woken up “sleep drunk” in the last year.
These episodes are marked by confusion, disorientation, poor coordination, or repeated returns to sleep. Surveyed individuals shared a few other things in common: 84 percent had a sleep or mental disorder, and some were taking medications, namely antidepressants. Sleep duration seemed to matter too: “Sleep drunk” people were often either sleeping for extra-long stretches—more than nine hours—or less than the recommended amount. Two-thirds of respondents reported confusion lasting for 15 minutes or less, and behaviors included mistaking water bottles for telephones or being unable to locate the bathroom in their own home.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, confusional arousals often occur when someone is abruptly woken up from a deep sleep, and he or she sometimes doesn’t remember those first few minutes. More than half of the participants who reported sleep drunkenness said they experienced weekly episodes—which may be a warning sign of a more serious, undiagnosed sleep disorder.
“These episodes of waking up confused have received considerably less attention than sleepwalking even though the consequences can be just as serious,” study author Dr. Maurice M. Ohayon said in a statement. If you’re waking up confused more often than not, it might be a good idea to give your doctor a call—once you “sober” up, that is.