Featured image of sleep drunkenness.
Last Updated on June 3, 2022 by Peter

Sleep Drunkenness 101

The importance of sleep is so great that it is almost impossible to mention everything sleep affects. Some of the main things that sleep has an impact on, whether positive or negative, are physical health, mental health, mood and overall sense of happiness.

Sleep is one of the basic needs of every human being but many people suffer from various sleep-related disorders. Most common sleep disorders are insomnia leading to sleep deprivation, and narcolepsy. But there is one disorder  that is not so common – sleep drunkenness.

There are many other common or less common sleep disorders, and each of them has a significant impact on a person’s daily life because disturbed sleep leads to many problems during the day. 

We from The Sleep Advisors are not physicians or qualified health providers, so do not use our article as a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment.

But we’ve given our best to explain everything about sleep drunkenness, a very serious sleep disorder that is often overlooked. We want to help you understand if you are suffering from it and understand the causes, as well as the next steps you need to take.

Table of Contents
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    What is sleep drunkenness?

    The name sleep drunkenness describes very well what this disorder actually is. Sleep drunkenness is also called confusional arousal, and the medical diagnosis is Elpenor syndrome. Elpenor syndrome is a non-rapid eye movement (NREM) parasomnia. But now let’s take a step back and explain what sleep drunkenness is and what other types of parasomnia exist.

    Parasomnia can involve NREM sleep and REM sleep, and sometimes a combination of both. It can manifest as abnormal behaviors, emotions, and dreams in various stages of sleep such as falling asleep, sleep and waking. The parasomnia you’ve all heard of is sleepwalking.

    An image of a woman suffering from sleep drunkenness, wearing sleep mask.

    Both sleepwalking and sleep drunkenness occur during NREM sleep. Sleep drunkenness is closely related to waking from deep sleep. If you are completely disoriented after waking up and are essentially not ready to start the day, you may be suffering from this disorder. You may feel like you haven’t fully woken up yet, and it’s also common for people to be groggy and confused, sometimes even aggressive.

    What are the symptoms of sleep drunkenness?

    Sometimes even physicians are not sure if you are suffering from sleep drunkenness because numerous symptoms can occur, many of them are very common and may indicate some other disorders or even normal process of waking up which differs from one individual to another. If you notice more than one symptom of the following symptoms we are going to mention, it is best to consult a sleep expert or contact a sleep clinic.

    Confusion upon awakening

    You cannot expect your thoughts to be completely clear in the moments after waking up, such as during the day. But if you don’t know where you are, or even who you are, then it’s probably confusional arousals. If this is not happening to you, but to someone close to you, be patient and calm until the person wakes up fully.

    An image of a young man feeling confused upon awakening.

    Physical aggressiveness

    This is one of the symptoms that is rare, but it can certainly happen, at least occasionally. So if you are close to a person suffering from sleep drunkenness be aware that he or she can become physically aggressive. The reason is complete disorientation leading to fear and a natural human reaction to protect himself, often in a violent way.

    Slow speech & poor reflexes

    Some people are very slow after waking up, while others quickly reach the level of full consciousness. If you notice that you can’t talk at normal tempo, and that you can’t fix it for a long period of time, you may suffer from sleep drunkenness. The same goes for reflexes. Your reflexes aren’t expected to be like you’re cheetah, but it’s not natural for you to be slow as a sloth either.

    An image of a young woman in a pink pajama feeling sleepy.

    Poor memory

    In most cases, you will only remember fragments of what you did or said during the sleep drunkenness episode, no matter how long that episode lasted. If you know you have this problem, let people know or someone will expect you to do something you agreed to in the morning, and you won’t remember it at all.

    An image of a young woman feeling sleepy after the workout.

    Amnesia

    Even complete amnesia is possible. Most have problems with poor memory, but remember at least some parts. There are those patients who experience total amnesia. So if you think something important is going to happen in the morning that you need to remember, it is best to record audio or video.

    An image of a young woman suffering from amnesia.

    Brain fog

    COVID-19 brain fog is one of the most common lingering symptoms of coronavirus. So if you recently had coronavirus, brain fog is probably a consequence of that and not Elpenor syndrome. If you noticed a brain fog long before a pandemic, it is one of the common symptoms and often related to obstructive sleep apnea. No need to explain what brain fog is, everyone has experienced it many times in their lives as a result of fatigue.

    An image of a young woman suffering from brain fog.

    Problems with concentration

    Problem with concentration is something that hundreds of millions of people face today. Computers and smartphones are one of the main culprits for such a situation. If you normally have good concentration, but after waking up you can’t even focus on basic things, such as going to the toilet, pay attention to that symptom and if it is recurring, speak with family doctor.

    An image of a young man suffering from lack of concentration.

    What are the causes of sleep drunkenness?

    There are various causes of sleep drunkenness, and very often another sleep disorder can cause sleep drunkenness. In this case, the treatment is complex because the underlying cause of both disorders must first be found. However, four most common causes are work shifts, bipolar disorder, substance abuse and anxiety.

    Different work shifts

    It is very unhealthy to work in shifts and that can cause all kinds of sleep problems, including this one. Certain professions cannot avoid shifts, but try to rotate shift and to have good night’s sleep whenever possible to reduce the harmful effects of shifts on your sleep-wake cycle.

    An image of A handsome sleepy Asian woman.

    Mood changes or bipolar disorder

    Mood swings are normal, but if the amplitude of these changes in your mood is extreme then you suffer from bipolar disorder. Bipolar patients are usually depressed or manic. Sleep drunkenness is common in bipolar individuals and usual treatment should help.

    An image of A man suffering from less creativity and bad mood due to lack of sleep.

    Alcohol & drug abuse

    One glass of wine will not cause any problem. But regular alcohol consumption, especially if it is a large amount and drug abuse very often leads to one of the sleep disorders. It happens that drugs cause more problems at once. Stay away from illegal drugs and moderately consume alcohol.

    A male's hand over the glass of alcohol.

    Stress & anxiety

    It is impossible to avoid stress. Anxiety occurs as consequence of struggles with daily stress. And the symptoms of anxiety intensify at night, so it negatively affects night’s sleep and thus leads to confusion after waking up. Take care of your sleep hygiene to restore your night’s sleep.

    a woman stressed out due to a lot of work

    Are there any risk factors that are leading to sleep drunkenness?

    Now that we have completed the analysis of the main causes of sleep drunkenness, we should certainly mention other risk factors that can lead to confusional arousal.

    Antidepressants

    Medications for depression and other mental health conditions should bring the chemistry in your body to the required level. However, all such medications have side effects. If you take higher doses, you may have trouble waking up and starting the day.

    Mental health disorder

    Although the name mental disorders should bring together a wide variety of disorders, such disorders are so complex and diverse that it is virtually impossible to treat them in one way. Psychiatrists believe that mental disorders are often the cause of sleep drunkenness, either because of medications or because of the nature of the disorder.

    Not enough (quality) sleep

    You have slept for a long time but you woke up tired and with signs of sleep drunkenness so you wonder why this is happening. Just because you slept for 8 hours, which is recommended, does not mean that the sleep was good. Maybe you woke up many times during the night without being aware of it and then your body didn’t get enough rest.

    an image of a woman suffering from insomnia problems

    Hypersomnia

    Hypersomnia is a condition of utmost daytime tiredness and sleepiness although there is no real reason for that. People who suffer from hypersomnia usually cannot function normally, and the main topic of our article is just one of the problems they face on a daily basis.

    What are the efficient treatments of sleep drunkenness?

    There is no specific cure for this disorder either in terms of medication or treatment. But there are things you can do to alleviate symptoms or even make sleep drunkenness go away.

    Staying out of alcohol or drugs

    Do your body a favor and avoid alcohol and drugs. Consumption of such substances has negative effects on mental and physical health both short term and long term.

    Getting enough sleep

    In order to get enough sleep, it is necessary for your circadian rhythm to be fine. Melatonin can help fix your circadian rhythm. Then stick to a sleep schedule and get enough sleep each night. You will feel great.

    An image of a happy young man due to healthy sleep hygiene.

    Avoiding daytime naps

    Afternoon naps can be a great way to recharge your batteries during the day, but you can also disrupt your sleep schedule that way and then you will fall into vicious circle. Try coffee naps instead of afternoon naps.

    When is the time to visit the doctor or a clinic to treat sleep drunkenness?

    There is no reason to panic. From time to time a situation that may resemble sleep drunkenness happens to everyone. The causes can be many but it does not mean that you suffer from this sleep disorder.

    If this is repeated several times in a short period of time or repeated daily then you should definitely not ignore the symptoms. There is a possibility that it will disappear on its own, but it is more likely that you need the help of a doctor. The doctor will determine if it is sleep drunkenness or maybe one of other sleep disorders with similar symptoms and give you sleep medicine if needed.

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