May 4, 2021

Everything You Need to Know About Sleep Drunkenness

How this common sleep problem causes confusion and strange behavior upon waking

man too spleepy for work

You’re sound asleep when your alarm goes off or your partner tries to wake you. You open your eyes and get out of bed, but you’re not fully awake. You wander around, say strange things or give blunt answers when someone talks to you.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

And when your partner mentions your behavior later, you have no memory of it. What happened? You were probably sleep drunk. And you’re not alone — this condition affects at least 1 in 7 people.

Sleep specialist Juancarlo Martinez-Gonzalez, MD, explains this common condition and what you can do about it.

What is sleep drunkenness?

Sleep drunkenness is a casual term for confusional arousal, which is a type of parasomnia. A parasomnia is an unusual behavior that happens while you’re asleep or just waking up.

Confusional arousal is a problem with sleep inertia when your brain transitions between sleeping and waking up. When you’re sleep drunk, your brain doesn’t make the transition to wakefulness. Your conscious mind isn’t fully awake, but your body can get up, walk and talk.

“People who have confusional arousal might act confused or have trouble speaking,” says Dr. Martinez-Gonzalez. “They might appear to be drunk, but they’re not.”

Sleep drunk episodes may last for just a few minutes or up to an hour. It can affect people of all ages, from children to adults.

Advertisement

Is being sleep drunk dangerous?

If you’ve ever been sleep drunk, your partner or family member may have gotten a laugh out of your unusual behavior. “If it happens once a year and no one gets hurt, you probably don’t need treatment,” says Dr. Martinez-Gonzalez.

But don’t take this condition lightly if it happens frequently. In rare cases, people have harmed themselves or others while sleep drunk. Some people have tried jumping out of a window, and others have shown violent or aggressive behavior.

It can also interfere with your relationships if it bothers your partner or family members. “Some people end up sleeping in separate rooms, and that can have a negative impact on you and your partner,” says Dr. Martinez-Gonzalez.

What causes sleep drunkenness?

In many cases, there is no obvious cause. But you may be more likely to experience sleep drunkenness if you:

Diagnosing sleep drunkenness

Most people have no memory of sleep drunk episodes, so they probably don’t know to seek help. “Usually, people find out about this issue through their partner or family member,” says Dr. Martinez-Gonzalez. “If your family member tells you that you act strange when you wake up, and you don’t remember it, see your doctor.”

There is no specific test to diagnose sleep drunkenness. But your doctor may review your medical history, including any health conditions you have and medicines you take. A medical history helps your doctor determine an underlying cause for the issue.

Advertisement

Some people may need a sleep study, which can diagnose sleep disorders. During a sleep study, you’ll wear special sensors that measure your brain waves, movements, heart rate and other health indicators while you sleep.

How is sleep drunkenness treated?

For some people, healthy sleep habits can eliminate sleep drunk episodes. “A regular sleep schedule is one of the best ways to improve your sleep and reduce the chance of having confusional arousal,” says Dr. Martinez-Gonzalez. “Have a consistent bedtime and wake-up time and stick to it every day. Most adults need at least seven hours of quality sleep each night on a regular schedule.”

Other ways to get better sleep (and avoid sleep drunkenness):

  • Avoid alcoholic beverages, especially close to bedtime.
  • Turn off tablets, smartphones, computers and other screens at least an hour before bed.
  • Keep your room dark, quiet and cool.
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages several hours before bed.

If these steps aren’t enough and you’re still having sleep drunk episodes, talk to your doctor. Some people may need medication to reduce or eliminate the issue. Or you might have an undiagnosed sleep disorder or other health condition that needs care.

“Confusional arousal is common, but you don’t have to live with it,” says Dr. Martinez-Gonzalez. “Treatment can help you get better sleep and wake up feeling like yourself again.”

Related Articles

Male with eyes closed sitting hunched over, pinching area between their eyes
January 29, 2024
Headache and Fatigue: 11 Possible Causes That Can Trigger Both

Many factors, like dehydration, a cold or even your medication, can result in these common symptoms

female awake in bed staring ahead with male next to her asleep
January 19, 2024
3 Steps for Managing Sleep Maintenance Insomnia

Keeping a sleep diary and seeing a sleep specialist can help you stay asleep and get the ZZZs you need

Tired adult with head propped on hand trying to do research with books on table.
September 10, 2023
Why Am I Still Tired After a Good Night’s Sleep?

Sleep disorders, diet and mental health can affect the quality of your sleep

someone reaching toward alarm clock to turn off from bed
June 14, 2023
Oversleeping: What Is It, Why Is It Happening and How Do I Make It Stop?

It’s normal to oversleep occasionally, but sometimes, there might be an underlying cause

Illustration of an alarm clock at three o'clock AM
April 4, 2023
Up at 3 a.m.? Here Are Possible Reasons Why

This common phenomenon is usually harmless, but a consistent sleep-wake schedule can help

Elder woman hand to head in pain from a headache
February 2, 2023
Here’s Why You’re Always Waking Up With Headaches

If it isn’t a hangover or teeth grinding, your aching head might be a sign of a sleep disorder

Person with the sleep disorder sexsomnia.
August 14, 2022
Is Sexsomnia Real — and Could You Have It and Not Know It?

Sleep-sex episodes are rare sleep-related disorders

woman dreaming floating in sky nightime meaning of dreams
June 14, 2022
What Do Dreams Mean?

Your day-to-day life might hold clues

Trending Topics

White bowls full of pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate and various kinds of nuts
25 Magnesium-Rich Foods You Should Be Eating

A healthy diet can easily meet your body’s important demands for magnesium

Woman feeling for heart rate in neck on run outside, smartwatch and earbuds
Heart Rate Zones Explained

A super high heart rate means you’re burning more than fat

Spoonful of farro salad with tomato
What To Eat If You’ve Been Diagnosed With Prediabetes

Type 2 diabetes isn’t inevitable with these dietary changes

Ad