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Not a Morning Person? You Might Be Sleep Drunk

Author Nicholas Derenzo Illustration Lawrence Hugh Burns

factSome people wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Others reluctantly greet the day bleary-eyed and groggy. And a surprisingly high percentage of the population awakes a third way: acting as intoxicated as a frat boy on spring break. In a recent study published in the journal Neurology, Dr. Maurice Ohayon of the Stanford University School of Medicine uncovered a new sleep disorder he calls sleep drunkenness, or confusional arousal. As its name implies, the phenomenon is marked by extreme confusion, disorientation, violence or even bouts of amnesia shortly after the sleeper is awoken, usually in some sudden manner, such as by an alarm clock or a ringing telephone. Behaviors can range from the silly (mistaking your alarm clock for your cell phone and having a full conversation instead of silencing it) to the less humorous (don’t sleep near sharp objects!). But what’s most surprising about the disorder is just how prevalent it may be. Ohayon and his team surveyed 19,136 adults about their sleep habits and found that 15.2 percent—about one in seven—had experienced symptoms at least once in the past year. Of those, more than half reported that it happened at least once a week. The takeaway? If you say something dumb in the morning, you now have a scientifically sound excuse:  “Sorry, honey. I was sleep drunk!”

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