Wake up from a bad night’s sleep and you may feel groggy, foggy and even a little disoriented. But if this confusion happens regularly and leads to odd behaviors – things like answering a phone when you meant to turn off your alarm clock – you might have something more than “a little trouble waking up.”
Sleep drunkenness disorder, as it is known, is characterized by confused awakenings (no, it has nothing to do with alcohol). It affects as many as one in seven of us, according to a new study published in the journal Neurology. Fifteen percent of the nearly 20,000 people surveyed in the U.S. said they had suffered at least one episode of sleep drunkenness in the previous year. Of those, more than half suffered one episode a week.
Interestingly, 37 percent of people who suffered just one episode said they also suffered from a mental disorder such as depression, panic attacks or anxiety – while 31 percent said they were taking psychotropic medications such as antidepressants.
People who got too little sleep the night before (less than six hours) and those who slept too much (over nine hours) were most likely to experience sleep drunkenness. “Episodes of confused awakening have not gotten much attention,” said Dr. Maurice M. Ohayon, MD, of the Stanford Sleep Epidemiology Research Center, who led the study. “Given that they occur at a high rate in the generation population, more research should be done on when they occur and whether they can be treated.”
A third of Americans are chronically sleep deprived and the business of sleep in America clocks in at least $32.5 billion, so this is hardly the only sleep disorder that affects us. Though there are many disorders to be aware of, here are three other surprisingly common disorders:
Sleep Related Eating Disorder (SRED)
People who suffer from this eat while they’re asleep, often leaving crumbs in their bed as evidence. Some get out of bed, stroll into the kitchen, raid the fridge and “even cook and prepare whole meals without any recollection of having done so when they wake up,” said Patty Tucker, a sleep consultant and physician’s assistant in northern California.
Sufferers may also eat unusual or dangerous items. A patient of Tucker’s “once ate frozen dinners straight from a box like a popsicle.” Repeated SRED episodes can lead to weight gain, elevated cholesterol levels and Type II diabetes, and “the disturbances to the sleep itself can lead to fatigue during the day and all the usual sleep deprivation symptoms.”
While women suffer from this more than men, as much as three percent of the population may be affected. The Cleveland Clinic says many sufferers diet during the day – “and in some cases people with SRED have histories of alcoholism, drug abuse and other sleep disorders.”
REM-Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD)
More common in men over age 50, this disorder is often experienced by war veterans and those with post-traumatic stress disorder. The sleeper often acts out the content of his dreams – frequently with violent overtones. People may shout, hit, kick or even hurl themselves out of bed. One patient actually “threw a lamp through a window while dreaming of being attacked by an enemy,” said Tucker.
In this disorder, the normal protective paralysis of large muscles during REM sleep is absent. RBD is also related to Parkinson’s disease, though the exact reason is unknown. Some 40 percent of patients who show signs of RBD eventually go on to have PD, though the onset may take years or even decades.
Nyctophobia, or Fear of the Dark
Though technically not a sleep disorder, this condition among adults, not just children, may be the source of many difficult cases of insomnia. In a recent study by researchers at Ryerson University in Toronto, Dr. Colleen Carney noted that nearly half her subjects reported some fear of the dark – and those who did were more likely to suffer from sleep difficulties.
If the notion of “lights out” stirs anxiety and dread among some people, it makes sense that their ability to relax and release control so that they can sleep soundly may be compromised. Lights at night – from screens or TVs – may further disrupt sleep by delaying or defeating the body’s normal release of melatonin, a brain-based hormone required for normal sleep.
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