Alaska Sleep Education Center

Confused by confusional arousals? What to know about this parasomnia

Posted by Jennifer Hines

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on Apr 26, 2016 3:48:31 PM


A Parasomnia is a disruptive sleep disorder.  It is an unwanted physical movement or action during sleep.  Some of the most common parasomnias include nightmares, sleepwalking, sleep talking and night terrors.

Confusional arousals are a type of parasomnia. This sleep disorder has been dubbed “sleep drunkenness” and is also known as "excessive sleep inertia". They can cause you to act in confused or strange ways upon awakening. Basically, it’s when a sleeping person appears to wake up but their behavior can indicate otherwise. 

These behaviors can include

  1. Disorientation

  2. Being unresponsive

  3. Impaired or slow speech

  4. Poor Memory or Confused Thinking

Confusional Arousals in Children

Typically occurring upon awakening from a deep slow wave sleep or a non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep.  Since NREM sleep is more prevalent in children than adults, confusion arousals are most commonly seen in toddlers and early age school children.   

These arousals can make consoling and waking children difficult.  The children are awake enough to act out normal behaviors but asleep enough to not be conscious of them.  

Below are a few tips to manage children with these behaviors :  

  1. Try to eliminate any stress the child may be child_sleep_problems.jpgfacing

  2. Keep bed time and nightly routines consistent

  3. Make sure your child is receiving adequate sleep

  4. Keep the bedroom safe to avoid accidents or injuries

  5. Let the episode run its course

  6. Don’t attempt to interfere or wake your child

Unfortunately, there is not much you can do to “treat” this type of parasomnia.  The majority of children will outgrow them.  If these symptoms are persistent and your child is over 6 years of age it is suggested to consult your doctor to make sure there are not any larger underlying issues.

Confusional Arousals in Adults

Since NREM sleep is not as prevalent in adults, excessive sleep inertia tends to be related to the following risks and factors:

Recent studies have shown that patients with other sleeping disorders, such as sleep apnea, were also more likely to suffer.

If you feel you are suffering from excessive sleep inertia but do not have anySAD_woman.jpg of the sleep risk factors mentioned above, you could be suffering from a possible underlying medical or psychiatric disorder.

Some of these disorders can include:   

  • Depression 

  • Bi-polar disorder

  • Alcoholism

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

  • Anxiety or Panic Attacks

Coping with Confusional Arousals

It is important to address and treat arousal disorders for multiple reasons.  One is this disorder can be embarrassing for the sufferer, especially when the disorder happens away from the comfort of their home.

Secondly, the sufferer could accidently injure themselves or others during an arousal episode. Bed Partners, family members, and roommates may suffer the loss of sleep as a result of your arousals.

It is just as important not to wake an adult during a confusional arousal as it is with children.  Make the environment safe for the sufferer upon awakening and nothing harmful is nearby. 

Also, it is important to practice these home remedy suggestions to minimize the occurrence of excessive sleep inertia:

  • Reduce Stress comfy_bed250.jpg

  • Get adequate sleep

  • Practice proper sleep hygiene including setting up comfortable surroundings during sleep

  • Reduce alcohol intake or drug use before bed

  • Make Bedtime Relaxing

  • Get a professional assessment

Diagnosing and Treatment

If none of the at-home suggestions above help your confusional arousal, seeking a professional assessment is your best bet.  There is no specific treatment, however, some medical treatments may be found successful such as:

  • Treating any other underlying sleep disorders. With sleep apnea, your parasomnia symptoms may decrease or disappear completely with the help of proper CPAP therapy.

  • Pharmacological therapies including sedatives, hypnotics, and antidepressants

If you or a loved one believes that confusional arousals are a concern, you may want to schedule a sleep study to help find the cause of the disorder and receive suggested sleep treatment options. If you live in Alaska and a sleep disorder is becoming worrisome, contact the Alaska Sleep Clinic to receive a free 10-minute phone consultation with a sleep educator by clicking the link below.

Finally - Sleep Consultation

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