Sleepwalking Facts

Sleepwalking is a sleep disorder that's also known as somnambulism. This disorder occurs when a person is actually asleep yet functions as if he were awake. Activities can include getting dressed, walking, eating and even talking. Sleepwalkers have no idea what they are doing and, after waking up, have no recollection of what they have done.

Sleepwalking symptoms

In the movies, you might have seen sleepwalkers wandering around with both arms outstretched. This is a Hollywood misinterpretation. In reality, sleepwalkers appear normal, have their eyes open, display blank facial expressions, move around as if awake and have even been known to move furniture. A sleepwalker might return to an original sleeping place, or he might lie down somewhere else and continue to slumber.

What causes sleepwalking?

Sleepwalking usually occurs during the first hours of sleep, typically between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., or during the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep phase. The causes of these nightly escapades can be any of the following:

  • Genetics. If a parent was a sleepwalker, her child will likely be one, too. If two parents were sleepwalkers, their child will almost surely follow in their nighttime footsteps.
  • Environment. Moving to a new house, changing bedrooms-generally sleeping somewhere unfamiliar-can bring on an episode.
  • Stress and fatigue. Students studying for an exam might experience sleepwalking. Stressful or exhausting life situations can be a factor.
  • Irregular sleep patterns. People who do shiftwork and sleep at different times are also at risk.
  • Alcohol consumption.
  • Prescriptions. Drugs taken for a medical condition or mental disorder can be to blame.
  • Pregnancy and menstruation.

Possible treatments

When sleepwalking is triggered by alcohol, drugs or a lack of sleep, treatment solutions can be as easy as changing your lifestyle and removing the trigger.

Other treatments include:

  • Hypnosis
  • Antidepressants
  • Mild sedatives

For children, there is no specific treatment; they tend to grow out of sleepwalking over time. Keeping them on regular sleeping cycles should eliminate the condition.

Safety precautions

Sleepwalkers seldom hurt themselves, but if you are worried about someone's safety, take precautions.

  • Arrange for the bedroom of the sleepwalker to be on the ground floor.
  • Lock windows and doors.
  • Tie a bell to the door of the sleepwalker's bedroom. The noise will alert you and might wake up the sleepwalker.
  • Place a wet towel in front of the bed. Bare feet coming into contact with a wet object may awaken the person.
  • Make an appointment with your doctor, and discuss medication or hypnosis.

Weird sleepwalking facts

This sleeping disorder has other facts that might surprise you:

  • About 18% of the world's population are sleepwalkers.
  • Sleepwalking typically occurs about 30 minutes after the person has fallen asleep.
  • Boys are more likely to sleepwalk than girls.
  • Young children grow out of this sleeping disorder spontaneously.
  • If sleepwalking starts in the teenage years, it is likely to continue into adulthood.
  • Sleepwalking can last five minutes or as long as an hour.

Awakening a sleepwalker

You may awaken a sleepwalker without putting her in danger if you use common sense. Should you find someone in the kitchen eating a sandwich, for example, waking him is perfectly safe. If you were to find someone out on the roof, however, a better option is to gently persuade her to come back inside to avoid the shock of waking up in a dangerous situation.

Sleepwalking has triggers, and when you discover what they are, you can make changes to break the cycle.

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