HomeHealth Topics A to ZDon’t Lose Sleep Over Sleepwalking
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Don’t Lose Sleep Over Sleepwalking

By DuPage Medical Group Sleep Medicine

Sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism, is a behavior disorder that occurs during deep sleep and results in walking or other complex behaviors while asleep. Sleepwalking is more common in younger children (before their teenage years) than adults, but can occur at any age. Sleepwalking is more common than previously thought with more than 8.4 million people experiencing sleepwalking each year according to a study done in 2012.

Commonly, sleepwalkers will:

  • Get out of bed and walk around
  • Sit up, eyes opened with a glazed, glassy-eyed expression
  • Do routine activities (get dressed, talk, make a snack)
  • Not respond or communicate with others
  • Be difficult to wake up during a sleepwalking episode
  • Be disoriented or confused after being awakened
  • Quickly return to sleep
  • Not remember in the morning
  • Have problems functioning during the day because of disturbed sleep
  • Have sleep terrors in addition to sleepwalking episodes

These are the most common instances and activities for sleepwalkers to partake in. In some cases, sleepwalkers will rarely:

  • Leave the house
  • Drive a car
  • Participate in unusual behavior (urinating in a closet)
  • Engage in sexual activity without awareness
  • Get injured (fall down stairs, jump out a window)
  • Become violent during confused period of awakening or during sleepwalking episode

Isolated sleepwalking incidents usually don’t signal serious underlying problems. Usually, sleepwalking is passed down from parents to children through genetic links; however, if sleepwalking reoccurs often, it may signal an underlying sleep disorder.

What causes sleepwalking?

  • There are many reasons while sleepwalking can occur. Common causes include:
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Fatigue
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Anxiety (separation anxiety in children)
  • Fever
  • Sleep schedule disruptions
  • Some medicines and substances

If you find that the sleepwalker is having reoccurring sleepwalking episodes, there may be other underlying causes such as:

  • Sleep disordered breathing (obstructive sleep apnea)
  • Narcolepsy
  • Restless Leg Syndrome
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Migraines
  • Travel
  • Hypothyroidism, head injury, or stroke

Many children outgrow their sleepwalking; however, your doctor may treat underlying conditions or prescribe medication to help the sleepwalker. Other treatments include: anticipating when the sleepwalker will begin an episode to wake them up 15 minutes before it starts, and then waiting five minutes before falling back to sleep, or learning self-hypnosis.

If you or someone you know is struggling with sleepwalking, talk with your doctor or schedule an appointment with a sleep medicine specialist.

Topics and Subtopics: Children's Health & Sleep

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