Sleepwalking often conjures up images of walking zombies from horror films or murder suspects pleading a sleepwalking defense in court. In fact, walking while asleep is a normal occurrence. Also known as somnambulism, it is experienced by seventeen percent of children and four percent of adults, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). More prevalent in males than females, it is outgrown by most children. Today, this is a treatable disorder.
Nonetheless, it can be intimidating when your five-year-old sits upright in bed and goes off on a nocturnal excursion. Sleepwalking occurs during the non-REM, deep stage of sleep, making it more difficult to awaken the sleepwalker. When you do, he may be disoriented, confused, and agitated. Sleepwalkers have no recollection of their night wanderings
Causes of Sleepwalking
There are numerous factors that can lead to sleepwalking.
- Sleep deprivation is a leading cause of many sleep disorders.
- It is more likely to occur during high stress periods in one’s life.
- Those with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)—pauses in breathing during sleep—experience a higher incidence.
- Ambien, the most popular sleeping pill, has been linked to an increase in reports of sleepwalking. It should not be taken with other drugs or alcohol.
- Conditions that cause light-headedness are associated with sleepwalking, including menstruation, fevers in children, and encephalitis (swelling of the brain)
Benzodiazepines and similar drugs are still used in children with reported success. Behavioral interventions and sleep hygiene should be addressed first. Sleep walking typically occurs in the first third of the sleep cycle. Sleep interruption during this phase is proving effective in treating a number of sleep disorders. Stanford University provides a good guide for parents on how to reduce this event in Children and Sleepwalking, which includes emptying the bladder before bedtime.
What to do if your loved one is sleepwalking?
Guide the sleepwalker back to bed Aroused from a deep sleep, the sleepwalker may be confused, disoriented, and afraid if awakened in an unfamiliar or unexpected environment.
Directly address the sleepwalker by name. She is more likely to respond, even if she perceives you as someone within her dream world.
Childproof the house to prevent injury. Install safety gates, secure windows and put locks on doors. To alert yourself to a sleepwalking child, use an electronic buzzer, tie a bell to the door, or install a two-way communication system.
Practice good sleep hygiene Good sleep hygiene—the environment we sleep in—is of particular importance to children. Noise, light, and unfamiliar surroundings can lead to an increase in this behavior.
Should You Seek Treatment?
Do you suspect that you are a sleepwalker but are not sure? Sleepeducation.com can help you determine if you are sleepwalker and what the best course of action is. Sleepwalking in children can often be managed by parents, who should closely watch their children. For adults, there can be more serious outcomes. Some widely reported cases of adult sleepwalking include murder, sex with strangers, and driving a car. The AASM recommends that adults who sleepwalk consult a sleep specialist.
Consider consulting a sleep expert accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine rather than a generalist. Health insurance coverage is easier to access through AASM accredited providers. To find an accredited sleep center in your region, consult the AASM searchable database.