Sleepwalking is a sleep disorder and falls under the category of parasomnia. Parasomnia causes the person to show abnormal behaviors while sleeping.
Commonly, sleepwalkers get up while still asleep and engage in activities like walking, hence the name. In scientific terms, sleepwalking is also known as somnambulism.
Children mostly display this condition, which gradually disappears on reaching the teenage phase. However, some adults may still continue to experience sleepwalking. You can also develop this sleep disorder at any point in time. There are a number of factors that may cause sleepwalking in adults and younger children.
Many may worry when they or someone dear to them develop this sleep behavior. Keep on reading to know all about this type of parasomnia, why it occurs, and how to deal with it?
Know a bit about what is sleepwalking
A person with this disorder may not necessarily walk and can do harmless to harmful activities like driving a car. While sleepwalking, the person is not aware of the activities. Some even keep their eyes open but cannot truly see since they are still asleep. Sleepwalkers cannot usually remember any of their unusual activities.
Sleeping makes us feel fresh and energetic. But do you know that our sleep has several stages? There are in total five stages of sleep but are mainly divided into two categories – NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.
The five stages of sleep are:
Now, sleepwalking occurs during the deep sleep stage of NREM sleep. But it can occur during the initial stages of sleep as well. Since it occurs in the initial stage, sleepwalking occurs within 90 minutes of sleep. A sleepwalking episode usually lasts a maximum of 30 minutes.
Signs and symptoms of sleepwalking:
Sleepwalking involves a number of activities, apart from walking, that may or may not be dangerous. Commonly these are the symptoms of sleepwalking:
- Sits up straight on the bed still asleep, may sometimes involve sleep talking.
- Wonders around the house or can even leave the house.
- Eyes may remain wide open or closed.
- Remains unresponsive when called out, or touched.
- Does not recall the previous night’s episode.
- Carry out daily activities while sleepwalking.
Some more unusual symptoms of sleepwalking:
- Displaying inappropriate behavior like urinating anywhere
- Driving a vehicle to quite a distance
- Screaming out loud
- Assaulting other people
What are the causes of sleepwalking?
Not everyone we know has this particular sleepwalking disorder, so what causes this behavior to form? Experts say factors such as the surrounding environment, psychological, and genetics play an undeniable role in this regard.
Sleepwalking occurs only when one goes to sleep at night and not during the daytime. Why? During the daytime, our nap time duration is usually less, hence the chances of sleepwalking in the daytime is less.
Genetics and sleepwalking
Usually, young children who deal with sleepwalking inherit the condition when either or both of their parents had the same sleep disorder at some point.
Psychological and surrounding environment as a factor
- Extreme stress and anxiety are our enemy. These two factors can create a long list of health issues for us. One of them is the development of sleepwalking. Moreover, if you stay in a stressful environment 24×7 where you can never have peace of mind, sleep disorders like sleepwalking will appear.
- A traumatic experience is another aspect that most of us find it hard to move on afterwards. Some develop the sleepwalking disorder after going through a traumatic situation. People casually advise the victim of a traumatic situation to let go and live life. But it is easier said than done.
- Very less sleep is another reason that may cause sleepwalking in some people. We all barely give proper attention to our sleep routine. Frequent disruption in the sleep routine can lead to several sleep disorders like sleep paralysis, sleepwalking, etc.
Other than these, some other factors that may cause this condition are –
- Certain medications to treat neurological conditions.
- Too much consumption of alcohol
- Underlying illness and medical conditions like sleep apnea, arrhythmia, GERD.
- Mental illness.
A point that is worth mentioning is that a person who suffers from sleepwalking doesn’t necessarily mean that he/she has a mental illness.
Complications with sleepwalking
The biggest risk in such a situation is the sleepwalker may get hurt, and the people staying with the sleepwalker may get hurt as well.
How to deal with sleepwalking?
The first step to this is consulting the medical expert and diagnosing why the sleepwalking is occurring. After this, follow the steps below:
- Seek ways to get a decent sleep.
- Stay away from anything that may cause sleep deprivation.
- Stay away from a stressful environment.
- Always stay vigilant around the sleepwalker.
- On seeing someone you know sleepwalk, gently try to wake them. Many say that it is bad to wake up a sleepwalker. The reality is it is more dangerous if you don’t wake up, as the person may end up doing something dangerous.
- If the sleepwalker is a regular drinker, then alcohol consumption has to stop.
When should you consult with a doctor?
- In the case of a child, if the sleepwalking episodes haven’t disappeared even on reaching the teens.
- If the sleepwalker (child or adult) is showing violent behavior while sleepwalking, then we advise you to consult a doctor immediately.
- If the episodes become very often, then also you need to seek professional help.
- If the sleepwalking disorder has returned to an adult who has a childhood history of the same.
- If the adult has been sleepwalking for the first time for quite some time now.
There are three ways to diagnose sleepwalking –
- Physical exam
- A questioning session to know the sleepwalker.
- A nocturnal sleep test.
The treatment for sleepwalking is commonly recommended when the episodes become frequent, violent, and out of control. Doctors may also prescribe low dose lorazepam and antidepressants to treat the condition if necessary. Other than this, the sleep routine may be rectified along with behavior management sessions.
Sleepwalking can occur in 1 to 15 percent of people, generally speaking. In most cases, the episodes do not last long and go away without doing much damage. But there are always certain cases, where medical help and proper care is of utmost importance. A study also reveals that hypnosis also may help people with such sleeping disorders. So, take proper care and don’t panic.