Sleepwalking: The Sleep Disorder We Should Talk More About

At least a third of our lives we spend in a dream. Sleep is a vital component of our daily lives and the key to an active and healthy being. That is why it is very important to be as knowledgeable and alert as possible about sleep processes, their deviations, and disorders. You can trust me on this topic because after suffering from insomnia for years, I decided to devote myself to studying sleep to help people learn more about it and change their lifestyles and sleep routines to better. 

Today, we’ll talk about a rare sleep disorder that is associated with a lot of myths, namely sleepwalking. Why do people sleepwalk? It is most common for children to suffer from walking in a dream, but adults can also have strange behaviors while sleeping. They can drive a car, talk, walk and move furniture, etc. While it may seem funny, it can be quite dangerous without proper treatment.

What Is Sleepwalking Disorder?

One quarter of all children and three percent of the adult population of the planet suffer from this strange and sometimes dangerous condition. Somnambulism, a sleep disorder, also called sleepwalking, causes a person to get out of bed during the slow sleep phase (the stage of deep sleep is when there are no dreams) and do actions that a person usually performs in a state of full consciousness. 

Sleepwalking is a sleep disorder in which a person commits unconscious actions. A sleepwalker can just sit on the bed or do something more complicated and uncommon. For example, they may go out and invite a passerby to their house. At the same time, sleepwalkers have eyes open and can even answer questions. However, waking up, they remember nothing.

The reason why the brain gives the sleeper such commands is under-researched. Of course, it’s not always extreme stories related to sleepwalking, but about 40% of the “chronic” sleepwalkers inflict physical damage on themselves. For example, they can get up under a hot shower or drop something heavy on their feet. 

Talking about it more scientifically, the definition of sleepwalking, which is “somnambulism,” consists of two Latin words. The first one is “somnus,” dream, and the second is “ambulo,” moving around. These words describe the essence of the phenomenon. This disorder does not include speaking or singing in a dream, as these are variants of the norm.

It is also worth distinguishing this disorder from a parasomnia and variations in the stage of REM sleep. In short, sleepwalking is one of the manifestations of parasomnia, and only a specialist will see the difference after conducting the research.

Why is it important to understand what we are dealing with? According to recent studies, the REM sleep behavior disorder (shouting during sleep, paralysis, abnormal movements) is often an early symptom of clinical cases of Parkinson and other neurodegenerative diseases.

So, pay extra attention to any abnormal sleep behavior, as the early manifestations of sleep disorders can be a sign of a serious neurological disease in the future. However, the causes of sleepwalking are usually not that severe and can be treated easily.

What Causes Sleepwalking?

Sleepwalking man illustartion

In recent years, it has been proven that the brain does not shut off completely during sleep. Studies show that sleep is an active process. But what exactly can cause the awakening of the motor center and make people sleepwalk? Any trigger that leads to the awakening of the brain can disrupt the complex interaction of structures responsible for sleep and wakefulness.

Most often, children suffer from a violation of the balance between sleep and wakefulness. It is not a pathology, but the norm. According to various estimates, such a violation occurs in about 10% of children. Moreover, if both parents had somnambulism, then the likelihood that the child will have it is ten times higher compared to others.

It is less common for an adult to sleepwalk. Sharp excitement, physical and mental fatigue, lack of sleep, an excess of caffeine, taking certain medications (sleeping pills, antidepressants, antipsychotics, beta-blockers, and many other drugs) are some factors that can provoke the sleep disorder in later years. Sometimes, sleepwalking is the side symptom of epileptic disorders, “restless legs syndrome,” and other pathologies.

What Are the Symptoms of Sleepwalking?

Even if a person does no harm to anyone and does not look weird (there are many such cases, for example, a person came to work in their pajamas), their behavior, while walking around the apartment at night, looks very strange. On the one hand, you can spot such symptoms as an absent look, an expressionless face. On the other hand, open eyes and actions can confuse you, as the person clearly subordinates to some plan. 

The problem is that sleepwalkers are not so easily recognized in the gloom. They may appear to be awake, as they perform seemingly focused actions. They can also speak or answer a question. If a person suffers from sleepwalking, such episodes of walking during sleep can repeat a couple of times a week.

Often, the sleepwalkers do not just wander around the house, but as if they are looking for something, keep opening the doors of the cabinets and pushing the drawers. The simplest thing that can be assumed is that these people have a dream, and they don’t control their body in reality. 

However, by observing the person suffering from this condition, you can spot even more specifics. They walk pretty slowly, and their moves are smoother than usual people. Notably, their eyes can be wide open, but sleepwalkers don’t process anything they see or hear during the attack.

In their dreams, sleepwalkers imagine themselves in some interesting places and don’t comprehend that they are actually at home. It is almost impossible to wake a sleepwalker. 

How can the dangers of this sleep disorder be determined? In fact, except severe cases, most appearances of somnambulism are completely harmless. The main danger to those walking in a dream can only be the environment. Thus, being lost in the space of the apartment and not having visual control, they can get injured, trip over furniture, or mix up the window with the door. In some scenarios, they may even leave the apartment or start the car. Therefore, it is worth considering all the nuances of such issues if you have a sleepwalker in your family.

Sleepwalking attacks tend to be pretty short, as, within a whole-night sleep, they may take up to an hour. In most cases, lunatics themselves get back to their beds and continue to sleep even if they were walking around five minutes ago. And when they wake up, they do not retain a thing regarding their sleepwalking acts.

Do you need to wake up such a person? What happens if you wake up a sleepwalker? There are many scary stories about why you can not wake up sleepwalkers. It all comes down to the fact that either a person can be too afraid of their condition or harm you reflectively. Of course, it is more likely due to old beliefs that the sleepwalker’s soul leaves the body for the duration of sleep, and it will not have time to return if you wake a person abruptly. 

But medically, there are no contraindications to wake a person. Besides, a person in the deep sleep phase is unlikely to wake up right away. Therefore, the quickest and easiest way is to take a person back to his bed gently. The attack itself usually lasts no more than ten minutes, so just keep calm and make sure that the person gets to their bed safely.

How Can I Be Diagnosed with Sleepwalking?

There are many misconceptions about the nature of the occurrence of sleepwalking. Many associate this disease with mental illness. At the same time, it is far from true. Sleepwalking can be considered a nervous breakdown caused by a protective mechanism against stressful situations.

Due to kids’ over-impressionability, sleepwalking is often present in one-third of children and adolescents. But as soon as the child adapts to the speed of life, sleepwalking passes with age. The manifestation of this disorder in adults is more rare, although such cases still happen. 

If you have signs of sleepwalking, it is vital to get an appointment and expert assistance. One simple diagnosis can reveal the roots of this condition. In rare cases, sleepwalking can be a sign of more complex diseases, like epilepsy or Parkinson’s disease.

Some other simple causes include situations with a person walking in a dream when they have a fever, haven’t got enough sleep for a while, or experienced some stressful issues recently. Studies show that about one-fifth of children suffer from this disorder. However, kids are usually healthy and just overwhelmed with the amount of information around, and these symptoms just go away with age.

When does sleepwalking occur? Attacks of sleepwalking in kids may happen when children worry about something, and this anxiety provokes sleep disturbance and sleepwalking. It is hard for a child’s brain to process the array of information and experience they get daily. Therefore, at night, the brain may still manage the received data so that the kid doesn’t rest mentally. Thus, the body confuses active and passive periods of brain operations and starts moving around in an unconscious state of mind.

Moreover, the bad news is that this condition is hereditary. If both parents experienced or still suffer from it, the chances are high that their child will have such a problem, too. However, it doesn’t mean that the kid is guaranteed to get up and walk. Sometimes, kids may just speak in sleep, trying to explain something to parents, or ask for something. Don’t stress over these symptoms, as they will disappear with time. Just make sure the surroundings are safe and keep your child away from stressful situations.

How to Stop Sleepwalking: Common Treatment Options

Sleepwalking can take quite different forms. Therefore, it is essential to establish why one starts walking in a dream. Sometimes, all you need is to set up a sleep schedule and eliminate irritating factors. Only in some cases, you can get prescribed sleepwalker pills to suppress the manifestation and ensure a calm sleep.

For a safe night’s sleep, people suffering from this disorder should reduce stress, sleep enough hours per day, and avoid noise and physical contact during sleep. Respectively, the basics of sleepwalk treatment boil down to creating comfortable conditions for rest mentioned below:

  • Relax in the evenings. Do not watch scary movies, do not read the news, etc.;
  • Turn on soothing music or take a warm bath;
  • Observe the regimen of the day and fall asleep at the same time;
  • Get enough sleep, as it should take at least 7.5-8 hours.

If you want to know how to behave with loved ones properly during an attack, you should concentrate not on how to wake up a sleepwalker, but on how to help the sleepwalker avoid possible danger. The relatives should take care to protect sleepwalkers from possible injuries. 

For example, it is recommended to seal the bedroom windows so that it would be impossible to open them with one move. Do not leave electrical wires or glass objects freely accessible within the house to not let the sleepwalker get seriously injured.

If one experiences a severe form of sleepwalking, doctors can advise tying the patient to their bed. This way, the person won’t hurt themselves nor leave their homes sleepwalking. In such complicated situations, you should consult specialists to learn more about specific sleepwalker pills ingredients that can restore the phases of sleep, thus, guaranteeing a proper rest.

Final Words

Sleepwalking is a pretty common disease that often happens in kids. When a person grows up, sleepwalking fades away but can return in case of the irregular and nervous rhythm of life. It can also be a sign of some severe hidden illness. That is why it is worth paying attention to adult lunatics. In children, most often, all symptoms appear due to information overload.

Since with children, somnambulism disappears over time, no medical intervention is required. But if a person at a later age has manifestations of sleepwalking, it is essential to consult a doctor. 

Don’t just google similar cases by writing, I’ve been sleepwalking, but make sure to visit a specialist. As already mentioned, sleepwalking can be a symptom of a more complicated disease in the early stages. And the sooner you find out about it, the more opportunities there are to take recovery measures.

The main thing is not to panic in advance. Somnambulism can also be a reaction to nervous events in life, so one or two episodes of walking in a dream are not terrible. The doctor will most likely prescribe you some examination to determine the exact diagnosis and prescribe the right treatment. All in all, sleepwalking in adults is an alarming symptom that should be treated appropriately. 

Do you sleepwalk? Have you ever faced the problem of kids sleepwalking? If so, what did you do with it? Let me know about your experience and recommendations below.

foto of Catherine Rodgers

I am a certified therapist. The area of my study includes sleep medicine as well. I’ve chosen this field of research not by chance. For years I’ve suffered from insomnia, and have been trying various medicines, including sleeping techniques, natural remedies, and even hypnosis. According to my observations, the quality of sleep depends on numerous external and internal factors that may seem irrelevant at first sight.

Catherine Rodgers

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

SleepingMola - Everything About Healthy Sleeping