Everything you need to know about Sleepwalking
Sleepwalking, medically known as somnambulism, is a behavior disorder that happens during deep sleep and results in walking or performing other complex tasks while asleep. It is much more common in children than adults and is more likely to occur if a person is sleep-deprived. Because a sleepwalker typically remains in deep sleep throughout the episode, he or she may be difficult to awaken and will probably not remember the sleepwalking incident.
Sleepwalking usually involves more than just walking during sleep; it is a series of complex behaviors that are carried out while sleeping, the most obvious of which is walking. Symptoms of sleepwalking disorder range from simply sitting up in bed and looking around, walking around the room or house, leaving the house and even driving long distances. It is a common misconception that a sleepwalker should not be awakened. In fact, it can be quite dangerous not to wake a sleepwalker.
The prevalence of sleepwalking in the general population is estimated to be between 1% and 15%. The onset or persistence of sleepwalking in adulthood is common and is usually not associated with any significant underlying psychiatric or psychological problems. Common triggers for sleepwalking include sleep deprivation, sedative agents (such as alcohol), illnesses that cause high fevers, and certain medications.
Sleepwalking usually occurs during deep sleep, but may occur in the lighter sleep stages of sleep, such as NREM. It usually happens within a few hours of falling asleep, and the sleepwalker may be partially aroused during the episode.
Sleepwalking is typically characterized by few symptoms other than walking in sleep:
- Little or no memory of the event
- Inappropriate behavior such as urinating in closets or corners of rooms (more common in children)
- Screaming (exclusive to when sleepwalking happens in conjunction with sleep terrors)
- Difficulty arousing the sleepwalker during an episode
- Violent attacks on the person trying to wake the sleepwalker
Like many other sleep disorders, there is no specific treatment for sleepwalking. In many cases, getting better quality of sleep and improving sleep hygiene may reduce or entirely eliminate the problem. If you experience sleepwalking in any form or intensity, you may want to talk to your doctor or a sleep specialist about ways to prevent injury to you, or others, during the episode. Easy ways to do this would be to make sure there are no throw pillows or anything of that sort on the floor, and wires and cables are neatly tucked away before you go to sleep. Also, be prepared to discuss with your doctor factors such as medication, stress, or fatigue, as these may trigger symptoms.
There are numerous sleepwalkers who have found success in overcoming sleepwalking through some form of hypnosis. Also, pharmacological therapies such as sedative-hypnotics and antidepressants have been helpful in reducing sleepwalking in some cases.
Sleepwalking that is common in children is usually outgrown over time, especially as the amount of sleep decreases. However, if symptoms persist, you may want to consult your doctor or psychiatrist.
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