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Somnambulism – most commonly known as sleepwalking – is a sleep disorder where someone walks and executes abnormal behaviors while he is still asleep. Sleepwalking belongs to a family of sleep disorders called parasomnia. This occurs on the cycles of non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM sleep) during deep sleep. Although it can still occur during the light stages of NREM several hours before transitioning to a sleep state.
Sleepwalking doesn’t just involve walking. It involves an array of complicated behaviors performed while a person is asleep. These symptoms can go from simply sitting up in bed to watching television to going out of the house. In rare cases a sleepwalker could even drive a car, which could be dangerous if the patient is not awakened.
Although appearing to be awake with eyes wide open, sleepwalkers stay asleep throughout the episode. They also generally have no memory of the incident the following day.
What are the symptoms of sleepwalking?
Aside from walking some of the symptoms of sleepwalking are:
- Screaming (when associated with sleep terrors)
- Inappropriate actions like urinating in the room (common in children)
- Difficulty arousing the person
- Violent actions toward the person awakening the sleepwalker
- No memory of the episode the following day
You can also identify sleepwalking through the eyes of a sleepwalker. A sleepwalker may appear to be staring into space and bearing a blank expression. His eyes are also diluted.
What causes sleepwalking?
The exact cause of sleepwalking is unknown. However, a number of studies have concluded observations as to why these episodes may happen. These include:
- Delayed maturity of the central nervous system
- Sleep deprivation
- High-temperature fever
Genetics also play a role in a person’s sleepwalking. As a matter of fact, studies have shown that 45% of sleepwalkers have one parent who sleepwalks as well.
Medications such as benzodiazepines, antidepressants, and other antipsychotics have also been linked to sleepwalking. A perfect example of this is Zolpidem.
Parkinson’s disease has also been observed to be a factor behind sleepwalking. It has been observed to trigger episodes to people with no history of the said sleep disorder.
There is no definite, scientific process of treating sleepwalking. Even up to this day no clinical trials have been successful in concluding an effective way to prevent a person’s sleepwalking incidents. Sleepwalking is common in children and adolescents, although the episodes usually lessen from time to time.
Improving sleep hygiene has been observed to decrease chances of sleepwalking in children. Should your symptoms prolong talk to a sleep specialist to assess your sleeping patterns to prevent injury and solve an underlying sleep disorder if there is any.
Sleepwalking in adults has been treated by hypnosis. As a matter of fact, some patients with sleepwalking cases have been successfully treated by hypnosis alone.
Although sleepwalking is normal it should not be overlooked. Sleepwalking could worsen and lead to unwanted injuries, as someone’s episode might result in a fall. Some sleepwalkers also have reported feeling embarrassed after their incident after walking naked in public.
Talk to a sleep specialist if your sleepwalking episodes happen more than usual. Assess your sleep patterns and be ready to change your sleep schedule if necessary.