What is sleepwalking?
Sleepwalking is a disorder characterized by walking or other activity while seemingly still asleep.
What are the causes, incidence, and risk factors of sleepwalking?
The normal sleep cycle involves distinct stages from light drowsiness to deep sleep. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is a different type of sleep, in which the eyes move rapidly and vivid dreaming is most common.
During a night, there will be several cycles of non-REM and REM sleep. Sleep walking (somnambulism) most often occurs during deep non-REM sleep (stage 3 or stage 4 sleep) early in the night. It can occur during REM sleep near morning.
In children, the cause is usually unknown but may be related to fatigue, prior sleep loss, or anxiety. In adults, sleepwalking is usually associated with a disorder of the mind but may also be seen with reactions to drugs and alcohol, and medical conditions such as partial complex seizures. In the elderly, sleepwalking may be a symptom of an organic brain syndrome or REM behavior disorders.
The sleepwalking activity may include simply sitting up and appearing awake while actually asleep, getting up and walking around, or complex activities such as moving furniture, going to the bathroom, dressing and undressing, and similar activities. Some people even drive a car while actually asleep. The episode can be very brief (a few seconds or minutes) or can last for 30 minutes or longer.
One common misconception is that a sleep walker should not be awakened. It is not dangerous to awaken a sleep walker, although it is common for the person to be confused or disoriented for a short time on awakening. Another misconception is that a person cannot be injured when sleep walking. Actually, injuries caused by such things as tripping and loss of balance are common for sleep walkers.
Sleep walking occurs at any age, but it occurs most often in children aged 6 to 12. It may occur in younger children, in adults, or in the elderly, and it appears to run in families.
What are symptoms of sleepwalking? [list][*]eyes open during sleep [*]may have blank facial expression [*]may sit up and appear awake during sleep [*]walking during sleep [*]other detailed activity during sleep, any sort [*]no recall of the event upon awaking [*]confusion, disorientation on awakening [*]sleep talking is incomprehensible and non-purposeful[/list:u]What are the signs and tests for sleepwalking?
Usually, no further examination and testing is necessary. If sleepwalking is frequent or persistent, examination to rule out other disorders (such as partial complex seizures) may be appropriate. It may also be appropriate to undergo a psychologic evaluation to determine causes such as excessive anxiety or stress, or medical evaluation to rule out other causes.
What is the treatment for sleepwalking?
Usually no specific treatment for sleepwalking is needed.
Safety measures may be necessary to prevent injury. This may include modifying the environment by moving objects such as electrical cords or furniture to reduce tripping and falling. Stairways may need to be blocked off with a gate.
In some cases, short-acting tranquilizers have been helpful in reducing the incidence of sleepwalking.
What is the prognosis of sleepwalking?
Sleepwalking may or may not reduce with age. It usually does not indicate a serious disorder, although it can be a symptom of other disorders.
What are the complications of sleepwalking?
A complication is injury sustained during sleep activities.
Calling your health care provider
Sleepwalking usually does not require a visit to your health care provider. However, the condition should be discussed with your health care provider if: [list][*]Sleepwalking is accompanied by other symptoms. [*]Sleepwalking is frequent or persistent. [*]Sleepwalking includes potentially dangerous activities (such as driving).[/list:u]How can I prevent sleepwalking? [list][*]Avoid the use of alcohol or central nervous system depressants if prone to sleepwalking. [*]Avoid fatigue or insomnia, because this can instigate an episode of sleepwalking. [*]Avoid or minimize stress, anxiety, and conflict, which can worsen the condition.[/list:u]
Source: National Institutes of Health