Misconceptions and Important Facts about Sleepwalking

Photo by: Bigstockphoto
Photo by: Bigstockphoto

Somnambulism or sleepwalking is a sleep disorder that belongs to the parasomnia family. This condition is characterized by performing activities when a person is in a state of low consciousness. These activities are usually benign such as walking to other parts of the house or sitting on the bed. But there are cases wherein sleepwalkers would eat, cook, drive and even commit homicide.

Sleepwalking is common in children than adults. This condition is likely to occur if the person is sleep deprived or stressed out. Throughout the activity, a sleepwalker will remain in very deep sleep. He or she will have difficulty waking up and will probably not remember the incident at all. 1% to 15% of the population experience episodes of sleepwalking.

Symptoms of Sleepwalking

The symptoms of sleepwalking include opened eyes and a blank expression, sitting up or walking to other parts of the home. When spoken to, a sleepwalker takes a long time to respond. And if he does answer, it’s often incoherent. A sleepwalker will look dazed, confused or clumsy but is capable of completing complex tasks as mentioned above. Other symptoms include screaming, irrational behaviors (such as peeing in closets) and sometimes, violent attacks. Once the sleepwalker is awakened, he or she becomes disoriented.

Causes of Sleepwalking

Sleepwalking is often outgrown by children. But persistent sleepwalking in adults is usually caused by sedatives, alcohol, febrile illnesses and reactions to certain medications. It’s also caused by sleep deprivation. This condition is not a symptom of underlying psychiatric or psychological problems.

Children with sleep apnea are also susceptible to sleepwalking. Kids who experience bedwetting are also likely to suffer from episodes of sleepwalking. Sleep terrors – which is a genetic disorder – also cause this condition.

Treating and Preventing Sleepwalking

There is no cure for sleepwalking. The majority of sleepwalking cases were resolved by improving sleep hygiene. If you are experiencing episodes of sleepwalking, it’s best to talk to your doctor. You may also see a sleep specialist to prevent injury during episodes.

Fatigue, stress, or certain medications are known sleepwalking triggers. Be prepared to discuss all these to a specialist.

Alternative treatments for sleepwalking include hypnosis or antidepressant medications. Treating this disorder through hypnosis has a high success rate. Other treatments include pharmacological therapies such as using sedatives or antidepressants to minimize episodes of sleepwalking. Finally, you can also consult a psychiatrist to resolve issues that could be triggering sleepwalking.

Living with Sleepwalking

Because a sleepwalker is not conscious of what he’s doing during an episode, create a safe environment to minimize injuries or damage in the home. For example, if your child sleepwalks, do not get him a bunk bed. Remove sharp objects near the bed. Anything that will pose a danger to the sleepwalker should be removed from the room, including drinking glasses, scissors, baseball bat, etc.

Keep the doors, windows and the gates locked at night. Finally, develop a regular, relaxing routine before bedtime to minimize episodes of sleepwalking. Because sleepwalking is often caused by sleep deprivation, creating a bedtime routine that’s conducive for sleeping is critical in preventing an episode.

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