Sleepwalking

Children between ages 6 and 12 suffer most from sleepwalking, or somnambulism. However, anyone younger or older can experience it, and sometimes sleepwalking runs in families. While this is generally a harmless state, continued occurrences should be addressed with the help of a physician. The individual does not remember actions taken, and appears to be awake, yet is not. Also injuries do happen in the form of tripping or loss of balance,

The individual goes from light drowsiness to deep sleep in a normal sleep cycle. He or she usually experiences a few rounds of non-REM and REM sleep, or rapid eye movement sleep. During deeper REM sleep the eyes move rapidly and the individual dreams vividly. Sleepwalking, however, mostly occurs earlier in the cycle during non-REM sleep; sometimes it can closer to the morning hours nearing wakefulness. 

The sleepwalker is really asleep when he or she sits up, gets up, and walks about. Sometimes the individual uses the bathroom, get dressed, moves furniture, or even drives a car, all while asleep. The sleepwalking can last just seconds, or 30 minutes or more. It is not normally harmful to wake the person, and the individual may feel disoriented when he or she wakes. However, there have been incidents of violence and screaming associated with sleepwalking.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of sleepwalking, as cataloged by the DSM-5, include:

  • Blank expression
  • May sit up and appear awake during sleep
  • May walk while asleep
  • Can include activity such as using the bathroom, getting dressed, driving a car
  • Speaking gibberish
  • Disoriented upon awakening 
  • Does not remember sleepwalking
  • Eyes open and seemingly awake

Causes

In both children and adults, sleep deprivation, exhaustion, illness, fever, and anxiety can be associated with sleepwalking.

Co-occurring conditions, medication side effects, alcohol consumption, and medical conditions such as partial complex seizures may also be associated with this condition. 
may. The condition may also be a symptom of an organic brain syndrome or REM function in elderly adults.

Testing and examination are not normally needed. However, a visit with a physician may be recommended for persistent episodes. If anxiety, stress, or another co-occurring condition is involved, a mental health evaluation may be recommended, and a medical examination may be required as well.

Treatment

While there are no specific treatment for sleepwalkers, preventing injury is recommended. Tripping and falling can happen. Therefore, an environment devoid of objects can help. 

Physicians can recommend short-acting tranquilizers to curtail the episodes for some individuals. Serious disorders do not normally accompany sleepwalking. Hence, simple sleep hygiene may be all that is needed.

Tips to address episodes of sleepwalking:

Be mindful of alcohol intake or central nervous system depressants.

Be mindful of exhaustion and fatigue, a bout of insomnia can set off sleepwalking.

Be mindful of stress and anxiety.

 

References

  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition
  • National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health
  • National Sleep Foundation
  • National Institutes of Health - National Library of Medicine

Last reviewed 02/07/2019