How scary is the thought of taking some action which you have no recollection of? It seems unfathomable doesn’t it that your body can actually do something which was not regulated by your brain? Well that is what happens when a person sleep walks. Sleepwalking is a sleep disorder in which a person is not awake, however is mobile while in a state of sleep. It is quite a discomforting disorder as it can cause a sense of helplessness in patients as they are always in a constant state of fear of what they might do when they fall asleep.
What Exactly is Sleepwalking?
Previously known as Somnambulism, sleepwalking is a behavior disorder which occurs mostly when a person is in a state of deep sleep and results in walking or performing other complex behaviors while asleep.
It is pretty much common in children than in adults and is more likely to occur if a person is sleep deprived due to some reason. A sleepwalker typically remains in deep sleep throughout the whole incident which is why it is often quite difficult to awaken them. Once up and about, they often do not remember the sleepwalking incident. It has also been reported that it usually happens when a person is transitioning from the deep stage of sleep to a lighter stage or into the state when a person is about to wake up.
What Happens During Sleepwalking?
People who sleepwalk cannot respond during the whole time they are doing so and often do not remember it. In some cases, they may talk and not make sense. Sleepwalking is mostly seen in children between the ages of 4 to 8, however adults have also been known to sleepwalk. Basically, it is a common phenomenon and can be experienced by people of all ages.
Sleepwalking usually involves more than just walking during sleep; it is a series of complex behaviors that are usually observed while sleeping, the most evident of which is walking. Symptoms vary from one person to another. Sleepwalking activities include sitting up erect in bed and looking around, walking around the room or house, leaving the house and even driving long distances. The most bizarre part about all of this is the fact that the person who sleepwalks has no recollection of it which makes this disorder significantly dangerous.
Typically, the sleepwalker’s eyes are open and often fixated with a glassy stare as they roam around the house. If you question them there are various things which might happen. Some sleepwalkers often respond however do so slowly. Others however do not respond at all and continue to go about their business. There have been also reports of sleepwalkers fixating their questioner with a deadly stare and responding violently if they are in anyway stopped from doing what they are doing. This can at times prove to be extremely scary for a non-sleepwalking partner or a spouse.
As mentioned above, the sleepwalker does not recall any of this which makes it very creepy. It is very difficult to mostly wake sleepwalkers up. However, older children have been known to wake up more easily at the end of a sleepwalking episode than the little ones.
Statistics about Sleepwalking
Around one to fifteen percent of the world’s population is believed and estimated to suffer from sleepwalking. It is a very common occurrence around the world. A large number of sleepwalking cases have been known to derive their onset from adulthood without any link to distinct underlying psychiatric or psychological problems.
The total number of sleepwalking cases is much higher amongst children, especially those between the ages of three and seven. A lot of children who suffer from Sleep Apnea (another sleep disorder) suffer from sleepwalking. There is also a higher probability of sleepwalking among children who are frequently prone to bedwetting. Sleepwalking, especially in children has been known to run in families and can often be due to genetics.
What are the Symptoms?
When a person tends to sleepwalk, they may just walk around the room quietly or might look for escape routes out of the room to lead themselves to another activity. Sleepwalking usually begins during deep sleep but may occur during the transitioning in to the lighter sleep stages or NREM, usually within a few hours of falling asleep and the sleepwalker may be slightly aroused during the episode. These are some of the most common symptoms of sleepwalking which might aid you if you are suspicious of yourself sleepwalking:
Sleep Talking: Keep a check and ask people in the house if you were heard saying something while sleeping which made little or no sense.
Memory Lapses: If you find yourself in a situation or position which you do not remember being in before sleeping, it is most likely that you did it while sleepwalking. Memory lapses from the night before are often closely linked to sleepwalking.
Difficulty Waking Up: If you feel fatigued and physically tensed after waking up, it is most likely that you have been sleepwalking the night before.
Strange Incidents: If you notice strange incidents around you, such as misplaced items it could be a sign that they were moved by you while sleepwalking. Children often are responsible for bedwetting and inappropriate behavior such as urinating in closets.
Anxiety: If you feel a strange sense of anxiety when you wake up and do not feel relaxed from your slumber, it is quite likely that you were sleepwalking and the increased brain activity is leading to increased anxiety levels.
Causes of Sleepwalking
There are various reasons which have been always closely attributed to sleepwalking. According to some studies, sleepwalking during childhood is attributed to be a cause of slow developmental growth. This means that there is a significant delay in the maturation of the child. It could also mean that the Central Nervous System has not matured properly.
Following is a list of all the believed causes of sleepwalking:
Sleep Deprivation: In a lot of cases sleep deprivation and the lack of a proper sleep pattern has been known to cause sleepwalking.
Chaotic Sleep Schedules: The brain requires proper sleep at proper times. Lack of a proper sleeping routine often causes people to sleepwalk.
- Febrile Illnesses
- Alcohol Consumption
- Drug Abuse
- Certain Prescription Medications (Ambien)
These are also various health conditions believed to cause sleepwalking. These include:
- Heart Rhythm Problems
- Nighttime Asthma
- Nighttime Seizures
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (A Condition In Which You Briefly Stop Breathing During Sleep)
- Restless Leg Syndrome
- Psychiatric Disorders
Sleepwalking has also been known to travel genetically. According to studies, identical twins are more likely to sleepwalk. If you have a parent or sibling who sleepwalks, you are 10 times more likely to do so than someone from a family with no sleepwalkers.
Can Sleepwalking Be Treated?
There is no specific treatment for sleepwalking. However, there are various lifestyle changes, sleeping habits and tips which doctors prescribe to people struggling from sleepwalking.
Treatments Methods to Counter Sleepwalking
One of the most successful treatments for sleepwalking in adults is hypnosis. In fact, there are many cases in which sleepwalking patients have been successfully treated withthe help of hypnosis only. Pharmacological therapies such as Sedative-Hypnotics or Antidepressants have resulted in giving good results by reducing the frequency of sleepwalking in some people. This method however, has also been known to cause an adverse effect in a lot of people and increased their frequency of sleepwalking.
It is imperative to consult a doctor if you are experiencing any of the mentioned symptoms. Timely action can not only save your life but of your loved ones as well. This can also rule the possibility of you suffering from an underlying health condition which might be causing you to sleepwalk.
If you are looking to treat your child of sleepwalking then there is much less to worry about. While more common in children, sleepwalking is a disorder which outgrows children much faster, especially as their amount of sleep increases over time. If your child continues to sleepwalk into adolescence, then consult your family physician immediately.
Helpful Habits to Counter Sleepwalking
In many cases simply improving sleep habits has been known to eliminate the problem as some of the major causes of sleepwalking are poor sleeping habits.As sleep deprivation usually influences sleepwalking, increasing the amount of time scheduled for sleep can be helpful. Try abstaining from alcohol or tobacco before bed. Moreover, experts recommend establishing a regular, relaxing schedule before bedtime in order to cope with sleepwalking. Avoid the use of self-prescribed medications and get your prescription medications checked by your doctor as well if you feel that they are the cause of your sleepwalking problem.
Creating a safe sleep environment is important to prevent injury during sleepwalking episodes. For example, if you sleepwalk, do not sleep in a bunk bed. Remove sharp or breakable objects from the area near the bed, install gates on stairways, and lock the doors and windows in your home.