Sleepwalking, or somnambulism, is when a person walks or does another activity while asleep. This disorder occurs, typically, during the third or fourth stage of non-REM sleep early in the night. During a sleepwalking episode, a person may sit up and look as if they are awake. They may perform routine activities such as getting up and walking around, going to the bathroom or cooking. Episodes can be very brief lasting only a few minutes, or last for longer than 30 minutes.
Unlike other disorders, sleepwalking can occur at any age; however, it has been found that it happens most often in children ages five to 12.
The causes of sleepwalking vary by age. In children, the causes of sleepwalking usually cannot be pinpointed, although, sleepwalking has been associated with genetics, fatigue, anxiety or lack of sleep. Sleepwalking in adults may be spurred by medical conditions, mental disorders, in addition to, alcohol, sedatives or other medication. In older adults, sleepwalking may be a symptom of organic brain disorder or REM behavior disorders.
While “walking in your sleep” is the most common symptom of sleepwalking, there are other signs of sleepwalking including:
Unless there are absolutely no signs of your Sleepwalking, you will likely be able to make a diagnosis on your own. After consulting with your doctor, he or she may be able to conduct a psychological or physical exam to identify any medical conditions that may be confused as sleepwalking. If necessary, your doctor or sleep specialist may recommend an overnight sleep study in a sleep lab.
While there are no specific treatment options for sleepwalking, oftentimes, simply improving your sleep environment can solve the issue. Make sure your sleep environment is cool, comfortable, dark, and quiet. If you feel you are suffering from symptoms of sleepwalking, consult your doctor or a sleep specialist about methods to prevent injury during episodes. Additionally, discuss with your doctor factors such as medications, stress or fatigue, which may trigger episodes.
There is no known method to prevent sleepwalking; however, there are certain measures to take to minimize the risk of an episode, such as receiving adequate sleep and limiting stress. If you do find that you are affected by frequent Sleepwalking attacks, try the following tips to prevent injury and accident during an episode: