What is sleepwalking?

Also known as noctambulism or somnambulism, sleepwalking is a behavioural disorder that affects during deep sleep and involves walking and other activities usually done when one is awake. It usually occurs during non-REM (Rapid Eye Movement) state of sleep early on in the night. This condition belongs to the parasomnia family of disorders and is not serious. These episodes may last from 30 seconds to 30 minutes. There are two types of sleepwalking depending on the time at which occur during sleep:

  • Deep sleepwalking: Usually occurs when a person is in a state of deep sleep especially during early morning hours. It leaves no memory.
  • Light sleepwalking: This rare type occurs during the lighter stages of sleeping i.e. during the first few hours of falling asleep. People may be partially awake during this episode and may recall some bits of it.

Sleepwalking symptoms

Sleepwalking symptoms vary depending on the age and the severity of their condition. Some of the most common signs of sleepwalking to look out for are:

  • Getting out of bed and walking around.
  • Sitting up in the bed and repeating movements like rubbing the eyes, tugging on the bedsheets, or simply sitting with open eyes, etc.
  • Looking dazed and not responding to people calling them.
  • Talking in sleep.

In more advanced cases, a person may even:

  • Get dressed, eat, or talk.
  • Drive a car.
  • Leave the house.
  • Urinate in unusual places like the closet, etc.
  • Become violent after being woken up.

Occasional episodes are not usually a cause for concern and can go away with time. However, when these become more frequent i.e. occur more than 2-3 times in a week, a medical consultation is required.

Who is at risk?

Sleepwalking risk factors are those that put a set of people more at risk than the others. Some of the most common sleepwalking reasons include:

  • Though it can occur at any age, sleepwalking is more common in children.
  • When one or both parents have had a history of sleepwalking, the child is at a higher risk of acquiring it.
  • Children who have an unhealthy and stressful familial environment.
  • People who have suffered a head injury, stroke, etc.

Sleepwalking causes

There are several sleepwalking causes that contribute to this condition. Some of the most common factors include:

  • Sleep deprivation.
  • Stress.
  • Frequent disruptions in the sleep cycle like travel, interruptions, etc.
  • Dependence on alcohol, narcotics, nicotine, etc.
  • Abnormal breathing patterns or sleep-disordered breathing like obstructive sleep apnoea.
  • Restless leg syndrome.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux diseases.
  • Health conditions like hyperthyroidism, migraine, encephalitis, stroke, etc. and long-term dependence on medications.
  • Prolonged physical and emotional stress.
  • Long-term stomach disorders.
  • Non-conducive sleeping conditions like excessive noise and bright lights.

How is sleepwalking diagnosed?

To diagnose this condition, your sleepwalking doctor will conduct several assessments and tests like:

  • Review of the family history: The doctor may go over your familial history to assess if the cause of your condition lies in your genetics.
  • Discussion about your symptoms: This includes an in-depth assessment of your condition, sleep patterns, and behaviours. It may involve the recording of your sleep patterns in a diary for evaluation.
  • Physical exam: One of the most common sleepwalking tests, this is mainly done to rule out other conditions that have overlapping symptoms like panic attacks, night-time seizure, etc.
  • Polysomnography: Also known as a nocturnal sleep study, this requires you to stay overnight sleep lab with body sensors. These sensors record and monitor your brain waves, oxygen levels, heart rate, breathing, etc. to assess the severity of your condition.

How is sleepwalking treated?

There are several sleepwalking treatments that have proven to be effective in treating this condition. Some of these include:

  • Medications: You may be prescribed sleepwalking medicine like antidepressants, etc.
  • Treating other conditions: If your sleepwalking condition is a result of other medical or sleep disorder conditions, they will be treated first.
  • Anticipatory awakenings: Your family members may be trained to wake you up about 20 minutes before the usual time of your sleepwalking episodes.
  • Therapy: Another very effective sleepwalking cure is therapy or counselling that involves in-depth sessions to treat your stress levels, relaxation techniques, sleep improvement, etc.
  • Self-hypnosis: Learning this may help you relax and induce a deep state of uninterrupted sleep.

Treatment for sleepwalking is usually not required since this condition goes away in teenage years, However, when it starts leading to disruptions in life and becomes a potential cause of injury to the patient, medical intervention is strongly advised. At Care.fit, we have the country’s best counsellers and doctors for you to seek help from the comfort of your house. You can get more information on our website and mobile app.

How can sleepwalking be prevented?

There are no known ways for complete sleepwalking prevention. However, certain tips are known to minimise the chances of getting it like:

  • Reducing stress through mindfulness and exercise
  • Reducing auditory and visual stimulations before bedtime like TV, mobile phone, etc.
  • Getting adequate sleep.

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