Sleepwalking is a complex sleep disorder, sometimes referred to as somnambulism, where the affected may rise from bed to perform a variety of actions, ranging from just sitting up, to running hysterically in the house.
Although sleepwalking is most commonly reported in children, adults have also been identified with the disorder, committing acts such as sex, or even homicide and claim no recollection. In general, however, most sleepwalkers have little to no recollection of the incident, although complex movements are often questioned as being honest. Episodes of sleep walking may range from a few seconds to as much as half hour, with sleepwalkers having a conscious, dreary looking appearing in the eyes. Sleep walking normally occurs during the deep phase of sleep called REM (rapid eye movement).
Causes of Sleepwalking
Sleepwalking is a complex disorder that may result following several probable causes working in tandem. These factors may include genetics, certain medical conditions or environmental influences.
Sleepwalkers commonly have a very strong familial link to the disorder. It was found that persons who have a first degree relative that sleepwalks, are more likely than others to also start sleepwalking. If a single parent is a sleepwalker your risk goes up 45%, whereas if both parents are, the risk goes to 60%. This shows there is a strong link in the genes, even if the sleepwalker carries a regressive gene.
- Lack of sleep- individuals with a hectic life may find themselves actually trying to accomplish work in their sleep, a recipe for disaster. Anxiety tends to reach critical levels in these individuals.
- Stress- poor sleep coincides with high levels of stress and anxiety, which when compounded with a predisposed sleepwalker, will almost always lead to these episodes.
- Alcohol use- use of alcohol may either stimulate or relax the nervous system, depending on the dose. It is best to avoid alcohol use in the hours leading up to sleep.
- Sedatives- drugs which enhance the deep resting phase of sleep may increase the chances of sleepwalking since it is during this phase most sleep walking occurs.
- Psychiatric problems-especially persons suffering from post traumatic stress disorders. Other psychiatric issues such as bipolar disorder, or multiple personality disorder all contribute greatly to the incidence of sleepwalking.
- Nocturnal seizures- sleep walking is also commonly associated with convulsive episodes.
- Sleep apnea- this is a disorder when a person may stop breathing intermittently through sleep. These episodes may last anywhere from a few seconds to a couple minutes, and can be dangerous if left alone. One theory is that sleep apnea interrupts the deep phase of sleep and may contribute to sleepwalking.
- Abnormal Heart Beat ( arrhythmias)
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease
- Nocturnal asthma
- Children- children generally experience longer and deeper phases of restorative sleep, the time at which sleepwalking occurs most frequently. This is the reason why children are more likely than adults to have sleepwalking issues.
- Pregnancy- pregnancy is a time attributed to sleepwalking by virtue of the fact that estrogens modify the sleep cycle strongly.
- Menstruation- women are more likely than men to experience sleepwalking episodes due to higher estrogen levels
Symptoms of Sleepwalking
There are diverse symptoms of sleepwalking, so much that sometimes it is hard to believe that person is sleeping. Possible symptoms may include;
- Anything between aimless walking to frantic running, in or out of the house
- Eyes open with a glazed over appearance
- Response on questioning may be absent or incoherent upon answer if any.
- Children wake more easily at the end of an episode, which may include nocturnal enuresis ( bedwetting) or inappropriate behaviour ( taking a poo in the kitchen)
- No recollection of episode the previous night.
- Performing repetitive movements- rubbing legs, fixing sheets etc.
Treatment of Sleepwalking
Due to the fact that most cases of sleepwalking occur in children, the natural remedy is growth. Most children grow out of it, but for those not responding very well, alternate approaches may be necessary. Effective means include;
- Scheduled awakening technique- for many nights in a row, record time of child’s sleep, and duration until sleep walking begins. Then, after the average time has been determined, awaken child 15 minutes before that. This disrupted sleep cycle normally prevents the episode from beginning.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages
- Avoid excessive liquid intake before bed
- Make regular sleep schedules for your child
In severe cases, a visit to your doctor will be necessary to investigate possibility of underlying psychiatric or other illness, or for treatment with medication.
No need for you to lose sleep over sleepwalking, it will generally get better on its own. It is a preventable and highly manageable disorder with proper knowledge.
Category: Sleep Disorders