Sleepwalking — also known as somnambulism — usually involves getting up and walking around while asleep. Most common in children between the ages of 4 and 8, sleepwalking often is a random event that doesn't signal any serious problems or require treatment.
However, sleepwalking can occur at any age and may involve unusual, even dangerous behaviors, such as climbing out a window or urinating in closets or trash cans.
If anyone in your household sleepwalks, it's important to protect him or her from sleepwalking injuries.
Sleepwalking is classified as a parasomnia — an undesirable behavior or experience during sleep. Sleepwalking is a parasomnia of arousal, meaning it occurs during deep, dreamless (non-rapid eye movement, or NREM) sleep. Someone who is sleepwalking may:
Sleepwalking usually occurs during deep sleep, early in the night — often one to two hours after falling asleep. Sleepwalking is unlikely to occur during naps. The sleepwalker won't remember the episode in the morning.
Sleepwalking episodes can occur rarely or often, including multiple times a night for a few consecutive nights.
Sleepwalking is common in children, who typically outgrow the behavior by their teens, as the amount of deep sleep they get decreases.
When to see a doctor
Many factors can contribute to sleepwalking, including:
Sleepwalking is sometimes associated with underlying conditions that affect sleep, such as:
In other cases, use of alcohol, illegal drugs or certain medications — including some, antihistamines, sedatives and sleeping pills — can trigger sleepwalking episodes.
Sleepwalking appears to run in families. It's more common if you have one parent who has a history of sleepwalking, and much more common if both parents have a history of the disorder.
Sleepwalking itself isn't necessarily a concern, but sleepwalkers can easily hurt themselves — especially if they wander outdoors or drive a car during a sleepwalking episode. Prolonged sleep disruption can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness and possible school or behavior issues. Also, sleepwalkers usually disturb others' sleep.
Preparing for your appointment
For children, sleepwalking episodes tend to go away by the time they're adolescents. However, if you have concerns about safety or underlying conditions, you may want to see your doctor. Your doctor may refer you to a sleep specialist.
It's a good idea to prepare for your appointment. Here's some information to help you.
What you can do
Preparing a list of questions for your doctor will help you make the most of your time together. For sleepwalking some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions that occur to you.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Unless you live alone and are completely unaware of your sleepwalking, chances are you'll make the diagnosis of sleepwalking for yourself. If your child sleepwalks, you'll know it.
Your doctor may do a physical or psychological exam to identify any conditions that may be confused with sleepwalking, such as a seizure disorder or panic attacks. In some cases, a sleep study in an overnight sleep lab may be recommended.
Your doctor will review the information to determine whether you have any sleep disorders.
Treatments and drugs
Treatment for sleepwalking isn't usually necessary. If you notice your child or anyone else in your household sleepwalking, gently lead him or her back to bed. It's not dangerous to the sleepwalker to wake him or her, but it can be disruptive. The person may be confused and disoriented if awakened. Adults, in particular, might attack the awakener.
Treatment for adults who sleepwalk may include hypnosis. Rarely, sleepwalking may result from a drug, so a change of medication may be required.
If the sleepwalking leads to excessive daytime sleepiness or poses a risk of serious injury, your doctor may recommend medication. Sometimes use of benzodiazepines or certain antidepressants may stop sleepwalking episodes.
If the sleepwalking is associated with an underlying medical or mental health condition, treatment is aimed at the underlying problem. For example, if the sleepwalking is due to another sleep disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnea, using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), a machine that delivers air pressure through a mask placed over your nose while you sleep, keeps your upper airway passages open.
Lifestyle and home remedies
If sleepwalking is a problem for you or your child, here are some things to try:
Above all, be positive. However disruptive, sleepwalking usually isn't a serious condition — and it usually goes away on its own.
Last Updated: 2011-08-12
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