Sleepwalking, What Causes It?
Have you ever gone to bed only to find yourself waking up on the kitchen floor, living room sofa or some other unusual place? If so, you may be suffering from sleepwalking or be one of those people who experience at least one episode of sleepwalking at some point of their life.
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Although sleepwalking is more present in children than in adults, there are people who can struggle with it later in their life. It can be caused by various medications, heath conditions, genetics and other factors, and in some cases it can even be dangerous.
Read our article to learn more about sleepwalking, its causes and symptoms and possible treatments. Last updated
What Is Sleepwalking?
Sleepwalking, otherwise known as somnambulism, is a sleep disorder that occurs in the deepest part of a nonrapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. It usually occurs within first 2 hours of falling asleep and involves getting up and walking around while in a state of sleep.
Various things can happen during an episode of sleepwalking: you may sit up, walk and even perform certain activities while still asleep. Your eyes may be open, but you are in a stage of deep sleep.
An episode may last several minutes or even longer and sometimes it can even lead to accidents as various injuries can occur.
Sleepwalking is more common in children than adults and it is usually outgrown by the teen years.
Isolated episodes of sleepwalking usually don’t signal any serious problems and they don’t require treatment. However, if episodes of sleepwalking frequently occur, they may suggest that there is any underlying sleep disorder.
What Are the Symptoms of Sleepwalking?
The symptoms of sleepwalking include various activities that a person does while still asleep.
During an episode of sleep walking, a person may have open, glassy eyes and a blank expression on their face. They are not very responsive and are incoherent in their speech.
Besides walking in their sleep, those experiencing sleepwalking may also run, get dressed, move furniture, urinate in inappropriate places such as a closet, engage in sexual behaviors, etc.
Sometimes sleepwalking behaviors may be more complex such as trying to drive a car or even violent.
During an episode of sleepwalking, a person may return to bed on their own, or they may wake up in other places or totally confused while they are still out of bed and on their legs.
They don’t remember the episode at all when they wake up and they usually learn about it from family members.
What Are the Causes of Sleepwalking?
Various factors can contribute to sleepwalking. Some of them include:
Genetics and Family History
Many studies show that some people are genetically predisposed to sleepwalking.
About 22% of children whose parents don’t have a history of sleepwalking will experience this condition. In contrast, nearly 47% of children will sleepwalk if one of their parents has a history of this disorder and 61% of children will experience episodes of sleepwalking if both of their parents sleepwalk.
A lack of sleep is often associated with the increased risk of sleepwalking. This may be due to the increased amount of time that people spend in deep sleep after going without sleep for a long time.
Stress and Anxiety
High levels of stress and anxiety can interfere with your sleep and reduce its quality. Some studies even point to the fact that daytime stress can contribute to episodes of sleepwalking.
Stress can be both physical and emotional. Sometimes stress may be caused by discomfort or certain change such as when sleeping in an unfamiliar place.
Fever and Migraine
Sleepwalking has also been associated with fever, especially in children. It has been found to make sleepwalking more likely and can also cause night terrors during which you might scream, thrash your arms about or try to escape from scary things you see in your dreams.
Also, if you have chronic migraine, it may make you more vulnerable to sleepwalking as there is a strong association between sleepwalking and persistent headaches.
Certain breathing disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea may cause sleepwalking.
Obstructive sleep apnea obstructs your airways and stops your breathing for short periods of time while you sleep. These pauses in breathing, which can occur many times during the night, create interruptions in your sleep that can trigger sleepwalking.
If you have acid reflux, this means that the contents of your stomach come back up through your esophagus and cause that burning sensation that can interfere with your sleep and keep you awake at night.
Those suffering from acid reflux or other gastric disorders are more prone to sleep disorders, including sleepwalking.
Also, because acid reflux interferes with your sleep, it can lead to long-term exhaustion and make you more vulnerable to episodes of sleepwalking.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless leg syndrome is a type of sleep disorder that causes a strong urge to move your limbs, especially legs when lying down for longer periods of time, especially during sleep.
It can cause frequent arousals from which you may enter into an episode of sleepwalking.
Certain medications may also cause people to sleepwalk. These are usually medications with a sedative that may push people into a type of sleep that increases their chances of experiencing an episode of sleepwalking.
How Is sleepwalking Treated?
Occasional episodes of sleepwalking shouldn’t be a cause of concern and usually resolve on their own. But if your episodes of sleepwalking occur often (more than one or two times a week or even several times during the night), you should consult your doctor.
You should also consult your doctor if your sleepwalking episodes lead to dangerous behaviors and injuries, cause a significant sleep disruption to you or your household members, cause excessive daytime sleepiness and problems functioning, etc.
Treatment for sleepwalking will depend on your age and other factors just mentioned above.
When sleepwalking can’t resolve on its own and it is necessary to take certain steps to address this problem, there are a number of approaches that can be incorporated in your treatment plan.
Treating Underlying Causes
If there is an underlying sleep disorder such as obstructive sleep apnea, acid reflux or restless leg syndrome, treating these conditions first may resolve sleepwalking problems as well.
Eliminating Safety Risks
When someone is sleepwalking, it is important to limit the possibility of that person getting hurt while sleepwalking as much as possible.
This involves: keeping sharp objects or weapons out of reach, removing tripping hazards, closing doors and windows, installing lights with motion sensors, using door or bed alarms, etc.
This involves waking up the person shortly before a potential sleepwalking episode is likely to occur.
Improving Sleep Hygiene
Having a consistent sleep schedule and limiting the intake of alcohol and caffeinated beverages close to bedtime can reduce the possibility of the appearance of sleep problems and sleep deprivation that can trigger sleepwalking.
Read our article: How Much Sleep Do I Need and learn about the right amount of sleep you should get every night and improve your sleep hygiene.
Sometimes when other types of treatment are not effective, medications may be considered to try to prevent sleepwalking. However, you should consult your doctor before taking any medication.
Sleepwalking is a sleep disorder which causes you to sit up in bed, walk or perform some other activity while still in a deep stage of sleep.
Although your eyes may be open, the episodes of sleepwalking occur in the deepest stage of sleep and usually last for several minutes and sometimes even longer.
Various factors can cause sleepwalking. Sometimes it is because of genetics and in some other cases because of other underlying sleep disorders, health issues, medications, etc.
It is more common in children than adults, but if it occurs frequently and causes you problems and even puts you or your household members in danger, you should consult your doctor and see what would be the best solution for your problem.