an image of a man who is sleepwalking
Last Updated on June 6, 2022 by Peter

Sleepwalking And How To Prevent It?

Sleepwalking (somnambulism/noctambulism) is a peculiar disorder that presents itself as a combination of wakefulness and sleep. The condition belongs to the parasomnia family, which means it involves abnormal movements, emotions, behaviors, dreams, and perceptions during sleep.

If you’re interested in pursuing this topic further and learning more about sleepwalking, its underlying causes, symptoms, and prevention, we suggest reading our comprehensive guide all the way through and finding out why people sleepwalk once and for all.

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    Sleepwalking symptoms

    Prevalence of childhood sleepwalking sits at around 1-17% with the most frequent onsets between the ages of 11 and 12. Somnambulism also affects around 4% of adults and may even transition into a chronic state if not properly managed. In other words, dangers of sleepwalking are quite real and shouldn’t be taken lightly. The most common symptoms of sleepwalking include:
    • Walking quietly around the room or even attempting to “escape”
    • Open eyes with glassy stare accompanied by a blank expression
    • Dilated pupils
    • Disorientation and general confusion
    • Clumsiness
    • Difficulties waking up
    • Meaningless conversations with individuals who aren’t actually there
    • Difficult arousal during the episode
    • Violence
    • Inappropriate behavior (for example, children often urinate in closets…)
    • Screaming (when occurring in conjunction with night terrors)
    • General amnesia regarding the event
    Sleepwalkers do not exhibit any physiological forewarnings that might indicate an imminent episode. There will be no increase in heart rate/breathing, twitching or notable variation in brain waves.
    a woman sleepwalking at night

    What causes sleepwalking?

    Modern science is currently unable to pinpoint the exact cause of sleepwalking, but it features an ample number of valid hypotheses. Some of these include:

    • Sleep deprivation
    • Irregular sleeping schedule
    • Stress
    • Drinking
    • Taking drugs such as neuroleptics, sedative-hypnotics, antihistamines, and stimulants. Contrary to the popular belief, sedatives exacerbate the condition rather than preventing it
    • Genetics – A study has shown that children of sleepwalkers have a genetic predisposition to develop the condition themselves. However, the environmental factors still dictate the expression of the behavior

    Sleepwalking has also been linked to numerous medical conditions, such as:

    • Heart rhythm problems
    • Heartburn
    • Fever
    • Nighttime seizures and asthma
    • Obstructive sleep apnea
    • Psychiatric disorders (panic attacks, PTSD, dissociative states, etc.)
    • Restless leg syndrome
    • Parkinson’s disease

    When does sleepwalking occur?

    Our sleep cycle is divided into non-REM (non-rapid eye movement) and REM stage (rapid eye movement).

    NREM sleep incorporates 3 stages:

    • Stage N1 – This stage is very short (around 10 minutes) and occurs the moment you fall asleep. This still categorizes as “light sleep” from which you can be easily awakened
    • Stage N2 – This segment is a bit longer and lasts between 30 and 60 minutes. During this time, your muscles become increasingly relaxed and you might start having delta (slow-wave) brain activity
    • Stage N3 – This is what we call “deep sleep”, which lasts between 20 and 40 minutes. Throughout this stage, your slow-wave brain activity will increase and you may experience some body movements. Waking up from the N3 stage is rather challenging

    REM or R Sleep is significantly deeper than NREM sleep. During this stage, your eyelids and eyes will begin to flutter and your breathing will become irregular. Having short episodes of apnea during REM sleep is perfectly normal. You’ll also experience the most vivid dreams during this stage. If you’re awoken from REM sleep, you’ll also be able to remember your dreams.

    So, when does sleepwalking occur exactly?

    The answer is, during the N3 stage of the NREM sleep. As we already mentioned, all sleep disorders that occur during this particular segment are called parasomnias (night terrors, teeth grinding, exploding head syndrome, etc.). These conditions manifest during your transition from NREM to REM sleep and may appear in conjunction with one another.
    an image of a woman sleepwalking

    How to prevent/treat sleepwalking?

    The key to preventing somnambulism lies in “countering” the aforementioned potential causes. In other words, try to avoid stress and heavy drinking while maintaining a healthy and replenishing sleeping regimen. Choosing the best air mattress that fits your personal preferences might play a big role in your recovery as well. You can also try various relaxation techniques, anticipatory awakenings, mental imagery, and many other prevention mediums.

    A medical condition can also be an underlying cause of sleepwalking, in which case, you’ll have to consult a trained specialist. As mentioned, these conditions can range from something harmless like restless leg syndrome to more serious disorders like OBA and gastroesophageal reflux. Once “la cause de la maladie”  is successfully treated, the sleepwalking episodes should subside as well.

    Medications that might prove useful in your sleepwalking treatment include:

    • Trazodone (Oleptro)
    • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
    • Estazolam
    • Melatonin
    • Biperiden
    • Quetiapine
    • Diazepam…

    Again, contrary to the popular belief, we don’t have any substantial evidence that waking sleepwalkers is actually harmful. The person will definitely feel disorientation, but shouldn’t experience any severe, long-term repercussions.

    an image of a man sleepwalking at night

    Protection when sleepwalking

    Now that we know what somnambulism is, the main causes of sleepwalking, and potential treatment options, we can divert our attention from “why do people sleepwalk” to “sleep walking protection”. Until you put your condition under control, you’ll have to take appropriate measures to ensure your overnight safety, especially if you live alone. These include:
    • Keeping a safe environment in your bedroom without any sharp objects
    • Sleeping on the ground floor
    • Locking your doors and windows
    • Covering your glass windows, preferably with heavy drapes
    • Placing a bell or an alarm clock on the bedroom door
    • Keeping weapons and loaded firearms out of the reach
    Alternatively, you can work with your partner so that they can learn to “guide” you through your sleep walking episodes without waking you up.
    a man sleepwalking
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