Sleepwalking

1 What is Sleepwalking?

Sleepwalking also known as somnambulism - involves getting up and walking around while asleep.

Usually found more in children than adults. Isolated incidents of sleep walking do not need any medical supervision but regular episodes will require medical intervention and treatment is required.

Sleepwalking is less common in adults and has higher chance of being confused with or coexisting with other sleep disorders as well as medical and mental conditions.

It’s important to protect the sleep walker from injuries. 

2 Symptoms

There are several signs and symptoms of sleepwalking.

Sleepwalking is classified as parasomnia - an unusual behavior or experience during sleep.

It occurs during slow wave of sleep the deepest stage of dreamless no rapid eye movement of sleep. Sleepwalking usually occurs early in the night often in two hours after falling asleep.

Someone who is suffering from sleepwalking may exhibit:

  • getting out of the bed and walking,
  • sit up in bed and open eyes,
  • don’t respond or communicate with others,
  • difficult to wake up during episode of sleepwalking,
  • don’t remember the episode in morning,
  • sometimes have problems with functioning during day,
  • having episodes of sleep terrors with sleepwalking.

Rarely a person suffering from sleepwalking experiences following symptoms:

  • leave house,
  • drive a car,
  • unusual behavior,
  • engage in sexual activity without awareness,
  • become violent during confused period after walking.

3 Causes

Many factors can cause sleepwalking. Some of them include:

  • sleep deprivation,
  • fatigue,
  • stress,
  • depression,
  • anxiety,
  • fever,
  • sleep schedule disturbances
  • and some drugs which can inhibit sleep wake cycle.

Sometimes sleepwalking is related with underlying medical condition such as:

Sleep disordered breathing

A group of disorders which characterized by abnormal breathing patterns while sleeping, narcolepsy, gastroesophageal reflux disease, migraines, travel, hyperthyroidism and head injury.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Diagnosis of sleepwalking can be made by the patient himself unless and until he/she is living alone.

Diagnosis of sleepwalking starts with physical examination and history of illness. Mental assessment is also done by doctor. Some sleep studies are made to confirm the diagnosis of sleepwalking.

Polysomnography

There will be a need to sleep in the lab overnight. Sensors are attached on the scalp, temples, chest and legs. The sensors are connected to the computer by the means of wires. A video camera is placed to record movements of patient.

Polysomnography records brain waves, oxygen content, heart rate and breathing. As well as eye and leg movements in this study are recorded.

Technologists monitor sleep throughout the night. Doctor will confirm the diagnosis of sleepwalking once he/she will analyze the report.

5 Treatment

Treatment for occasional sleepwalking is not recommended. Children who sleepwalk will lose this ability till they reach teenage.

Treatment is recommended only in severe cases of sleepwalking which accompanies by harm or injury, embarrassment or if there is distress for others.

Treatment of sleepwalking usually includes treating underlying condition - if sleepwalking is the result of underlying pathology it’s better to treat the pathology.

Benzodiazepines or certain antidepressants sleepwalking leads to potential for injury, is disruptive to family members, or results in embarrassment or sleep disruption for the person who sleepwalks.

Learning self-hypnosis.

6 Prevention

Some lifestyle patterns can prevent the occurrence of sleepwalking. They include:

  • Reducing stress: Stress reduction can be done by many ways but meditation is found out to be the most effective to reduce the levels of stress.
  • Following a pattern of sleep: Scheduled sleep must be maintained for adequate amount of time.
  • Physical exercise: Physical exercise of mild to moderate intensity can prevent sleepwalking. 

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

Alternative remedies include making environment safe for sleepwalking.

If sleepwalking lead to injuries it’s better to make the place safe for sleepwalking by removing

  • relatively sharp objects,
  • removing obstacles,
  • blocking stairways and balconies,
  • move electrical cords away from the place.

Get more sleep

It is always recommended to have enough sleep to treat sleepwalking.

Establish a regular, relaxing routine before bedtime

Do quiet, calming activities before bed, such as

  • reading books,
  • doing puzzles
  • or soaking in a warm bath.

Stress

Meditation and yoga which reduce stress are recommended to treat sleepwalking. Anticipatory awakenings must be planned according to individual pattern of sleepwalking episode.

8 Lifestyle and Coping

Lifestyle modifications are necessary in order to cope with sleepwalking.

Sleepwalking might make the patient feel embarrassed about the situation.

Severe cases can even lead to depression and may lead to further complications. Some lifestyle changes can be brought up to relieve the symptoms of sleepwalking.

Proper time table must be maintained of sleeping and waking up. Taking shower before going bed induces good sleep.

Coping from this condition requires support groups and people with same situation do that they can share their experiences and feel better knowing that they are not only one with sleepwalking.

9 Risks and Complications

There are several risks and complications associated with sleepwalking.

Risks of sleepwalking include:

  • Genetics: Sleepwalking appears to run in families. Its more often if one has a parent with sleepwalking and much more common if both parents have sleepwalking.
  • Age: Most often sleepwalking is seen in adults than children’s. Onset in adulthood is most likely related with other underlying situations.

Sleepwalking isn’t a concern, but sleepwalkers can easily hurt themselves, unaware of the situation and things around them is their major problem. Especially if they walk near furniture or stairs.

Excessive daytime sleepiness due to sleep disturbances at night. Disturb others’ sleep, injure someone who is close during the episode of sleepwalking.

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