Causes, incidence & risk
Each night there are several cycles of non-REM and REM sleep. Sleepwalking (somnambulism) most often occurs during deep, non-REM sleep (stage 3 or stage 4 sleep) early in the night. It can occur during REM sleep near morning.
The cause of sleepwalking in children is usually unknown but may be related to fatigue, prior sleep loss, or anxiety. Sleepwalking in adults can be associated with mental disorders, reactions to drugs and alcohol, or medical conditions such as partial complex seizures. In the elderly, sleepwalking may be a symptom of an organic brain problem or REM behavior disorders.
The sleepwalking activity may include simply sitting up and appearing to be awake while actually being asleep, getting up and walking around, or complex activities such as moving furniture, going to the bathroom, dressing and undressing, and similar activities. Some people even drive a car while actually asleep. The episode can be very brief (a few seconds or minutes) or can last for 30 minutes or longer.
One common misconception is that a sleepwalker should not be awakened. It is not dangerous to awaken a sleepwalker, although it is common for the person to be confused or disoriented for a short time on awakening. Another misconception is that a person cannot be injured when sleepwalking. Actually, injuries caused by such things as tripping and loss of balance are common for sleepwalkers.
Sleepwalking can occur at any age, but it happens most often in children aged 6 to 12. It appears to run in families.
Safety measures may be necessary to prevent injury. This may include modifying the environment by moving objects such as electrical cords or furniture to reduce tripping and falling. Stairways may need to be blocked off with a gate.
In some cases, short-acting tranquilizers have been helpful in reducing sleepwalking episodes.
9450 S. Saginaw Street, Suite E • Grand Blanc, Michigan 48439 • Telephone 810.695.4000 • FAX 810.695.4055