Somnambulism or sleepwalking as it’s commonly known as – is a behavior characterized by partial arousal during slow wave sleep. It’s a sleep disorder that affects more than 8.4 million U.S. adults and is even more common in children. We’ll dig deeper to understand the various symptoms of sleepwalking treatments and the implication it can have on your overall health.

What is sleepwalking?

Sleepwalking is a sleep disorder that belongs under the wider parasomnia category. Parasomnia in turn is a sleep disorder marked by significant skeletal muscle activity. A common misconception is that it is simply as the name states – walking in your sleep. However it can also be defined as talking in your sleep, sitting up in bed and performing other simple, repetitive tasks while asleep. Usually, the person affected will not remember the episode and usually remains in deep sleep during the entire time, hence the repeated advice of not disturbing or forcefully waking up someone who is sleepwalking.

Sleepwalking symptoms include: 

  • Talking in your sleep
  • Sitting up in bed or walking around
  • Performing simple, repetitive exercises 
  • Difficulty waking up during the sleepwalking episode 
  • Can show odd (and sometimes violent) behaviour
  • Impaired judgement and perception of the direct environment 

Sleepwalking episodes usually occur in the first part of the night, 1-2 hours after falling asleep and the person is usually in deep sleep.

Associated disorders

Studies have found that children that suffer from other associated sleep disorders, such as Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) or Night Terrors are more likely to also experience sleepwalking. There are also suggestions that the condition is hereditary and genetic. So if one or both parents have experienced sleepwalking the child may be more likely to have the same. A study from Stanford university showed that people with depression were 3.5 times more likely to sleepwalk than those without. The same study also showed that people with alcohol abuse/dependence or obsessive-compulsive disorder were also significantly more likely to have sleepwalking episodes as well as those taking SSRI antidepressants.

Diagnosis & treatment for sleepwalking

Most often, sleepwalking episodes are harmless for your health, however can become unsafe if the behaviour is repeated and it occurs extensively in an environment where the person could sustain an injury to themselves or to others. 

The most exhaustive way to diagnose a sleep disorder is through an in-depth polysomnography test which can measure abnormalities in brain, muscle and or eye activity. A quick sense-check can also be achieved by sleep apps monitoring and recording sleep behaviour. 

Before beginning any treatment for a sleep disorder, you should speak to a physician. Medication and hypnosis are known methods to treat sleep walking, however a good place to start is always self-care

  • Sleep Hygiene: Sleep deprivation is linked to sleepwalking, so a good place to start is looking at your sleep regularity and sleep routines. 
  • Anticipatory awakening: Schedule a wake-up call just before the episode is most likely to happen. Make sure the wake up is gentle. This will help reset sleep cycles and avoid sleepwalking.
  • Reduce or remove stimulants: Screens before bedtime, caffeine in the afternoon – all can lead to an overexcited mind and body manifesting itself in sleepwalking. 
  • Relaxation techniques: Try deep breathing, meditation, or yoga. Or try other activities that you know to decrease stress. Less stress leads to easier drift off at bedtime and calmer sleep. Sleep aids with calming music and sounds can help facilitate the onset of early and a higher quality sleep. 

Studies have shown that sleepwalking is linked to sleep deprivation and other insomnia symptoms. Whether it is the cause or effect is difficult to measure when it comes to the overall impact on your health. However, it’s generally advised that if there’s an underlying  reason for sleepwalking, such as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) and so on, you should treat it to effectively diminish the episodes. 

In the meantime remember to keep safe and audit your bedroom and home to ensure a safe sleep and sleepwalking space at nighttime.