Sleepwalking is a parasomnia â€” an unwanted behavior performed during sleep. This condition can occur at any age, but sleepwalking in adults is less common than in children. Sleepwalking may be alarming, but most sleepwalkers don’t need treatment.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (2010) reports that up to 17 percent of children are sleepwalkers, with most between the ages of 8 and 12. A child’s risk of sleepwalking increases if his parents are sleepwalkers, though his condition usually resolves by adolescence.
Possible sleepwalking causes include:
- Bloated stomach
- Fever (in children)
- Noise or light while sleeping
- Sleep deprivation
- Unfamiliar sleep setting.
Certain substances can trigger sleepwalking in adults and children, including alcohol, drug abuse, antihistamines, some antibiotics, and sedatives.
Various medical conditions can also cause sleepwalking, including apnea, encephalitis, head injuries, hyperthyroidism, migraines and seizures. Female sleepwalkers may also sleepwalk during their periods.
Sleepwalking symptoms may include:
- Clumsy movement and speech
- Glassy-eyed expressions
- Performing routine daytime activities while asleep
- Sitting up in bed with open eyes
- Speaking, shouting or screaming
- No memory of events while sleepwalking
- Walking through the house, opening doors or turning on/off lights.
When woken, sleepwalkers are often confused and disoriented, though they are usually difficult to awaken. They may lash out in confusion, which is more common in men than women.
Sleepwalking may cause bizarre behavior. Sleepwalkers may climb out of windows, urinate in inappropriate places, expose themselves or engage in sexual behavior. Some sleepwalkers even drive while asleep.
Sleepwalking in Adults
Sleepwalking in adults is uncommon. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (2010), only 4 percent of adults are sleepwalkers. Sleepwalking in adults often has an underlying cause, such as sleep apnea or medication side effects.
Sleep Eating Syndrome
Sleep eating syndrome causes an individual to eat while asleep or semiconscious. Sleep eating syndrome is considered both an eating disorder and a sleep disorder. Complications of sleep eating syndrome include obesity, as individuals often eat large amounts of food. Stress and underlying sleep disorders may cause sleep eating syndrome.
Sleepwalkers rarely require treatment. Treating sleepwalking in adults may require hypnosis and short term use of benzodiazepines or antidepressants. If sleepwalking is a result of underlying medical problems, treating these conditions may prevent further sleepwalking.
If you are â€” or live with â€” a sleepwalker, you can lower the risk of sleepwalking-related accidents. If possible, choose a bedroom on the ground floor to prevent falling downstairs. If you have a child sleepwalker, consider installing an alarm on his door to alert to you his sleepwalking.
A regular sleep schedule with a relaxing routine before bed may also reduce the risk of sleepwalking. Rather than waking sleepwalkers, talk to them gently and lead them back to bed.
American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2007). Sleepwalking. Retrieved August 23, 2010, from http://www.sleepeducation.com/Disorder.aspx?id=14.
Dyken, M. E. (2006). Sleep walking: Frequently asked questions. Retrieved August 23, 2010, from http://www.uihealthcare.com/topics/medicaldepartments/neurology/sleepwalking/index.html.
Golbin, A. (2010). Nocturnal eating syndrome: A dramatic parasomnia. Retrieved August 23, 2010, from http://www.talkaboutsleep.com/sleep-disorders/archives/parasomnias_nocturnal.htm.
Mayo Clinic. (2009). Sleepwalking. Retrieved August 22, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sleepwalking/DS01009/METHOD=print.
Stanford University. (1998). Nocturnal eating syndrome (sleep-related eating) information. Retrieved August 23, 2010, from http://www.stanford.edu/~dement/Sleepeating.html.