Updated November 21, 2019 Millions of people wake up each morning unaware that they spent a portion of the past eight hours walking around their home instead of asleep in their beds. Sleepwalking can be a temporary and even somewhat common sleep disorder, especially in children. It can also be dangerous if the sleepwalker ventures near a staircase, or even out of their home. To figure out why people sleepwalk, you need to understand what kind of sleep disorder causes sleepwalking, or if it’s just a symptom of a smaller issue. There is no quick fix to sleepwalking, but there are things you can do while awake to help reduce your chance of a late-night sleep disturbance. What Is Sleepwalking? Sleepwalking is also known as somnambulism. It is more common in children than adults, and is typically outgrown by the teenage years, according to the Mayo Clinic. Sleepwalking happens when someone gets up and performs actions while in non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. It is usually not a recurring issue, but frequent sleepwalking indicates a deeper sleep issue. Sleepwalking is a disorder of arousal and is categorized as a parasomnia. Parasomnias are a group of sleep disorders involving unwanted behaviors while sleeping. Sleepwalking occurs in the deepest stage of slow-wave sleep. Sleep terrors happen during this same stage, and can even happen at the same time as sleepwalking. A Stanford University study found 3.6% of U.S. adults, or about 8.4 million people, are prone to sleepwalking. With even more children experiencing sleepwalking than adults, millions of families are dealing with sleepwalking every year. It is possible for a sleepwalker to injure themselves, so family members need to be aware of what to look for in their loved ones to prevent any ill effects. What Causes Sleepwalking? There are several potential causes of sleepwalking. Any of these things could trigger an episode. It’s also possible that an underlying sleep disorder could be causing a sleepwalker’s actions. Sleep Deprivation A lack of sleep is one of the common causes of sleepwalking. A sleep study by the University of Montreal kept people awake for 25 hours before allowing them recovery sleep. The researchers found 90% of study participants had sleep behavior changes after being kept awake, including sleepwalking. With regular sleep, only half of the participants showed any kind of strange sleep behaviors. Stress Stress and anxiety can keep you from getting enough sleep, and especially from getting deep sleep. Extreme stress, like the type caused by post-traumatic stress disorder, is known for causing sleep disruptions and sleep disorders. Fever In children, fevers can be a trigger for sleepwalking. Fevers disrupt the normal functions of the body and a person’s mental state and make sleep difficult. Sleep Schedule Changes Frequent changes in your sleep schedule can harm your body and mind. People who are switching time zones often and have trouble falling asleep at consistent times will be more prone to sleepwalking. Underlying Medical Conditions Sleep apnea can be a cause of sleepwalking. Sleep breathing disorders interfere with sleep cycles, especially with the deep sleep where sleepwalking occurs. Some people use antihistamines to try and treat insomnia and other sleep disorders. While antihistamines are known to cause drowsiness, they don’t improve the quality of sleep long term. According to Dr. Philip Alapat of Baylor, a professor of sleep medicine and critical care, “Use of antihistamines can lead to sleepwalking and other parasomnias.” He says other sleep medications also apply. Medications like hypnotics or those used to treat psychiatric disorders are known to cause sleepwalking as well. Typically, sleepwalking can occur if someone is using their medication incorrectly or mixing medications. Symptoms of Sleepwalking While getting up and walking around is the most obvious sign someone is sleepwalking, it is not the most common. Sleepwalking behaviors can be subtle at times and will last anywhere from a few seconds to 30 minutes. A sleepwalker may just sit up in bed and repeat simple movements, like rubbing their eyes or playing with their pajamas, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Sleepwalkers’ eyes will be partially opened, so they may look awake at first, but will not be responsive. Sleepwalkers are often clumsy. They are not aware of where they are while walking and may bump into things in the home. They are also difficult to wake up, despite repeated attempts and loud noises. During the day, sleepiness is an obvious symptom of sleepwalking. Even though people are still asleep while sleepwalking, there are not experiencing proper rest. However, sleepwalkers will wake up without remembering what they did during the night. Who Is at Risk of Sleepwalking? Sleepwalking is a somewhat normal part of a child’s development period, according to the American Academy of Sleep Science. It peaks when a child is between the ages of 8 and 12. Sleepwalking in children is more common if there is a family history of the sleep disorder. If you have night terrors or REM sleep behavior disorder, sleepwalking is more likely. REM sleep behavior disorder causes people to physically act out vivid, unpleasant dreams. Dangers of Sleepwalking Sleepwalking can be dangerous for the person experiencing the sleep disorder, and in rare cases, other people nearby. While a sleepwalking episode isn’t dangerous in and of itself, it can cause people to put themselves in embarrassing or dangerous situations. As mentioned before, sleepwalkers are not aware of their surroundings. They may think they are in a different room of the house, or a different place entirely. This can cause of few concerning issues. Sleepwalkers may hurt themselves unintentionally by running into furniture or trying to walk down a staircase. Sleep-eating is a common issue with this disorder, and the sleepwalker could eat something dangerous, like food they’re allergic to or something inedible like a cleaning product. In addition, it is common for people to try and relieve themselves while sleepwalking, with the possibility of embarrassment for doing so in an unusual location. Sleepwalking Treatments There is not a simple solution to sleepwalking. The solution might be just waiting for it to pass, especially if it is happening to your child and they are not putting themselves in danger because of it. Parasomnias often happen to healthy people and don’t always need to be treated right away. The sleepwalking episodes could just end on their own as children grow out of the phase. Treatment may become needed as a child transitions into an adult if the behaviors continue and become risky. If you are experiencing frequent sleepwalking, your medication could be to blame. Doctors may advise switching to a different type of medication. Sleepwalking could indicate you are using too many medications at the same time. Mixing medications could alter your sleep cycle. If your anxiety and stress is causing your sleep disorders, a therapist might be the place to start. Therapists can teach you long-term strategies to alleviate stress, and with time, the sleepwalking can disappear. Improving your overall sleep hygiene can reduce the number of sleepwalking incidents and help you get better rest, too. Sleepwalkers, Rest Easy There are many reasons why a person will sleepwalk, and it is important to make note of any stressors in your life potentially altering your sleep. If your child is sleepwalking, there is no need to panic. It is entirely possible they will grow out of it in a short period of time. The most important thing is to know is as long as the behavior is not threatening, sleepwalking is not hurting the health of the sleepwalker. If you or someone you know is sleepwalking, you can take a look at whether they have any underlying stress or sleep conditions to address. This could fix the sleepwalking permanently. Comments Cancel replyLeave a Comment Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * Comment Name Email I agree to the Terms and Conditions of this website.