Sleepwalking woman heading for fridgeSleepwalking: What is it?

Sleepwalking – or somnambulism – can be defined as walking or carrying out complex activities without being fully awake – and most likely in a deep sleep.

Who is Most Likely to Sleepwalk?

Children are generally the most likely sufferers with this problem, but teens and adults can also be affected.

What Triggers or Worsens the Problem?

There are various factors – physical and emotional – that can encourage sleepwalking, including:

  • Anxiety and stress
  • Poor sleep
  • Medication, particularly sedatives
  • Alcohol or recreational drug use

An episode may also be provoked when the sleeper is startled by a sudden noise or touch, which wakes them up from a deep sleep.  Other sleep disorders, such as sleep apnoea, may also be a factor.

What Happens When Someone Sleepwalks?

Shakespeare described the condition perfectly, when describing Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking: “ You see, her eyes are open….Ay, but their sense is shut”.

Woman in pyjamas walking in classroom with pillow under right armA sleepwalker may LOOK awake – but despite their open eyes, their mind is focused inward and are, in effect, ignoring the outer world .

Other behaviour exhibited by sleepwalkers include:

  • Sitting up in bed and looking around
  • Getting out of bed, walking around house to inspect things
  • Leaving the house (extreme cases)

The episode may last approximately 10 minutes, but could last longer; at the end of the episode, the person will generally wake up, return to bed and go back to sleep.

What Should Be Done When Someone Sleepwalks?

The most important thing is to ensure that the person is safe:

  • Guide the sleeper gently back to bed
  • In some cases gently wake them after the episode ends, which may prevent a reoccurrence of the problem in the same sleep cycle.

Under no circumstances should you do the following:

  • Shout
  • Restrain the sleeper (unless in danger)

The sleeper may lash out at you, as you may be perceived as a threat!

Is Sleepwalking Treatable?

While there are no specific treatments, there are various means to help improve the condition, the most important factors being stress reduction  and increase relaxation.

If sleepwalking has become an issue for someone in the last few months due to lockdown – while understandable, it may be a good idea to have a phone consultation with a doctor.  It would also be beneficial to seek out ways to increase relaxation and reduce stress levels – or at least reduce your reaction to stressors.

Having Trouble Sleeping?

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