Sleepwalking, also referred to as somnambulism, is a kind of parasomnia (abnormal event during sleep) in which a person walks. Though common in children, it can occur in adult who have various disorders including sleep deprivation. In sleep walking, the walker is usually still in deep sleep. It is therefore difficult to wake them up; they may not even be able to remember the incident.
The activities in most cases of sleepwalking are usually simple. However, there are complex cases that have been reported though not certified. In 2004, a woman was claimed that she has had sex with stranger while sleepwalking. In 2008, a lady was reported to have sent emails inviting her friends and family to dinner while walking in sleep.
In the US, it is estimated that up to 15% of the population has sleepwalked at one point. Contrary to popular opinion, sleepwaking is not necessarily associated with madness or any psychological problem. It can be an independent condition.
Sleepwalking: How it occurs
Sleep is classified into 2 main stages: REM and NREM (Rapid Eye Movement). The NREM is further categorised into four levels: 1 to 4 which are then followed by REM. A normal adult will keep shifting/moving to and fro the different stages each lasting for about 1.5 hours.
Sleepwalking mostly occurs between 11pm and 1pm. At this time, most people are usually in the 4 stage of NREM called slow wave period which is associated with high brain activity. It occurs at this stage of high brain activity. All cases of sleepwalking usually occur only once in a night.
Sleepwalking: Factors Effecting the Behavior
- In children, It occurs because the brain is not fully developed.
- High brain activity in teenage especially at age 17.
- Sleep deprivation which causes someone to sleep deeply once they get sleep.
Sleep Walking is most common among identical twins. If one parent is affected, there is a 45% chance of the child developing the condition. This rises to 60% if both parents are sleepwalkers. Walking in sleep is generally not associated with any gender. There are several environmental factors are precipitate sleepwalking:
- Lack of sleep.
- Stress and depression.
- Sleeping and waking up at unspecified times for a long time.
- Medical drugs used to treat psychological problems.
- Alcohol and narcotic drugs.
In addition to the above environmental factors, there are medical conditions that tend to make people to sleep walk:
- Irregular heart rhythms.
- High body temperature as seen is microbial diseases.
- Regurgitation of food up the food pipe.
- Asthma attacks that occur at night.
- Obstructive sleep apnea.
- Seizure at night.
Symptoms of Sleepwalking
- Inability to recall the event.
- Sleep Talking.
- Difficulty to get out /wake up from sleepwalking.
Treatment and Coping
There is generally no treatment for sleepwalking. The episodes of this usually tend to go down as the child grows older and the mind develops. In adults, getting of the environmental or medical factor will usually do the trick. Hypnosis has been should to treat many cases of somnambulism.
Sleepwalking can be dangerous. Therefore, all measure must be taken to ensure any episode is as safe as possible. All sharp objects in the room should be removed. Sleepwalker should not be allowed to sleep upstairs or near windows.