Sleepwalking: Dealing with Sleep Zombies



  • Sleepwalking is a type of parasomnia that causes unusual sleep behaviors
  • Behaviors can cause injuries and lead to daytime fatigue
  • Treating sleepwalking will improve your sleep quality

If you’ve ever woken up in a different place than you fell asleep, you might be a sleepwalker. Unless you’re waking up in a different place, though, you might not even know you’re a sleepwalker. Sleepwalkers almost never remember their sleepwalking episodes, so some sleepwalkers have no idea they suffer from this parasomnia until someone else brings it to their attention!

What exactly is sleepwalking?

Exactly what the name suggests, this parasomnia is characterized by walking while sleeping. Not just walking though, sleepwalkers are known to engage in all kinds of bizarre behavior while sleeping, including but not limited to:

  • Getting dressed

  • Moving furniture

  • Organizing laundry

  • Making a snack or meal

  • Trying to drive a car (Yikes!)

It is a non-REM-related parasomnia, meaning that it occurs during the first three stages of your sleep cycle, but most commonly in slow-wave sleep, and is characterized by:

  • Recurring episodes of incomplete wakefulness

  • Limited responsiveness to others attempts to intervene

  • Limited cognitive processes occurring

  • Little to no memory of parasomnia episodes

How do I know if it's sleepwalking?

Sleepwalkers may look awake because your eyes tend to be open, however you’re likely to also display:

  • Glassy eyes or a blank stare

  • Minimal responsiveness

  • Incoherent speech

How common is it?

Approximately 4% of adults participate in sleepwalking (and up to 20% of children).

Can it impact my health?

The short answer is yes, but there are a couple of different ways that it can affect your health:

  • Injuries: Sleepwalkers tend to have very limited awareness of their surroundings which can lead to injuries (such as falling, colliding with objects, or handling sharp things).

  • Daytime fatigue: Research has found almost 50% of sleepwalkers report daytime fatigue.

What causes it?

There is not always a direct cause. It might be due to a combination of factors, but these are the factors that can make it more likely:

  • Genetics: Research shows that you’re more likely to be a sleepwalker if you have a family history of sleepwalking.

  • Substance use: Substance use, such as alcohol, sedatives, and other medications can exacerbate the risk of sleepwalking.

Can sleepwalking be treated?

Not only can sleepwalking impact your own sleep, but it can also negatively impact your partner and other housemates as they try to sleep. For everyone’s sake, it’s important to reduce the chances of that happening. You can do this by treating the underlying causes of your episodes and improving your bedtime routine and sleep environment.

You can’t really treat genetics though, so if you’re part of the group that can thank your parents for blessing you with their sleepwalker genetics, you might want to focus your time on eliminating any safety risks such as:

  • Removing any trip hazards, such as cords on the floor.

  • Locking away weapons or sharp objects, such as knives.

  • Setting door alarms or a bed alarm that will go off when you get out of bed.

Bottom Line: Sleepwalking is a type of parasomnia that causes unusual sleep behaviors, such as completing daily tasks (laundry, snacking, cleaning) while asleep. Trying to engage in these behaviours during sleep can cause injuries and lead to daytime fatigue. Treating sleepwalking will improve your sleep quality.


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