THE BOTTOM LINE
- 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:
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
How common is it?
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.
Sleep deprivation: Research has found episodes to increase when sleep-deprived.
Substance use: Substance use, such as alcohol, sedatives, and other medications can exacerbate the risk of sleepwalking.
Stress: Stress can lead to fragmented sleep, which can increase the chances of episodes.
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.