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Is Sleepwalking Hereditary? This Will Clear Your Doubts

Leena Palande Apr 21, 2019
Sleepwalking is a type of 'sleep related disorder'. Is sleepwalking hereditary? What causes sleepwalking? Find answers to these questions and more, in here...
A person suffering from sleepwalking disorder gets up and walks even when he is asleep. It is a type of parasomnia. Sleepwalking does not involve only walking; as the person may start cooking, eating, making phone calls, wandering in the streets, moving furniture within the house, going to the bathroom, dressing and undressing while asleep.
Scientifically, the disorder is known as 'somnambulism'. Some persons may walk quietly, or some may start running, as if attempting to escape. Sleepwalking facts inform us that if you bring back the person to bed without awakening, the person does not remember the event.

Causes of Sleepwalking

Environmental Causes

  • Excessive mental or physical stress
  • Intoxication due to alcohol or drug abuse
  • Chaotic sleep schedule
  • Not having enough sleep
  • Excessive consumption of certain drugs like sedative/hypnotics (drugs that encourage relaxation or sleep)
  • Neuroleptics (drugs used to treat severe mental disorder wherein the person loses contact with reality)
  • Stimulants (drugs that boost activity)
  • Low strength tranquilizers (drugs that produce a calming effect)
  • Antihistamines (drugs used to treat allergies)

Physiological Causes

Incidences of sleepwalking in children are more common than in adults. Pregnant and menstruating women may experience increased frequency of sleepwalking. It is believed that the length and depth of slow wave sleep (which is greater in children) plays an important role in sleepwalking.
Certain diseases and disorders like abnormal heart beats, nighttime convulsions or asthma, fever, sleep apnea leading to temporary stoppage of breathing while sleeping, multiple personality disorder, panic attacks can result in sleepwalking events.

Genetic Factors

Yes, sleepwalking is hereditary. If any of your first-degree relative exhibits sleepwalking symptoms, you are more likely to suffer from sleepwalking. It has been observed that frequency of sleepwalking events is more in identical twins. The percentage of childhood sleepwalking increases significantly if both parents are affected.
Although it is clear that genetic factors influence sleepwalking, environmental factors like lack of sleep, fever, fatigue, etc., also play an important role in the expression of the trait. As mentioned earlier, use of tranquilizing psychiatric medication or hypnotics results in sleepwalking.

Symptoms of Sleepwalking

  • Quiet roaming around the room
  • Stressful running around the room
  • Eyes might be open or closed
  • Staring eyes
  • Slow or no responses on questioning
  • The person may speak senseless words or sentences.
  • The person doesn't remember about sleepwalking when brought back to bed quietly
People open the doors and go out on streets during sleepwalking. They can even start the car! Many people get injured during sleepwalking incidences. One of the misconceptions about sleepwalking is that a person should not be awakened when sleepwalking. But awakening a sleepwalker does not cause any harm. 
After awakening, the person usually is confused or disoriented for a short while. Another wrong belief is that people don't get injured when sleepwalking. But, missing the steps and loss of balance can result in severe injuries, and such injuries are quite common amongst sleepwalkers.
It should be noted that sleeping alone in a room or with someone else doesn't make any difference to sleepwalking. Some children or even adults are afraid of darkness but this does not lead to sleepwalking. Sleepwalking is not the body's way of expressing anger or fear.
Sleepwalking episodes can last for a few seconds, or minutes, or even for an hour. Family members should take proper precautions to prevent injuries while sleepwalking. They should arrange a safe sleeping environment, a bedroom on the ground floor to prevent falls.
Avoid use of bunk beds, locking the doors and windows properly, fixing an alarm bell on the bedroom door, removing obstacles in the room can help avoid injuries. Avoiding auditory or visual stimuli before going to bed is essential.
Though sleepwalking is hereditary, it is necessary to consult a doctor for frequent sleepwalking incidences. Meditation, regular exercise, sufficient sleep, proper medications can help reduce the incidences of sleepwalking.