The scientific name for sleepwalking is 'somnambulism'. This disorder is a type of parasomnia. A parasomnia occurs when a person is asleep, and often results in a disruptive event that is known as an arousal disorder.
A person who is affected by the disorder engages in perfectly normal activities that are basically supposed to be performed in a fully conscious state, during a state of low consciousness. The activities that the affected people indulge include cooking, eating, making phone calls, wandering in the streets, moving objects within the house, bathing, etc.
A Brief Overview
This disorder is associated with sleep-related problems and occurs when the affected individual is in deep sleep. The behavior of the affected person is unintentional and he/she is unaware of his/her actions and surroundings. Affected persons remain unaware to the extent that they do not recall the stroll at all.
The exact cause behind this disorder has not been determined. However, the usual causes are largely said to be medical, environmental, hereditary, and also psychiatric. Most of the time, the condition is hereditary, and mainly affects boys in the childhood and teenage years.
Sometimes, it could occur in grown-ups and those affected by some environmental or medical problems. Some of the prominent causes of the condition are as follows:
As mentioned earlier, causes of the condition may be genetic. It is often observed in twins. Research studies also state that the frequency would increase, if a first-grade relative suffers from the disorder.
At times, the body reacts to an abnormal lifestyle by sleepwalking. The first and the most common reason for the disorder is deprivation of sleep. More often, it is linked to other sleep-related problems, like chaotic sleep schedule, restless sleep, and congested or stuffy surroundings while sleeping.
Stress is also one of the most important causes of the disorder. It could occur if the affected individual is under stress due to some reason (If exams are round the corner, then the person would get up and start studying during this state.
Intoxication also increases the phenomenon of sleepwalking. If the person is an alcoholic and has a family history of this disorder, then he is certainly susceptible. An alcoholic gets affected by it after the excessive consumption of alcohol, even though he may not have any family history of this disorder.
Regular consumption of sedatives, and any kind of drugs that help in relaxation for a long time, may also be the reason behind the frequent sleep strolls. Similarly, the consumption of neuroleptics (medicines which are used to treat psychosis), stimulants and antihistamines (drugs that are used to cure allergic reactions) could also result in this disorder.
Some medical causes also result in walking during sleep. Arrhythmia patients tend to sleepwalk when they experience an abnormal pulse. This is not exactly normal sleepwalking; however, it is a natural reaction of the body against an internal abnormality. The affected people often wake up during the stroll. Fever may also be a cause of this disorder.
Nighttime asthma and seizures can also cause a person to sleepwalk. Another reason could be obstructive sleep apnea (respiratory problem), wherein the breathing abruptly stops or pauses for a few seconds. Psychiatric disorders such as multiple personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks etc., are also some of the common causes.
If a person often walks in sleep, it would be best to seek medical help to identify and treat the underlying cause. If the nighttime strolls continue, it might affect one's health in the long run.
Disclaimer: This is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.