Sleepwalking (Somnambulism) is a sleep disorder which causes people to get up and walk while sleeping. This occurs during the deep stages of sleep. The person who is sleepwalking is usually unable to respond during the event and also does not remember the incident later. It is commonly seen in children, but in some cases, it can last into adulthood.
There is a 'sleep center' present in the brain which controls the sleeping and the waking of the body. When you sleep, the sleep center blocks of a part of the brain so that it goes to sleep and does not perform any action, and it also blocks off certain nerves that bring in the messages to the brain, thereby allowing your body to go to sleep.
Generally, the sleep center and the body are connected, but at times they can separate. Under such conditions, while the brain goes to sleep, the body remains awake. The people affected by this condition sit up in their sleep or stand near the bed. Some even go about for a stroll but do not remember this incident later.
It is important to understand that sleepwalking is not associated with any form of sleeping disorder, fear of darkness, and anger outbursts. Some of the factors that can cause sleepwalking are as follows.
- Genetics: Sleepwalking in an individual is ten times more likely if a first degree relative has had a history of it. Also, it occurs more frequently in identical twins. Hence, it has been concluded that this condition can be inherited.
- Medical Conditions: Some of the conditions that can cause sleepwalking are fever, arrhythmia, asthma during nighttime, seizures during nighttime, and sleep apnea. It can also be caused due to some psychiatric disorders like multiple personality disorder, panic attacks, and stress disorder.
- Environmental Factors: Several environmental factors that can induce sleepwalking are stress, alcohol intoxication, sleep deprivation or a chaotic sleep schedule, hypnosis, and several drugs like sedatives and antihistamines.
Possible Forms of Treatment
Fortunately, children outgrow this disorder as they grow a little order. However, people affected by a severe sleepwalking disorder can take the following precautions/treatments.
- The bedroom of the patient should be located on the ground floor and the possibility of the patient opening a door or a window should be eliminated. Further, any hazardous materials from the room must be removed.
- The patient must stick to a sleep-wake cycle which will help eliminate any possibilities of sleep deprivation which can trigger an episode of sleepwalking.
- A full bladder may also trigger an episode of sleepwalking and hence fluids should be avoided before bedtime.
- Tying a bell to the door of the sleepwalker is a good idea as it will help alert the family.
- Hypnosis is known to have helped a lot of people having this disorder. You can evaluate how helpful this form of treatment is for your child by discussing the case with a reputed hypnotist.
- Medication too helps in reducing the incidents of sleepwalking. Consult a good doctor for a prescription.
Some Interesting Facts
- The good news for some people is that if it starts at an early age, then the disorder disappears as the child grows older. If the disorder begins when the child is very young, then it ends when the child is approximately 13.8 years old. However, if a child begins to sleepwalk at the age of 9, then the disorder usually lasts into adulthood.
- Boys are more prone to this disorder as compared to girls.
- Medical reports show that about 18% of the population worldwide is affected by sleepwalking disorders.
- The sleepwalking starts about an hour and half after the individual has gone to sleep.
- The episodes can last for a few seconds or can extend to more than half an hour.
- Frequent incidents of sleepwalking can cause health problems as it disturbs the normal sleeping pattern.
Avoid someone who is sleepwalking as it may frighten them. Try to gently lead them back to their bed and sleep again. It is important to seek treatment if you find that the incidents are not reducing.