Sleepwalking describes when an individual moves and walks about whilst still asleep and is also known of as somnambulism.
Symptoms of sleepwalking
Sleep waking usually starts around one to two hours after falling asleep and may last for around 5 to 20 minutes. Sleepwalkers may have their eyes open but may not display the typical features of being awake. Instead, the following features may be present:
- Seeming dazed or confused
- Mumbling incoherently
- Giving incoherent or inappropriate answers to questions
- Bizarre actions such as urinating in inappropriate places
- Once awake, the person has no recollection of sleepwalking
Causes of sleepwalking
It is not known exactly what causes sleepwalking but around 40% of all children sleepwalk at some point in their childhood between 3 and 7 years of age. The condition is rare among adults. Sleepwalking may occur on a nightly basis or only occur occasionally but it is usually harmless and may resolve on its own by the time the child reaches adolescence. Sometimes, the condition is inherited and there will be a family history of sleepwalking.
Some risk factors for sleep walking include:
- Sleep deprivation and stress
- Irregular sleep habits or sleeping in a new or noisy environment
- Fever or delirium
- Sleeping with a full bladder triggering a need for a person to get up and empty the bladder
- Certain medications
- Certain conditions such as sleep apnoea and seizure disorders
Diagnosis and treatment
Sleepwalking is commonly diagnosed on the basis of a person's history of symptoms. The steps taken to manage the problem include:
- Keeping the individual safe. Sleepwalkers are prone to injuring themselves and even leaving the house during an episode. All doors and windows should be securely shut and the sleeping environment hazard-free. There should be no sharp objects or clutter on the floors and along stairs and hallways. An alarm fitted to a sleepwalker's bedroom door can be used to alert family members if the person has left their room.
- If a person is found to be up out of their bed and sleepwalking, they should be gently guided back to bed whilst being spoken to in a soothing manner. The sleepwalker should not be woken up as this can lead to agitation.
- The sleepwalkers sleep patterns should be regulated and steps taken to relieve stress.
- In most cases, sleepwalking requires no treatment but behavioral therapy and medication may be beneficial and help ensure a deeper and more restorative sleep in some individuals.