Is it dangerous to wake a sleepwalker? The closest thing we have in reality to a zombie is a sleepwalker! Walking around in deep sleep, totally aloof. Let’s take a closer look at why people sleepwalk and how it can be controlled.

WHAT IS SLEEPWALKING?

Somnambulism, popularly known as sleepwalking, is a sleep disorder that is a combination of deep sleep and wakefulness. During sleepwalking, people seem to wake up from sleep and perform complex behavior like walking, even though they’re fast asleep. They have no recollection of sleepwalking after waking up.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF SLEEPWALKING?

The prime time for sleepwalking is usually 2-3hrs into sleep. While walking around in deep sleep is the most obvious symptom, sleepwalking can include a range of other behaviors. Some of the common behaviors are: 

  • Sleeptalking: talking during sleep, without being aware of it. 
  • Not hearing or responding when spoken to
  • Eyes open but not looking at anything, having a lost expression
  • Difficult to wake up during the episode

Sleepwalking in it’s milder form includes behavior like sitting up and staring at nothing, murmuring incomprehensible gibberish, etc. All while in deep sleep

Some uncommon behaviors of a sleepwalking person:

  • Driving or cooking
  • Urinating in inappropriate places like the cupboard
  • Screaming, climbing windows, leaving the house

WHAT CAUSES SLEEPWALKING?

recent study conducted at Niguarda Hospital in Milan, Italy examined the brain waves of people prone to sleepwalking and found that some parts of the brain are awake, while others are sound asleep, suggesting sleepwalking is caused by an imbalance between these two states. The root cause still needs more research to be determined, but the triggers are well studied and documented. The most common factors that can trigger sleepwalking are:

  • Hereditary
  • Sleep-deprivation
  • Illness or fever
  • Certain medications
  • Stress/anxiety
  • A sudden change in the sleep environment
  • Medical conditions like sleep apnea, PTSD, panic attacks and heart rhythm problems

While sleepwalking isn’t a life-threatening condition, if it happens too often, it could be dangerous for the person experiencing it. A sleepwalking person can hurt themself if walking near stairs, climbing through windows, leaving the house, cooking, etc. It is important to create a safe environment for a sleepwalker to avoid injury. 

Create a safe environment at home for sleepwalkers to prevent them from leaving the house while sleepwalking.

HOW CAN WE TREAT SLEEPWALKING?

One in five children between the age of 2-7 sleepwalks whereas only 2.5% of adults sleepwalk. Treatment for sleepwalking is needed if there is potential for harm for the walker and generally includes eliminating triggers and increasing safety.

The first step is to treat any underlying conditions that may be triggering sleepwalking, either through medication or therapy. These underlying conditions could be sleep apnea, depression, seizures, etc. It also involves lifestyle changes to improve sleep quality as sleep deprivation is the major trigger factor of sleepwalking. 

The second step is to create a safe environment for the sleepwalker. These simple steps will ensure safety at home:

  • Lock all external windows and doors before bed
  • Block stairways
  • Remove electrical cables and other tripping hazards from the floor
  • Lock up all knives and weapons out of reach
  • If its kids who sleepwalk, don’t let them sleep in a bunk bed                                                                                               
PRO-TIP: Never try to forcefully wake up a sleepwalker

When a sleepwalking person is forced to wake up during an episode, the person goes through a brief period of disorientation and confusion and might lash out violently and hurt themselves and people around. Instead, gently guide the sleepwalker back to bed. It’s best to stay out of the way as much as possible.

Further blogs on sleepwalking will talk about the science behind sleepwalking and explain what goes on in the mind of a sleepwalker.