UNDERSTANDING SOMNAMBULISM

Formally referred to as somnambulism, sleepwalking is a behaviour disorder that occurs in deep sleep. It results in a person walking or performing other multifaceted behaviours while asleep.

Interestingly, it’s much more common in children (particularly those aged between three and seven) than adults and is more likely to occur if a person is sleep deprived. Moreover, sleepwalking in children occurs more often if they suffer from sleep apnea. There is also a higher instance of sleepwalking among children who experience bed-wetting.

What triggers sleepwalking?

There’s more to sleepwalking than the actual walking during one’s sleep. It usually involves a series of multifaceted behaviours which are carried out while sleeping, the most obvious of which is walking.

The onset or persistence of sleepwalking in adulthood isn’t unusual. But it’s good to know that it isn’t usually associated with any significant underlying psychiatric or psychological problem. Common triggers for sleepwalking include sleep deprivation, sedative agents (including alcohol), febrile (having or showing the symptoms of a fever) illnesses, and certain medications.

Is the sleepwalker conscious?

Since a sleepwalker characteristically remains in deep sleep throughout the occurrence, awakening said individual may be difficult. What’s more, s/he will probably not remember the sleepwalking incident at all.

What are the exact symptoms?

Symptoms may range from simply sitting up in bed and looking around to walking around the room or house. In rare cases, there have even been instances of sleepwalkers leaving the house and driving long distances. It’s a common misconception that a sleepwalker shouldn’t be awakened. In actuality, it can be quite dangerous not to wake a sleepwalker.

Besides walking during deep sleep, other symptoms may include but aren’t limited to:
• Sleep-talking
• Little to no memory of the event
• Screaming (when sleepwalking occurs in conjunction with sleep terrors)
• Violent attacks on the person trying to awaken the sleepwalker.

Treatment and coping mechanisms

Unfortunately, there’s no specific treatment for sleepwalking. If you’re experiencing symptoms, talking to your GP or perhaps a sleep specialist is your safest bet. That way you might be able to find out ways to prevent injury during the episodes and about the possibility of underlying illness. You might also need to discuss factors such as fatigue, medication, or stress, which may possibly be triggering these symptoms.

Since sleep deprivation often contributes to sleepwalking, it would make sense to increase the amount of time scheduled for sleep. Experts recommend establishing a regular, relaxing routine prior to bedtime to cope with sleepwalking.