Sleep Walking

What is Sleepwalking (Somnambulism)?

Sleepwalking (Somnambulism) is a series of complex behaviors that are initiated during slow wave sleep and result in walking during sleep.

What are the symptoms of Sleepwalking?

Ambulation (walking or moving about) that occurs during sleep. The onset typically occurs in prepubertal children.

Associated features include:

  • difficulty in arousing the patient during an episode amnesia following an episode
  • episodes typically occur in the first third of the sleep episode polysomnographic monitoring demonstrates the onset of an episode during stage 3 or 4 sleep
  • other medical and psychiatric disorders can be present but do not account for the symptom the ambulation is not due to other sleep disorders such as REM sleep behavior disorder or sleep terrors

How Common is Sleepwalking?

Medical reports show that about 18% of the population is prone to sleepwalking. It is more common in children than in adolescents and adults. Boys are more likely to sleepwalk than girls. The highest prevalence of sleepwalking was 16.7% at age 11 to 12 years of age. Sleepwalking can have a genetic tendency. If a child begins to sleepwalk at the age of 9, it often lasts into adulthood.

How serious is Sleepwalking?

For some, the episodes of sleepwalking occur less than once per month and do not result in harm to the patient or others. Others experience episodes more than once per month, but not nightly, and do not result in harm to the patient or others. In its most severe form, the episodes occur almost nightly or are associated with physical injury. The sleepwalker may feel embarrassment, shame, guilt, anxiety and confusion when they are told about their sleepwalking behavior.

If the sleepwalker exits the house, or is having frequent episodes and injuries are occurring — DO NOT delay, it is time to seek professional help from a sleep disorder center in your area. There have been some tragedies with sleepwalkers, don’t let it happen to your loved one!

What can be done about sleepwalking?

There are some things a sleepwalker can do:

Make sure you get plenty of rest! Being overtired can trigger a sleepwalking episode. Stress can be another trigger for sleepwalking. Develop a calming bedtime ritual. Some people meditate or do relaxation exercises. Remove anything from the bedroom that could be hazardous or harmful. The sleepwalker’s bedroom should be on the ground floor of the house. The possibility of the patient opening windows or doors should be eliminated.

An assessment of the sleepwalker should include a careful review of the current medication so that modifications can be made if necessary. Hypnosis has been found to be helpful for both children and adults. An accurate psychiatric evaluation could help to decide the need for psychiatric intervention. Benzodiazepines have been proven to be useful in the treatment of this disorder. A small dose of diazepam or lorazepam eliminates the episodes or considerably reduces them.