Comprehensive overview covers causes, treatment and prevention of this usually harmless sleep disorder.
Sleepwalking — also known as somnambulism — involves getting up and walking around while in a state of sleep. More common in children than adults, sleepwalking is usually outgrown by the teen years. Isolated incidents of sleepwalking often don't signal any serious problems or require treatment. However, recurrent sleepwalking may suggest an underlying sleep disorder.
Sleepwalking in adults has a higher chance of being confused with or coexisting with other sleep disorders as well as medical conditions.
If anyone in your household sleepwalks, it's important to protect him or her from potential injuries related to sleepwalking.
Sleepwalking usually occurs early in the night — often one to two hours after falling asleep. It's unlikely to occur during naps. A sleepwalking episode can occur rarely or often, and an episode generally lasts several minutes, but can last longer.
Someone who is sleepwalking may:
Sometimes, a person who is sleepwalking will:
Occasional episodes of sleepwalking aren't usually a cause for concern and typically resolve on their own. You can simply mention the sleepwalking at a routine physical or well-child exam. However, consult your doctor if the sleepwalking episodes:
Sleepwalking is classified as a parasomnia — an undesirable behavior or experience during sleep. Sleepwalking is a disorder of arousal, meaning it occurs during N3 sleep, the deepest stage of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. Another NREM disorder is sleep terrors, which can occur together with sleepwalking.
Many factors can contribute to sleepwalking, including:
Sometimes sleepwalking can by triggered by underlying conditions that interfere with sleep, such as:
Factors that may increase the risk of sleepwalking include:
Sleepwalking itself isn't necessarily a concern, but a person who sleepwalks can:
To diagnose sleepwalking, your doctor reviews your medical history and your symptoms. Your evaluation may include:
Treatment for occasional sleepwalking usually isn't necessary. In children who sleepwalk, it typically goes away by the teen years.
If sleepwalking leads to the potential for injury, is disruptive to family members, or results in embarrassment or sleep disruption for the person who sleepwalks, treatment may be needed. Treatment generally focuses on promoting safety and eliminating causes or triggers.
Treatment may include:
If sleepwalking is a problem for you or your child, try these suggestions.
If you sleepwalk and have concerns about safety or underlying conditions, see your doctor. Your doctor may refer you to a sleep specialist. You may want to bring a family member or friend along, if possible, to provide more information about your sleepwalking.
Keeping a sleep diary for two weeks before your appointment can help your doctor understand more about your sleep schedule, factors affecting your sleep and when sleepwalking occurs. In the morning, record as much as you know of bedtime rituals, quality of sleep and so on. At the end of the day, record behaviors that may affect sleep, such as sleep schedule disruptions, alcohol intake and any medications taken.
Before your appointment, make a list of:
Some questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions during your appointment.
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Be ready to answer them to reserve time to go over any points you want to spend more time on. Your doctor may ask: