We’ve all seen it in the movies. A sleeping character is suddenly standing up and walking around while sound asleep. The character is sleepwalking, and when they awake, they usually have no clue what they had been doing. While it may seem like something for the movies, sleepwalking affects anywhere between 1-15 percent of the U.S. population each year.
Formally known as somnambulism, sleepwalking is a sleep disorder that begins when a person is sleeping and happens to act out a complex behavior, such as walking, while asleep. In most cases a sleepwalker is in a deep sleep at this time, making it difficult to wake them up. And when they are awakened, they may not even remember the episode. It is most common in young children who will mostly outgrow the tendency as they grow up. Things such as high stress levels, sleep deprivation, fatigue and anxiety and enable a sleepwalker, as well as other underlying sleep tendencies, such as sleep disordered breathing, RLS, and narcolepsy.
How to handle a sleep walker
If you come across someone who might be sleepwalking, the best thing you can do for them is to make sure they don’t do anything that may cause injury, such as tripping over items on the floor, walking down stairs, or leaving the house. If you can, try to gently guiding them back to bed. If they settle back into sleep, attempt to gently wake them to help prevent any other episode from occurring during the same sleep cycle.
There are not any clinical treatments for sleepwalking, but there are many things you can do to manage the episodes. Creating a safe sleep environment clear of clutter is important to keeping the sleepwalker safe and preventing injury. The best way to prevent sleepwalking is to establish a sleep routine and practice healthy sleep habits. Some of these include getting up and going to bed at the same time each day, limiting drinks and snacks too close to bed time, finding ways to relax and destress before bed, and limiting your caffeine intake throughout the day.
While sporadic episodes of sleepwalking can be managed and are rarely a sign of something more serious, if they start becoming more frequent, you should consider talking to a sleep specialist. The doctors at Iowa Sleep will work with you to learn about your sleep habits, and how they can help you sleep through the night. If you have other questions about sleepwalking you or someone you know may be experiencing, send us a questions through our online form or call our office directly at 855-346-8899.