Sleep walking or somnambulism is a condition that occurs when people physically get up and walk around while they are in a deep sleep. During the REM stage of sleep when you dream, the body enters a state of paralysis, which keeps people from "acting out" their dreams. Sometimes this state of paralysis malfunctions and people will talk, walk, or otherwise move about in their sleep without knowing it.
These activities are known as "arousal malfunctions" and scientists collectively call them parasomnias.
They are considered sleep disorders and are more common in children than in adults, with 17 percent of children (who generally outgrow it) experiencing some type of episode of this arousal malfunction. About 4 percent of adults may have trouble with this sleep disorder.
Somnambulism can be caused by medications or by certain neurological disorders, and episodes with these causes generally occur more in the elderly population. Generally, somnambulism does not indicate a psychiatric or psychological disorder, though stress can trigger episodes.
People who walk in their sleep are experiencing complex behaviors that include impaired judgment while moving around in an altered state of consciousness.
Frequently, people who walk in their sleep follow a familiar pattern. They sit up in bed with eyes open, but look confused. Occasionally they will rise straight up and begin walking or even running.
Individuals who walk in their sleep are difficult to waken and often will have little recall of the event when full alertness returns. They may also wake up in an unfamiliar location or return to bed without realizing they've been up and about.
Some people have been known to exhibit strange or violent behaviors during episodes of walking in their sleep. On occasion, sleep walkers might leave the house or climb in a car and drive around. People have been known to suffer injury during an episode, and it is generally safer to awaken a sleep walker, though common lore may state otherwise.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, this sleep disorder may be induced by:
Treatment for somnambulism tends to be preventative in nature and individuals who are prone to walk in their sleep are typically advised to establish healthy sleep habits, avoid alcohol, alleviate stress, and change medications if drugs are thought to be the culprit.
Serious cases may necessitate the use of antidepressants or sleeping pills. Hypnosis has also been found to be helpful for treatment of this sleep disorder.
If you or a loved one sleep walks or experiences other sleep issues, make an appoint with your doctor and seek his or her professional counsel in the interest of your health and safety.
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Published by Jules Sowder