Sleepwalking Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment – Wandering Around At Night?

Have you ever woken up to find that either you or somebody else is located somewhere else other than lying in a bed?

If your answer was yes to the question above. Then you or somebody else just experienced an episode of sleepwalking.

What causes this to happen?

What are the symptoms?

Are there any treatment options available?

These are all excellent questions that will be answered as you progress through this article.

An interesting fact is that approximately 30% of people will sleepwalk at one point or another during their lives. Therefore, it is not too much out of the ordinary that either you, somebody that you know, or another member in your family has strolled around in the night.

sleepwalking causes symptoms and treatment

This is one of the most widely known sleep disorders and for the most part is benign. However, it can cause concern for parents who have discovered that their children have been sleepwalking.

Sleepwalking is a sleep disorder that has many interesting characteristics. There is also a later section that provides insight into two frequently asked questions that people have about sleepwalking such as:

  1. Is it hazardous to wake up a person while they are sleepwalking?
  2. Do sleepwalkers have any memory of what happened during an episode?

What Number Of People Sleepwalk?

Regrettably, there is a limited amount of surveys or studies that have been conducted in order to find out how many people sleepwalk. However, it is clearly defined that sleepwalking occurs more frequently in children than it does for adults.

Furthermore, it is also well-known that it is mostly young children who sleepwalk. The normal age that sleepwalking happens in children is debated. There are some studies that discovered that between the ages of four and eight is the normal range.

There are also other studies that indicates between the ages of 8 to 12 is normal as well.

Most researchers have agreed that sleepwalking will end for most children when they reach puberty. Yet, only a small amount will continue to experience the sleep disorder into their adolescent and adult years.

During May of 2012, there was a study that was published in a neurology journey. In the journal, it was stated that 29.2% of the 19,136 adults that were involved in the poll stated to have experience nocturnal wandering at some point in their lives.

During the same survey, only 3.6% claimed they have moved around at night in the last year. Yet again, this shows that sleepwalking is more reoccurring when a person is younger rather than older.

At a later point, it was cleared up that not all of these are sleepwalking incidents. For example, some of these incidents were possibly caused by dementia, alcohol intoxication, and epilepsy.

In spite of that, the survey does indicate that many people will sleepwalk at one point or another in their lives.

Causes

As with the majority of sleep disorders, the precise causes of sleepwalking are not fully understood. There is a similar rational theory for sleep talking that helps explain sleepwalking as well.

Each night that you go to sleep, you go through the different stages of sleep. When entering and exiting the deeper stages of sleep, it is possible that a portion of the brain shuts down while another portion temporarily awakens.

This is the portion of the brain that is responsible for movement. In that unbalanced moment, you are simultaneously unconscious and mobile.

In spite of the fact that there is no clearly defined cause, there are particular factors that can make it more likely to cause you, your partner, children, or other visiting family members to sleepwalk. These are the main causes of this sleep disorder:

Family History and Genetics

This sleep disorder is believed to have a strong link to one’s genetics. If a person’s parents whether that be your mother, grandmother, father or grandfather had a past history of the sleepwalking, then it is probable that their children will also have inherited the sleep disorder.

In the event that both sets of parents have sleepwalked in the past, then there is a higher probability that you will sleepwalk as well. It is estimated that approximately 31% of nocturnal strollers possess a family history of sleepwalkers.

DNA strand.

Sleep Disorders and Medical Conditions

This sleep disorder is believed to occur more frequently if you possess other sleep disorders and medical conditions such as:

  1. Hyperthyroidism.
  2. Head Injuries and Migraines.
  3. Insomnia.
  4. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
  5. Depression.
  6. Restless Leg Syndrome.
  7. Sleep-related breathing disorders such as Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
  8. Night time seizures.
  9. Night time asthma.
  10. Heartburn.
  11. Psychiatric disorders such as multiple personality disorder, dissociative states, panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sleeping Pills And Other Medication

The following list of medication can possibly increase the chances of sleepwalking:

  1. Certain prescription sleep medication such as Zolpidem (Ambien).
  2. Over the counter sleep aids that contain the ingredient “anti-histamine diphenhydramine”.
  3. Medication for treating mental health such as lithium or chlorpromazine.
  4. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) anti depressants such as Paxil, Lexapro, Zoloft, Prozac, and Celexa.

Assortment of medication.

Other Factors

Adding on to the list, there are a number of other factors that can arise from time to time. These factors are potential causes for numerous other sleep problems that include sleepwalking as well.

  1. Recreational Drugs.
  2. Alcohol.
  3. Sleeping somewhere different.
  4. Fever
  5. Heart Rhythm Issues.
  6. Fatigue and Sleep Deprivation.
  7. Anxiety.
  8. Stress.

Person holding the word stress.

There is research that proposes that those individuals who are predisposed can have the underlying issue cause disturbances in sleep. This can result in sleepwalking episodes.

Things That Happen During Sleepwalking Episodes

Sleepwalking is medically known as “somnambulism”. This sleep disorder falls under the parainsomnias category. The other sleep disorder that are located in this category are sleep paralysis and sleep talking.

All of these sleep disorders have strange experiences or behaviors that happen while the person is asleep.

It is interesting to know that not every individual will simply walk around their home. The other behaviors can include something as simple as sitting up in bed or a more physical activity such as preparing meals.

Food preparation.

In some rare instances, the sleep walker will engage in a potentially dangerous activity such as operating their car or another piece of machinery.

There is interesting notion that sleepwalking was automatic at one point in time. Nevertheless, there was research that was conducted in 2013.

The researchers discovered that a large number of people were under the impression that there was a hidden reasoning for their actions while they were sleepwalking, even if the reasoning was irrational.

Symptoms

Sleepwalking happens during the deepest stages of sleep typically in the beginning third of the night.

The most common symptoms include:

  • Rising up of bed and walking around.
  • Sitting up in bed opening the eyes up.
  • Having a glassy eyed expression.
  • Being unreponsive to others.
  • Having a hard time waking up during an episode.
  • Being disorientated or confused for a some time after waking up.
  • Having no little to no memory of an episode in the morning.
  • Having a difficult time working throughout the day due to a disrupted sleep pattern.
  • Experiencing sleep terrors along with sleepwalking.

In spite of the fact that sleep walkers might appear awake due to the fact that their eyes are open, at this point they will not be fully conscious and may have an expressionless look on their face.

The sleepwalker will not make usual eye contact with you and if you do speak to them. They will usually respond, however once they finally wake up they may not recall what happened.

Nevertheless, the 2013 research from above proposes that a majority of people, primarily adults can remember their experiences from sleepwalking.

There are some sleepwalkers that eventually return to bed as if they never moved around. There are some individuals that wake up in different locations and can be confused as to why they are there.

The duration of time that some people sleepwalk for ranges from a few seconds up to a half hour or more. Some studies suggest that the majority of sleepwalking episodes usually last for about 10 minutes.

Keep in mind that this sleep disorder is often mixed up with another sleep disorder called “REM Sleep Behavior Disorder“. This is another sleep disorder that causes a person to perform what is happening in their dreams.

Treatment

There are no specific medications that are used to treat sleepwalking. Every so often your doctor can potentially prescribe anti-depressants and benzodiazepines such as “Clonazepam”.

Yet, your doctor will only prescribe these types of medications for the short-term. It has also been discovered that hypnotherapy can be practical for some adults.

Pocket watch waving back and forth.
Pocket watches have a hypnotizing effect.

However, there are tips and advice as to what action you should take if you are concerned that your child is sleepwalking.

Children

This sleep disorder happens frequently in children and most of them will grow out of it. In the event that the child sleepwalks occsionally and if they do not cause any issues.

The best advice is to allow the behavior to run its course, protect them from dangerous situations, and soon enough they will stop the behavior as they age.

Adults

Adults that sleepwalk can potentially result in dangerous or unnecessary behavior. In this case, it is recommended to refer them to a sleep specialist. The specialist can recommend that you participate in a sleep study in order to find out if you potentially have another sleep disorder such as sleep apnea.

Nonetheless, there is always the notion of following proper sleep hygiene techniques. These techniques can help you minimize factors such as sleep deprivation, anxiety, and stress in the long run.

The primary portions of sleep hygiene technique that you should keep in mind in order to reduce the chances of sleepwalking are:

  • Do not consume caffeine, alcohol or sugary drinks late in the evening.
  • Reduce your stress levels with relaxation techniques.
  • Discover ways to manage your stress levels throughout the course of a day.
  • Try to sleep in the same room every night and make every effort to ensure that your children have their own bedroom.
  • Do not lose sleep, especially on the weekends.
  • Create a stable sleep routine – you should go to sleep and wake up at the same time everyday.

Relaxing bedroom.

Should You Wake Up A Person Who Is SleepWalking?

As tempting as it is to wake up a person who is sleepwalking. This is not advisable.

The best course of action to take is to silently and gently guide the person back in the direction of their bedroom.

If the sleepwalker resists, the best thing to do is to allow them to go on with their nocturnal behavior as long as they do not cause harm or damage. You should still observe them every so often.

Binoculars.

This is the important take away from this section.

The best thing to do is to react to their behavior and prevent the sleepwalker from harming themselves. This should be your primary goal.

There are certain measures that should be taken in order to prevent the sleepwalker from harming themselves such as locking all windows/doors, sealing off your staircase, putting away any dangerous objects such as glassware, kitchen knives, electrical boxes, and sources of heat or fire.

If absolutely necessary, you can wake up a sleepwalker. The important thing to do here is to wake them up in a gentle manner that will not frighten them.

You need to give them time to recollect themselves because they will most likely be disorientated for a small period of time.

Final Thoughts

Sleepwalking is very interesting sleep disorder. There are still things that make us wonder about how a person can perform complex tasks while being in a trance like state. Perhaps either you or somebody you know has wandered around in the night.

What are your thoughts on this sleep disorder?

What is your experience?

Is there anything that you have done differently?

Please share your experience in the comments below.

Photo Credit: Pexels, Pixabay and Unsplash

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6 Comments on “Sleepwalking Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment – Wandering Around At Night?”

  1. Hello Cass,

    Your welcome and I am glad that I could educate you on this interesting topic. I agree the number of people who have sleep disorder surprised me as well. Some of the sleep disorders were more common that I originally thought. That question of whether to wake up a sleepwalker or not is one that I was very curious about as well. There are a lot of myths that follow that question and I wanted to share some practical knowledge on what to do with others. Yes, I will expand upon this topic and many more in the future.

    If you are experiencing nightmares or night terrors, I wrote a post about that very topic:

    Nightmare vs Night Terror – Do You Experience Scary Moments at Night? 

    This post has information that you will find useful.

    Best regards,
    Kenny Tang

  2. Hello Kent,

    That is interesting that you were moving a chair when you were sleepwalking. Some people can do very interesting and sometimes complex things when they are sleepwalking. I witnessed a friend of mine making a midnight snack while sleepwalking in a trance like state. I am glad that you are following the tips and that is great that you are monitoring your caffeine intake. 5 cups of coffee is a fairly substantial amount to drink in one day. Drinking too much caffeine in one day can cause some to feel jittery and that cause your nervous system to be active even after you fall asleep. You could possibly sleepwalk in the future if stress and the factors in your life continue to be present. The good news is that there are ways to reduce stress by adopting good sleep habits and practicing relaxation techniques. If you get an opportunity to do so, you should read my article about sleep hygiene techniques located under the sleep advice category.

    Best regards,
    Kenny Tang

  3. Hello Lisa,

    I agree witnessing someone sleepwalk is a rather strange experience. I have seen it a few times before and it is a very interesting sight. That is interesting that your son was sleepwalking when he wore socks to bed. I have never of any accounts of hot feet or hot body parts causing sleepwalking. However, everybody is different and certain triggers can cause people to react differently.

    Best regards,
    Kenny Tang

  4. Hello Kenny,

    This was a very enlightening read on an interesting topic. I did not realize there were so many who suffered from sleep orders, particularly sleep walking. Thanks for enlightening me on the subject. I always wondered about waking a sleep walker and now I have an answer. My brother was a sleepwalker when we were children and I suffered night terrors.To understand more and know how common it is has given me some comfort and understanding on how to advise others.This has been a very useful post. Will you be writing more on the subject in the near future? Thank you for a great article.

    Cass

  5. The last time I sleepwalked was a few years ago, my wife told me that she saw me getting up and moving a chair across the room. Since it did not happen again. I thought it was not a problem.

    It is pretty shocking to learn that there is really no medication to cure it, but you listed some helpful tips to minimize the chances of it happening. Most of those tips can definitely benefit me as I lead a very stressful life and I drink probably 5 cups of coffee a day. Those are the things I need to reduce. I have not had a sleepwalking episode in a few years. Do you think I will have one again in the future?

  6. My son used to sleepwalk when he was about 5 years old. It was so strange to see him come out of his room looking glassy eyed and non-responsive. It is strange, but he only did it when he wore socks to bed. I always wondered if hot feet caused it. Have you ever heard of that?

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