Sleepwalking, medically known as somnambulism, is a condition that causes a person to perform activities like walking, talking, sitting up or even urinating while sleeping without having any memory of being engaged into these activities. It occurs within the first hour or within two hours of sleeping and the phase lasts for approximately 10 to 15 minutes.
‘Sleepwalking may be a common problem among children but it is a matter of concern in adults,’ says Dr Jayalakshmi. T, Consultant, Respiratory Medicine from Sterling Wockhardt Hospitals, Vashi. ‘The activities that occur during sleepwalking are often laughed off or ignored. While, in kids, sleepwalking can be innocent and cute, some steps need to be taken to prevent sleepwalking as it’s likely to hurt the person in deep sleep,’ she says.
There is no single definitive cause of sleepwalking. The condition is associated with specific factors like genetics, environmental factors and some medical conditions as well.
- Genetics: Sleepwalking seems to be a genetic trait that is likely to be seen in individuals who have a family member suffering from it or who have a history of sleepwalking.
- Environmental factors: ‘Chronic stress, alcohol consumption and other psychological factors also contribute to sleepwalking. In adults, the condition is likely to develop in people who are either sleep deprived or who follow irregular sleep schedules due to increasing levels of stress in their life.
- Medical condition: ‘Sleepwalking is also linked to conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and hence seeking help as an adult becomes very important,’ she says.
Dr Jayalakshmi lists a few symptoms to watch for in kids:
- Sitting up are repeating movements like rubbing eyes, playing with the hair
- Not responding when called
- Sleeping with their eyes open
- Getting up and walking without direction
- Urinating in weird places like the closet
‘If you have noticed these symptoms in your child there is nothing abnormal about it. The reasons for sleepwalking could be attributed to genetics, sleeping with a full bladder, side effects of the medications, illness or fever or even an inefficient sleep pattern,’ she says. In adults, the symptoms may be the same or differ slightly.
Usually, your family members are the ones who will be the first ones to know your condition. But adults who stay alone need to be careful because they have higher chances of suffering from injuries. If you live alone and you find yourself in some other place or room when you wake up, there are chances that you could be sleepwalking. This is when you need to visit a doctor immediately.
As a form of diagnosis, you may have to participate in a sleep study or polysomnogram. In this study the doctor reviews various aspects like your breathing process, heartbeat, brain waves and limb movements with the help of electric signals transmitted by sensors that will be attached to you while you’re sleeping. The results will indicate whether you are suffering from any associated condition like seizures or sleep apnoea that could be one of the reasons causing sleepwalking.
Most children who suffer from sleep walking outgrow the condition as adults. Even in adults, the condition is not of a major concern and treatment is not always necessary. However, Dr Jayalakshmi highlights that the most important thing to do with sleepwalkers is to protect them from possible injuries while sleep walking.
‘There as instances where adult sleepwalkers tend to move towards or get into their car while they’re asleep. It is important to make sure they don’t end up driving. While making sure that the sleepwalker is safe, it is also important that you don’t startle them. Guide them back to their bed and speak comforting words to them in a calm voice. Do not yell because it may trigger aggression,’ she says.
‘Most of the cases of sleepwalking are treated with a method called scheduled awakening. The aim of this treatment approach is to change the sleep pattern of the individual. In this method, the pattern and duration of sleep is recorded. Just 15 minutes before the sleepwalking occurs, wake up the child, not completely but just abruptly disturb the kids sleep for a brief arousal. This changes the pattern of sleeping by abruptly disturbing the sleepwalking phase,’ explains Dr Jayalaksmi.
Medication: In adults, if sleepwalking leads to increased daytime sleepiness or if it increases the risk of injuries, your doctor may prescribe you some medicines like benzodiazepines or antidepressants to reduce the frequency of sleepwalking episodes.
Dr Jayalakshmi offers some tips to prevent sleepwalking
- Ensure people who habitually sleepwalk get sound sleep
- You can choose to playing some soft music to induce sleep in kids
- Ensure they follow a proper sleep schedule
- People who sleepwalk should make sure they don’t sleep with a full bladder
- Have dinner well before sleeping and avoid sleeping just as you have eaten
- In children, it is essential that the emotional and physical health of the child is at an optimal level
- Lastly, make the person aware of his sleepwalking condition. This goes for children as well
- If you’re stressed, make it a point to visit a counselor. Children might also need counseling at times, do not shy away from it.
‘When sleepwalking goes beyond teenage and may also lead to injuries, it is imperative that a doctor’s help is taken. Adult sleepwalkers often leave home in their sleep, indulge in teeth grinding, and talk while they are sleeping or even get up and eat something. The easiest way of dealing with sleep walking is relaxing and ensuring you have undisturbed sleep,’ she concludes.