Why Do Some Of Us Sleepwalk?

Updated: Sep 21


A woman with repeated history of sleep walking has been reported to have fallen to her death from her apartment earlier this year, according to a news report by Channel News Asia. Somnambulism, more commonly known as sleep walking is a type of behavioral sleep disorder that commonly affects children. Although it might be overlooked as a quirky behavior, sleep walking could be harmful to both the sleepwalker and their friends or family. Sleepwalkers are in a state between wakefulness and non-REM sleep, but are asleep during a sleepwalking episode therefore will have no recollection of the event. This article will highlight how to manage this sleep disorder.




Prevalence


Sleepwalking affects 8.4 million people, or around 3.6 percent of the population, according to a study from Stanford University School of Medicine. Sleepwalking episodes are most likely to happen a few hours after going to sleep. Typically, sleepwalking episodes are only a few minutes long. According to another study, the incidence of sleepwalking peaked between the ages of 10 and 13 and affected 29% of children between the ages of 2 and 13.



Causes


Genetics and Family History Multiple studies have shown a strong correlation between family history and sleepwalking. About 22% of children whose parents have no history of sleepwalking will experience this condition. This is in contrast to 47% if one parent has a history of it, and 61% if both parents sleepwalk.


Stress and Sleep Deprivation Sleep deprivation and stress has been associated with a higher chance of sleepwalking. Stress can have a variety of effects on sleep, including fragmenting or interrupting it more frequently and making sleepwalking more likely. Travelling or staying somewhere new at night may also trigger a sleep walking event.


Alcohol and Some Medications Medications with a sedative effect may increase their chances of having a sleepwalking episode by increasing the duration non-REM sleep which is when sleep walking occurs. Alcohol or any medication that alters a person’s sleep stages and may heighten the risk of sleepwalking.


Fever or Brain Injury Fever causes an increased number of illness-driven arousals during the night resulting in an increased risk of sleep walking especially in children. Research has shown a link between autoimmune encephalitis and sleep-walking.


Restless Leg Syndrome This is a type of sleep disorder where the lower limbs moves unconsciously during sleep causing arousals which can result in a sleepwalking episode.


Obstructive Sleep Apnea Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder in which the airway gets blocked, causing short lapses in breath during sleep followed by oxygen desaturation. The lack of oxygen in your blood due to OSA can cause awakenings which may result in sleep walking. OSA also comes with symptoms such as snoring and fatigue, if left untreated it may lead to heart problems such as coronary artery diseases and stroke.



Treatment for Sleepwalking


There is no specific treatment for sleepwalking although the first point of management is to create a safe environment by removing any sharp objects and locking windows and doors. It is vital to not wake the sleepwalker up but to gently guide them back to their bed. If sleep walking is caused by underlying sleep disorders such as restless leg syndrome or OSA, it is advised to do a sleep study or consult a sleep doctor. Nowadays sleep studies are convenient and can be done at the comfort of your home.



Author Credit: The Air Station Healthcare Professionals & Customer Service Team

References:

Channel News Asia

Stanford Medicine News Center

National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information

Sleep Foundation

American Sleep Association

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