Sleepwalking is a sleep disorder that involves walking around in a state of slumber. It can occur due to many underlying causes, including lack of sleep and a chaotic sleep schedule.
A few instances of sleepwalking should not be a concerning issue. However, repeated incidents of sleepwalking might be hinting at a more severe problem that would require treatment.
If you or a loved one suffers from sleepwalking, keep reading to know what causes sleepwalking and how to minimize risks associated with it.
What is Sleepwalking
Sleepwalking is a behavior in which a person gets up and starts walking or doing activities while still asleep. This condition can be categorized as parasomnia —a disruptive sleep-related disorder.
Sleepwalking usually occurs during stage 3 non-REM sleep, also known as deep sleep. Since parasomnias lie on the border between sleep and wakefulness, the actions during this condition are abnormal. That’s why you don’t remember sleepwalking, and when you talk, it usually doesn’t make sense.
Experts believe that sleepwalking occurs in a stage of deep sleep when a person partially wakes up in a way that triggers physical activity.
If you or someone you know sleepwalks, it is important to understand the potential risks of sleepwalking to stay safe.
But before that, you need to be aware of the underlying sleepwalking causes that may be contributing to your condition. The risk of sleepwalking can be elevated by underlying conditions that disrupt your sleep and cause weird sleeping patterns.
Some factors that may trigger sleepwalking include:
Sleeping is a state in which you have relatively low brain activity. When you finally get shut-eye after a lack of sleep, you spend more time in deep sleep, which may increase the risk of sleepwalking.
Stress can affect your sleep patterns and sleep quality which may result in sleepwalking. There are different types of stress, including physical, emotional, and mental.
Stress might also be related to discomfort while traveling, such as jet lag. All these issues can cause chaotic sleep patterns or disrupted sleep which elevates the chances of sleepwalking.
Fever is a common reason for sleepwalking among children. It may be related to disrupted sleep or arousals due to illness during the night.
Sometimes interruptions in sleep while traveling or sleeping in a new place trigger sleepwalking.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
Disorders that cause abnormal breathing patterns can be a cause behind sleepwalking. Obstructive sleep apnea is one such disorder in which the airways are blocked, which causes pauses in breathing.
These pauses occur several times during the night, which interferes with sleep and may result in sleepwalking.
Sedatives and Other Medication
Medications that have sedative effects used to treat psychiatric disorders may induce deep sleep. The sedative effect might give rise to sleepwalking episodes.
Alcohol and certain drugs can destabilize sleep stages, and interruptions in sleep may increase the chances of sleepwalking.
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
RLS is a sleep disorder that causes unpleasant sensations in your limbs and an urge to move them while you are lying down. It causes disturbances in sleep which may trigger a sleepwalking episode.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
GERD is a case of acid reflux that causes sleep disturbances which may invoke sleepwalking. Sleep disorders, in turn, may increase the chances of reflux, but there is still limited data on the issue.
Is Sleepwalking Genetic?
Is sleepwalking genetic, or does it have nongenetic causes too? Many risk factors contribute to sleepwalking, including:
Sleeping walking may run in families, and if one parent has a history of sleepwalking, your chances of developing this sleep disorder increase. The risk is much more if both of the parents have a history of sleepwalking.
Sleepwalking commonly occurs in children more than adults, and they usually outgrow the condition. The disorder may occur in healthy children, too, without emotional or psychological problems. If this happens in adulthood, it may be related to other underlying causes.
A few episodes of sleepwalking shouldn’t be concerning as they are not associated with long-term complications. But, a person who sleepwalks might run the following risks:
- Hurting oneself
- Eating inappropriate items
- Sleep deprivation and daytime sleepiness
- Problems in social relationships
- Injuring someone closeby
Eliminate Safety Risks
If a person you know suffers from sleepwalking, it is essential to take safety measures to reduce the risks associated with the condition. Here are some ways to minimize risks:
- Sleep in a bedroom on the ground floor
- Keep away sharp objects and weapons
- Close doors and windows
- Install motion sensors and door alarms
- Remove objects from the floor
Sleepwalking often does not require treatment or signal a serious problem. However, considering sleepwalking injuries, it is better to treat the condition to prevent other problems associated with it.
Why do people sleepwalk? It is usually a sign of sleep deprivation, stress issues, or fever. Solving these problems will stop the sleepwalking episodes you experience, and medical treatment won’t be necessary.
The first step is to change your sleeping habits to get enough time to relax. If you use drugs or alcohol, this is your cue to stop. If you are taking medication with sedative effects, discuss the problem with your doctor.
Should You Wake a Sleepwalker?
While it is not dangerous to wake a sleepwalking person, jarring awakenings can leave them disoriented. That’s because sleepwalkers are not aware of their situation, and waking them in the middle of an episode can cause anger, fear, and confusion.
Hence, using a soft voice and a gentle touch is better to guide the person back to bed. But, of course, you can also wake them up if it is a safer option, for example, if they have to climb stairs. But try to do that gently to avoid a jolting awakening.
Now that you know why do people sleepwalk, you can protect a sleepwalker from potential risks and possibly cure that problem. While sleepwalking is often not a severe problem, recurring episodes might suggest an underlying cause that might be more serious and needs treatment.
Changing your lifestyle and sticking to a sleep schedule can help random episodes of sleepwalking. However, in case of a more serious underlying cause, consult your doctor.