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Sleep Disorders: Sleepwalking Basics

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Sleepwalking is a disorder that causes people to get up and walk while they're asleep.

It usually happens when a person is going from the deep stage of sleep to a lighter stage or into the awake state. The sleepwalker can't respond during the event and usually doesn't remember it. In some cases, he may talk and not make sense.

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Sleepwalking mostly happens in childhood, typically between the ages of 4 and 8. But adults can do it, too.

Symptoms

When someone sleepwalks, they might quietly walk around their room. Or they might run or attempt to "escape."

Typically, the sleepwalker's eyes are open with a glassy stare as he roams the house. If you question him, he'll be slow to respond or not respond at all. When you get him back to bed without waking him up, he usually won't recall the event.

Older children may wake up more easily at the end of a sleepwalking episode.

Causes

Several things can lead to sleepwalking.

It can run in the family. Identical twins are more likely to sleepwalk. If you have a parent, brother, or sister who sleepwalks, you're 10 times more likely to do so than someone from a family with no sleepwalkers.

You might also have the disorder if you're:

  • Sleep deprived
  • On a chaotic sleep schedule
  • Stressed
  • Drunk
  • Taking drugs such as sedative-hypnotics (which promote relaxation or sleep), neuroleptics (used to treat psychosis), stimulants (which boost activity), and antihistamines (used to treat symptoms of allergy)

Medical conditions that have been linked to sleepwalking include:

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on October 22, 2014
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