What Is Sleepwalking?
Sleepwalking is a disorder that causes you to get up and walk while you’re asleep. Your doctor might call it somnambulism.
It usually happens when you’re going from a deep stage of sleep to a lighter stage or coming awake. You can't respond while you’re sleepwalking and usually don't remember it. In some cases, you may talk and not make sense.
Sleepwalking mostly happens to children, usually between the ages of 4 and 8. But adults can do it, too.
If you or a loved one is a sleepwalker, it’s important to create a safe environment. Lock doors and windows, move sharp objects, and install gates at the top of stairs.
A sleepwalker might:
- Walk quietly around their room
- Run or try to “escape”
- Have open eyes and a glassy stare
- Be slow to respond to questions, or not respond at all
- Have no memory of sleepwalking
Sleepwalking Causes and Risk Factors
Several things can lead to sleepwalking.
It can run in your 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 it than someone from a family with no sleepwalkers.
You might also sleepwalk if you're:
- On a chaotic sleep schedule
- Taking drugs such as sedative-hypnotics (which help you relax or sleep), neuroleptics (used to treat psychosis), stimulants (which boost activity), and antihistamines (used to treat allergy symptoms)
Medical conditions linked to sleepwalking include:
- Heart rhythm problems
- Nighttime asthma
- Nighttime seizures
- Obstructive sleep apnea (when you briefly stop breathing during sleep)
- Restless legs syndrome
- Psychiatric disorders like posttraumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, or dissociative states, such as multiple personality disorder
Sleepwalking is usually simple to diagnose. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. They might need to do some tests to find out whether a medical condition is making you sleepwalk. These tests might include:
- Physical exam
- Sleep study (polysomnography). You’ll spend the night in a sleep lab, where workers will record things like your heart rate, brain waves, and movements while you sleep.
- EEG. This is rare. If your doctor suspects that a serious condition is making you sleepwalk, you might need a test that measures your brain activity.
Changing a few lifestyle habits might help you stop sleepwalking. Stick to a sleep schedule and have a relaxing bedtime routine. If you drink or use drugs, stop. If you take medication, ask your doctor whether it might play a role.
Your treatment also may include hypnosis or medications like antidepressants or sedatives.