Friday, March 17, 2017

A Brief Introduction to Sleepwalking

A young boy sleepwalking on a roof.
Image credit: Shutterstock
Following along last week’s theme of sleep disorders, this week I want to talk about sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism. Even though somnambulism is mostly associated with children, readers should know that adults sleepwalk, too.

While researchers still aren’t sure exactly what causes somnambulism, a recent study points towards genetics as a possible culprit. The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, found that children who had one parent with a history of sleepwalking were three times more likely to have the disorder. Even more revealing is that children whose parents both had a history of sleepwalking were seven times more likely to have the disorder.

But whatever the cause, there are things you should know about the disorder that can make living with it that much easier. Namely, you should know that it can be incredibly dangerous and/or embarrassing, depending on the situation.

For example, young children often wander outside during this state. Older children and adults may attempt to cook in their sleep. In rare cases, some adults even get into their cars and drive.

On the more embarrassing side of things, some sleepwalkers may expose themselves or act out sexual activities. It’s also quite common for those afflicted with the disorder to mistakenly use the bathroom in the wrong place (ex: urinating into a trashcan).

But readers should also know that despite urban legend, waking up a sleepwalker will not kill them. However, those who do attempt to wake a sleepwalker should exercise caution. Upon waking, many sleepwalkers are highly confused and may become violent.

That’s why those who have the condition should take proper precautions to protect themselves. For example, setting an alarm or bell on the door can help wake the sleepwalker should he/she wander outside. Additionally, keeping locks on all windows and doors is an absolute must. Lastly, it’s always a good idea to store any and all sharp/dangerous objects in a safe place.

As always, I’m no expert in this field and I encourage you to visit the National Sleep Foundation's website for more information. I personally find the disorder quite fascinating and I’d love to hear about your experiences with it!