How to handle sleepwalking

21 March 2017

Ever woken up in your kitchen rather than your bed, or witnessed a friend walk out of your room and wander the hallway in the middle of the night without even realizing?

If so, it sounds like you’ve experienced the mysterious phenomenon of sleepwalking first hand.

What actually causes it is still unknown, but we have rounded up some useful information that you can take on board next time you go to bed or spend time with that pal who can’t resist a snoozy stroll.

What is it?

Sleepwalking is when someone walks or, contrary to the name, carries out simple or complex tasks while not fully awake. It often takes place during the non-rapid eye movement (REM) period of sleep and around seven per cent of people experience it at some point in their lives.

However, it isn’t actually deemed a disorder unless it takes place regularly, causes distress or impairment to the sufferer and triggers amnesia, an inability to remember what happened.

It most commonly affects children and in most cases they can outgrow it, though sometimes it continues into adulthood.

How and why does it happen?

While the rest of the brain is sound asleep, some areas – notably the limbic system in charge of emotions and the motor cortex which controls movements – are still awake.

This causes the person to be aware of what is going on around them, and their eyes can even be open, but they do not recognise those around them and treat their environment differently. Episodes don’t tend to last long and if the person wakes up during one, expect them to be confused as they may not know how they got there.

Read more: Should I worry that my child snores?

As mentioned above, a true cause has not been identified, but health experts have previously identified stress, too much alcohol, a lack of sleep and certain types of medication as a few of the things that can make it worse.

Are there ways to ease it?

First up see a doctor and discuss where to go from there rather than trying to self-medicate the problem. Special treatments could also be an option, like cognitive behavioral therapy.

As for small changes that can be made to help tackle the issue, simple strategies like going to bed at the same time each night, sleeping in a dark bedroom and limiting drinks before bedtime – especially any containing caffeine – can all make an impact.

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Read more: How lack of sleep could be making you gain weight

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