Sleepwalking, or as experts will call it, “somnambulism“, is one of the sleeping disorders affecting about 3.6% of the global population. This parasomnia involves unusual movements and behavior of the patient during sleep.
While this is a real medical condition, stigma and detest have been the bread and butter for most sleepwalkers. The 21st-century entertainers have gassed the tendency by depicting sleepwalkers as zombies or possessed characters on the screens. Before I entertain the tête-à-têtes on sleepwalking- let’s try to learn more about sleepwalking.
What is sleepwalking?
Scholars have for long tried to understand the context of sleepwalking. In all sincerity, this abnormal state of behaving and appearing as though one is awake yet they are fully asleep can mesmerize.
From a scientific standpoint, sleep occurs in cyclic patterns– one leading to the other. In the first stages of sleep, the Non-Rapid Eye Movement (N-REM) stage ushers the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage where dreams occur.
Sleepwalking is an arousal disorder that occurs during deep sleep (NREM) in the sleep cycle. The condition usually occurs when an individual’s brain is partially awake and partially in deep sleep, just like other parasomnias. When in this in-between state the brain can get an awakening such that the body partially awakens and can perform simple tasks while parts of the brain are still asleep.
Some activities that sleepwalkers may engage in include:
Sleepwalking is not limited to only walking. It will surprise you to know there are many more activities that a sleepwalker may engage. Here are some things that happen when someone is sleepwalking. Note that these behaviors are unique to the individual:
- The person can sit up in bed, cook, eat, and even dress up. In complex sleepwalking the person can attempt to operate machinery they can try to drive a car or do laundry.
- The sleepwalker may also talk where in this case the speech can be monotone, robotic, or sluggard. Some individuals are not able to recognize communication and or communicate at all.
- The sleepwalker can seem normal, which can be difficult to tell that they are sleepwalking, while others will walk in a lazy slouch, with glassy eyes and blank stares. Some will have their eyes totally closed.
- The sleepwalker of my experience amnesia making it difficult for them to tell that they were walking unless a partner or roommate tells them. In fact, most adults do not know they do it until they move in with someone, go to a sleepover with a friend, or get married. The memory loss could be because the brain is partially awake. This makes the sleepwalker confused when they wake up in a different place from where they slept.
- The sleepwalking episode can last from 5minutes to 15 minutes, with extreme cases lasting from 45 minutes to an hour. The sleepwalker can sleep through the entire episode while others wake up while still sleepwalking.
- The sleepwalker might be very sleepy, experience fatigue when they wake up.
Is sleepwalking related to paranormal activities?
If you asked me this, my response will always be: a straight faced – NO.
Somnambulism is indeed a very common condition in children of ages, ranging from 2years to early stages of puberty. In most cases, the condition digresses making it rare but present in adults. Most adults will rarely experience deep non-REM slow waves of sleep, and hence they may not get to sleepwalking. Again, unlike in children, an adult’s brain is well developed to distinguish between sleep and being awake while in dreamland.
What are the causes of sleepwalking?
There is no specific cause of sleepwalking sleep experts however have discovered triggers or factors that could lead to sleepwalking. However, there are factors that are associated or seem to be contributory to somnambulism. Some of these include:
Factors that lead to sleepwalking:
1. Sleepwalking can be passed down genetically
Believe it or not, children born by a parent (s) that were sleepwalkers or by parents whose close relatives were sleepwalkers then they are a high likelihood to sleepwalk.
If a twin is sleepwalking, then their identical sibling is also likely to be sleepwalking due to their genetic makeup.
2. Your can sleepwalk because of the environmental factors around you
A sleepwalker does not walk unless there is a trigger. According to sleep experts, some people will only sleepwalk when there is a change in their sleep environment which could range from moving to a new place, change in the sleeping area’s lighting, smell, sound, and texture of the bedding being unfamiliar with them can cause disturbed sleep leading to sleepwalking.
3.Watch out for the Psychological factors rest you sleepwalk!
Stress, anxiety, and when there is an unexpected change in the individual’s life can also be attributed to sleepwalking. The individual can sleepwalk as the brain is trying to deal with the situation. Again, studies have revealed that the tendency could be associated with mental disorders such as Bipolar Disease.
Other factors that may influence sleepwalking tendencies include:
- The media content you may consume before they sleep may also contribute to tendencies of sleepwalking.
- Underlying medical conditions that disrupt sleeping patterns such as sleep apnea and jetlag can trigger sleepwalking.
- Use of alcohol, sedatives, substance use sleep-inducing pills, and prescribed medication can disrupt sleep resulting in sleepwalking.
- Existence of Other parasomnias
- Parasomnias are sleep disorders that cause abnormal activity or reflexes when one is asleep. They include insomnia; others are sleep terrors, jet lag, sleep paralysis, and nightmares. All these disrupt sleep and can lead to sleep deprivation, which is a sleepwalking trigger.
How do we support sleepwalkers?
There is hope for a loved one who is sleepwalking.
- Treated by managing the causes and triggers.
- For instance, treating underlying medical conditions, seeking therapy to help deal with anxiety disorders and stress, controlling media consumed before sleep.
- Anticipatory awakening therapy
- This one involves waking the sleepwalker at the time they usually sleepwalk. That means if you live with a sleepwalker observe the sleepwalking episode patterns and on identifying the pattern awaken the individual when the episode usually happens.
- Do not wake the sleepwalker unless it is very necessary.
- Direct the sleepwalker back to bed without waking them. Wake them only when it is impossible to redirect them back to sleep or when they do not respond to the redirection. When waking them do it calmly and softly to avoid startling them because they can be defensive and can attack you. Immediately they wake up explain to them they were sleepwalking because they can be confused.
- Make sure the house is safe for the walker.
- You do not want your sleepy dear ones to hurt themselves when sleepwalking. Clear pathways so they do not trip on something. It is also advisable to lock doors so that they do not walk outside where they can hurt themselves or get hurt by others.