Your alarm clock sounds. Waking up you feel like you didn’t get the best rest. You walk into the kitchen and see that dishes are broken and scattered on the floor. Your baking pantry is also open. Spices, sugar and most of the things in the cabinet have been taken out and are spilling on the counter and floor. For someone looking at this scene from the outside, this might appear to be some kind of act of vandalism. A break-in. A burglary. But if you are someone who suffers from sleepwalking, you know you just had another episode.
Sleepwalking, or somnambulism, is most often experienced in children. By the time an individual reaches adolescence, somnambulism usually becomes less frequent or stops happening entirely. Sleepwalking is perhaps one of the most well known, and misunderstood, of parasomnias. Many people confuse somnambulism with Rem Behavioral Disorders. While there are many similarities the main difference lies in the sleep cycles.
While RBD occurs during rem sleep cycles and the person is easy to wake, somnambulism occurs during NREM cycles. Specifically slow-wave sleep cycles. Therefore, a person who is sleepwalking is harder to wake up and may be combative or irritated. Also, people with RBD are more likely to remember their dreams during the incident. A sleepwalker does not.
Somnambulism is classified as an arousal disorder. This means that a person is partially aroused during sleep but not brought to a fully waking state. For adults and children, sleepwalking may signal an underlying physical or mental health disorder.
Health problems that could trigger a sleepwalking episode include:
We can see how some of these afflictions may cause a person to become partially aroused during the night.
There are many concerns about the safety of sleepwalkers. They have been known to be prone to injury especially if they live in a house with stairs. Some people may even attempt to operate a motor vehicle! Safety for others close to the afflicted is also a concern as a sleepwalker may become irritated or combative if attempts are made to wake them. Sleepwalkers may also disturb the sleeping habits of their housemates.
So what can you do? Some incidents of sleepwalking can be isolated. However, if you or someone you know experiences frequent episodes it is advised that you make an appointment with a physician. Underlying causes may be treatable. Also, it is recommended that the individual keeps a sleep journal. This will give you and your doctor a good insight to your sleeping habits.
Some other things that may keep a sleepwalker safe include:
If you or someone you know is experiencing frequent somnambulism, do not ignore the problem and hope it will go away. While sleepwalking itself is mostly harmless, wandering around in a state of lower consciousness is an accident waiting to happen. Take action and be proactive.