Alaska Sleep Education Center

How to Cope with Sleepwalking

Posted by Jennifer Hines

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on Oct 30, 2018 5:51:00 AM


Sleepwalking is often portrayed in movies, on television, and even homemade Youtube clips in either one of two lights: hilariously funny or supernaturally terrifying. But for the sleepwalkers themselves and the loved ones they share a home with, the reality of sleepwalking may be found somewhere in the middle.

Many sleepwalkers themselves and their loved ones do tend to laugh about the sleepwalking episodes. Witnessing someone getting up in the middle of the night to push a powerless vacuum around the house, or doing invisible dishes in a sink can appear somewhat amusing. However, most of the laughter carries an undertone of apprehension and nervousness. Laughter that suggests what has happened before may be amusing, but hints at the fear of what could happen during future episodes.

Symptoms of sleepwalking

Sleepwalking is classified as a parasomnia. Parasomnias are behaviors that consist of unwanted physical movements or actions during sleep. Other common parasomnias include bedwetting (sleep enuresis),

Sleepwalking generally occurs during the early stages of deep sleep during slow wave non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, but can also occur in the lighter stages of NREM sleep. Sleepwalking does not happen during REM sleep because muscle atonia prevents the body from acting out dreams.

Symptoms of sleepwalking (formally known as somnambulism) can range anywhere from sitting up in bed and looking around confused, to simple automatic behaviors like walking around the house performing mundane chores or activities, to even complicated actions like leaving the house and driving away.

sleepwalker_2General symptoms include:

  • Sitting up in bed with eyes open

  • Getting out of bed and walk around the room or house

  • Preparing and/or eating food
  • Eyes are usually glassy with a blank look or stare

  • Talking, shouting, or mumbling to oneself

  • Difficulty for others to wake up the sleepwalker

  • Appearing confused

  • Waking with no or very little memory of the event

  • Quickly returning to bed with normal sleep

Rare symptoms include:

  • Leaving the house

  • Driving a vehicle

  • Engaging or attempting to engage in sexual behaviors

  • Performing unusual actions such as urinating on a floor

  • Becoming violent

  • Getting injured

Prevalence and causes

Sleepwalking is much more common in children than adults. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, up to 17% of children sleepwalk. Sleepwalking occurs in both boys and girls and most prevalent in age ranges 3-7.

There is believed to be a genetic element to sleepwalking as up to 80% of children who sleepwalk have a family history of sleepwalking.

Adult onset sleepwalking is not uncommon and is not usually associated with psychiatric or psychological problems. Approximately 4% of adults sleepwalk.

Sleepwalking triggers

  • Hereditary

  • Lack of quality sleep or fatigue

  • Sleep deprivation

  • Sleep is interrupted or fragmented.

  • Caused by another sleep disorder (More frequent in children with sleep apnea and nocturnal enuresis).

  • Stress and anxiety

  • Certain sedative medications

  • Illness or fever

  • Hyperthyroidism

  • Head injury

  • Headaches or migraines

  • Noisy sleep environment
  • Sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings

Coping with sleepwalking

Injuries from sleepwalking are the greatest concern for sleepwalkers. Common injuries include bruises, lacerations, nosebleeds, and occasionally more severe injuries from tripping, falling, bumping into walls.

When sleepwalkers become violent while asleep it can also result in injury to loved ones.

The best way to cope with sleepwalking is create a safe environment for the sleepwalker. This can include things such as:

  • Clearing the bedroom of sharp or breakable objects

  • Locking doors and windows

  • Keeping car keys out of reach

  • Putting gates at bottom or top of stairs

  • Turning down settings on water heaters to avoid burns or scalding

  • Gently guiding the sleepwalker back to bed


Most children that sleepwalk often outgrow the disorder by the time they reach adolescence.

There is no specific treatment for treating sleepwalking. However, some treatments may be found successful. These treatments include:

It's important to talk with your doctor about diagnosing and treating sleepwalking if your symptoms are frequent; cause frequent injuries or are potentially injurious; results in daytime sleepiness, fatigue, insomnia, depression, anxiety; cause decreased quality of life; or last beyond the teenage years.

If you or a loved one believe that sleepwalking is becoming a growing concern, you may want to schedule a sleep study to help find the cause of the disorder and to get suggested therapy treatment options.

If you live in Alaska and a sleep disorder is becoming worrisome, contact The Alaska Sleep Clinic to receive a free 10-minute phone consultaiton with a sleep educator by clicking the link below.

Finally - Sleep Consultation




Topics: sleep disorders, parasomnia

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