If we think of sleepwalking, we might believe that people are acting out their dreams or inner thoughts. However, sleepwalking is actually classified as a sleep disorder known as somnambulism.
The condition is more common amongst children and teens, but also affects a small number of adults. Behaviors associated with sleepwalking vary from sitting up and appearing awake to complex activities such as dressing, moving furniture or running. When the sleepwalker wakes up, they have no recollection of what they have been doing.
Sleepwalking typically occurs in the first or second sleep cycles; specifically during stages three and four when brain waves are slower. Scientists believe that sleepwalking occurs when the brain’s limbic region remains awake. This emits alpha waves while the cortex and hippocampus regions of the brain are in a sleep state (where delta waves are emitted). The result is that the brain becomes activated into a fight or flight type of response. This is associated with what occurs when our basic survival response is triggered.
There are several predictors of sleepwalking. Evidence shows that you are more likely to sleepwalk if there is a family history of the behavior.
There are also medical conditions that can increase your chance of sleepwalking, such as sleep apnea, heart rhythm problems, nighttime seizures, fever, restless legs syndrome and psychiatric disorders (such as post traumatic stress disorder or panic attacks).
You can also be more prone to sleepwalking if you are sleep deprived or on a chaotic sleep schedule. Taking medications such as sedatives, stimulants or antihistamines can also affect sleepwalking.
Sleepwalkers are at risk of harming themselves or others, therefore it’s important to take safety precautions before going to sleep. Keep windows and doors locked, remove clutter from the floor and keep dangerous objects out of reach.
One of the most important things to remember when dealing with someone who is sleepwalking is to let them continue to sleep. Lead them gently back to bed - but be aware that they can be easily startled and could lash out. If it’s possible, do not try to wake them.
If you have someone in your life who consistently sleepwalks, what can you do to help them? First, have the person examined by a medical doctor to ensure there is no underlying health issue. Look for patterns that could contribute to the condition; Too much stress, lack of sleep or alcohol consumption can be contributing factors.
Second, establish a bedtime routine, keep the bedroom cool and dark, and power down screen time before going to bed. Encourage exercise and limit alcohol and caffeine consumption.
Natural remedies such as essential oils like lavender or clary sage can promote relaxation. Taking omega 3 fatty acids and calcium and magnesium can be helpful as can herbal teas such as chamomile or valerian.
Always remember to get professional advice when dealing with any sleep disorder, as quality sleep is an essential component of good health.