Sleepwalking (Somnambulism)

What is sleepwalking?

Sleepwalking (somnambulism) occurs when a person gets up from bed and walks around despite being still asleep. The disorder could include sitting up in bed, speaking or shouting, and looking around in a confused manner. People who sleepwalk can be very difficult to wake up, and are often confused when awoken, having little to no memory of the event.

EISC sleep medicine specialist Dr. Andrew C. Peterson explains:

What are the symptoms of sleepwalking?

Sleepwalkers often get out of bed and walk around while still asleep, perform routine actions at strange times, are confused when woken, and have difficulty remembering what took place.

How is sleepwalking diagnosed?

In order to diagnose somnambulism, your doctor may recommend a polysomnogram (sleep study).

What treatment options are available?

For children, sleepwalking tends to wane as they become teenagers. If sleepwalking occurs in conjunction with sleep apnea, treatment of sleep apnea may improve occurrences sleepwalking.


Video Transcription

Sleepwalking is a fairly common sleep disorder we often think about in children only, but it could persist into adulthood and I seen many families with several generations of people who are sleepwalker for their entire life. It’s probably what we call Autosomal Dominant Disorder were it is passed on genetically and surely a genetic predisposition to doing this the actual genetics is not completely sorted out.

Sleepwalking often shows up in the younger population and what happens it’s a mixed sleep-wake state. So when people first go to bed they slide down what we call slow wave or delta sleep about an hour-half out you’re supposed to come up from your first dream episode. What will happen is there will be a partial arousal.

The EG will show a mixture of the slow wave sleep and wake. And people will get up and wander around. If you watch somebody doing this they typically don’t get hurt but typically moving very slowly, their eyes are open. There’re actually processing what they see to some extent, so people tend not to get hurt when sleepwalking going up and downstairs go in and out doors and so on. They can get hurt if they wander outside and there have been incidence of people freezing death in the winter time or being run over in the road and there are some danger associated with sleepwalking.

People who sleepwalk in unfamiliar environment are risk of injury. So I had some patients who were on a trip to France and walked out of a second-story window were they’ve been sleepwalker at home people weren’t aware of this on the trip. Sleep walking typically occurs during that hour and half time after sleep onset so it is happening later in the night that is not typical raise questions other what we call parasomnia or nocturnal seizures confused arousals and so on and sleepwalking is different RAM behavior disorder.

In RAM Behavior Disorder, people lose the paralisis of active dream sleep so actively dreaming they get up and run around acting out their dreams. Because they’re dreaming their eyes are closed, they run into things and they get hurt and they can break legs and break necks and jump out of windows. That’s a very hazardous sleep disorder but much less common.

So it is certainly important to figure out these things are and what’s going on. Sleepwalking can be minimized by keeping a regular sleep/wake schedule by making sure things that fragment sleeper not happening, noises, the need to go to the bathroom and so on. That tends to be triggered by big shifts such as somebody has to fly to Korea for business may end up sleepwalking cuz their internal clock is out of filter with the surrounding world. Anyways sleepwalking is a fairly common disorder but it can be a problem. It can cause injuries and can certainly persist in adult state and it is treatable when it needs to be treated.

Learn more about sleepwalking (somnambulism)

Questions? Contact the Eastern Iowa Sleep Center today.