Sleepwalking: What is Causing this Strange Behavior?

We’ve all heard about people who sleepwalk. If you haven’t experienced it yourself, you might find it a little difficult to believe that someone can actually walk and even do things while sleeping. If you’ve had first-hand experience in sleepwalking, or know someone who does, you know how difficult this condition can be.

Sleepwalking is a condition characterized by engaging in complex behavior such as walking during sleep. It may also be accompanied by nonsensical talking in few occasions. When a person sleepwalks, his eyes are either half-closed or fully open but have that glassy look or blank stare. After waking up, the person will have no memory that he sleepwalked or about the things he did during that time.

This condition is most common from middle childhood to young adolescence. It has been estimated that about 15 percent of children ages four to 12 years will experience sleepwalking at least once. Since it occurs during the stages three and four of sleep, it usually doesn’t happen during naps. There are various factors being linked to the occurrence of sleepwalking. The common causes pointed by experts include the following:

Genetic Factors
Studies reveal that the risk of sleepwalking is increased by 10 times if you have a first-degree relative who has or had the same condition. It occurs even more frequently in identical twins. These serve as evidence that genetic factors play a role in the occurrence of sleepwalking.

Factors in the environment can also contribute to sleepwalking. These include stress, alcohol intoxication, sleep deprivation, disrupted sleeping routine, and magnesium deficiency. It can also be triggered by certain drugs like sedatives and hypnotics, neuroleptics, tranquilizers, stimulants, and antihistamines.

Medical Conditions
Sleepwalking may also be caused by underlying medical conditions such as arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms), fever, gastroesophageal reflux (regurgitation of food and liquid from the stomach into the esophagus), asthma attack, seizures or convulsions, obstructive sleep apnea (temporary stoppage of breathing during sleep), and psychiatric disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociative identity disorder, and panic attack.

Home Safety
If you or someone at home is prone to this behavior, it is important to take on safety measures to avoid injuries and accidents. Make sure that the sleeping area is safe and free of sharp or harmful objects. It would be a smart move to sleep on the ground floor to avoid falls in the stairs. Sleeping in the top of bunk bed is not advisable. Doors and windows should be locked and windows should be covered with heavy drapes. There should be no obstacles in the room that can pose as tripping hazards.

Fundamental preventive measures, meanwhile, include getting adequate deep sleep, meditation and relaxation exercises such as yoga and Pilates, and peaceful sleeping environment. It would help to avoid auditory or visual stimuli before going to bed. It is a must to have an electronic curfew an hour before sleeping so that your mind would be able to relax. Since stress is known to aggravate frequency of sleepwalking, it is important to rest and relax your mind before you go to sleep.

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