Sleepwalking, known as somnambulism, is a behavior disorder that occurs during sleep and results in walking or other complex behaviors while asleep. Usually sleepwalking occurs if a person is sleep deprived and it is more common in children than adults. When a person is sleepwalking it is generally hard to wake them up form their deep sleep. Sleepwalking involves more than just walking around during sleep; it is a series of other behaviors that are carried out while sleeping. 

Symptoms of Sleepwalking 

The symptoms of sleepwalking range from sitting up in bed and looking around, to walking around the room or house, to a more extreme measure, where the sleepwalker leaves the house and drives long distances. 

In addition to walking during sleep there are other symptoms as well: 

  • Sleep talking 
  • Little or no memory of sleepwalking
  • Screaming while asleep
  • Difficulty waking up during sleep
  • Perform routine daily actions
  • Sit up in bed and open their eyes
  • Have a glazed, glassy-eyed expression
  • Be confused
  • Not remember what happened
  • Have sleep terrors

Risk Factors of Sleepwalking

Sleepwalking is more common in children and affects both boys and girls. It can begin as soon as a child is able to walk. Sleepwalking peaks by the time they are eight to 12 years old. Most children with it also had confusional arousals at a younger age. 

Rarely sleepwalking may begin at any time in the adult live, even when someone is in their seventies. In adults, men are more likely to display aggressive behavior when they sleepwalk. There is a strong genetic and family link to having it. 

Common Triggers of Sleepwalking

  • Sleep deprivation 
  • Hyperthyroidism (Overproduction of thyroid hormones)
  • Migraine headaches
  • Head injury
  • Certain medications
  • Physical or emotional stress
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
  • Alcohol use and abuse

Diagnosis for Sleepwalking

Sleepwalking in children is fairly normal. It does not usually need medical treatment. An adult who continues or begins to sleepwalk is at a greater risk of injury. In this case, it would be a good idea to seek the advice of a board certified sleep medicine physician. 

A sleep specialist will ask you to complete a sleep diary for two weeks. This will give the doctor clues as to what might be causing your problems. A sleep medicine physician will try to determine if there is something else that is causing your sleepwalking or making the symptoms worse, such as:

  • Another sleep disorder
  • A medical condition
  • Medication use
  • A mental health disorder
  • Substance abuse

The sleep medicine physician may want to examine your sleep using an in-lab sleep study. To learn more about a in-lab sleep study click here.

Treatment for Sleepwalking

For children, sleepwalking tends to go away on its own as they enter the teen years. 

Sleepwalking can occur when sleep is fragmented by other sleeping problems. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common medical problem that can lead to frequent arousals from sleep. This may increase the risk of parasomnias such as sleepwalking. The treatment of OSA may improve sleepwalking. 

© 2018 Intermountain Healthcare. All rights reserved. The content presented here is for your information only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, and it should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns.