Sleepwalking More Common Than You Think

Author: Diane Dean, RN, LPC

Perhaps you’re that one who creeps people out by sitting straight up in bed with eyes wide open speaking coherently, with no memory of such upon wakening. Or perhaps you’re that zombie-like individual (you know, the one who walks with arms outstretched at the midnight hour in cartoons), rambling nonsense. We can all make light of sleep walking or sleep talking in hindsight. Funny. But sleepwalking disturbs us. It’s downright scary–and dangerous–for the victims and those who witness it.

Sleepwalking affects up to 15% of the general population, and it affects more children than adults. Those ages 3 to 7 find themselves more prone to sleepwalking, as well as those who wet the bed or suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.

Symptoms of sleepwalking include sitting up in bed and looking around, walking while sleeping, or performing complex behaviors, like driving, while asleep. Sleepwalkers are difficult to rouse, given that they remain asleep even though it appears as though they are wide awake.

Common triggers for sleepwalking include:

• Sleep deprivation
• Sedative agents (including alcohol)
• Febrile illnesses (fever)
• Certain medications

Improve Sleep Hygiene – “Sleep hygiene” is a term used to describe things that we can do to improve our sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the most important sleep hygiene technique is to develop a regular sleep and wake pattern each and every day. Other measures include:

• Avoid napping during the day
• Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine and alcohol too close to bedtime
• Exercise to promote good sleep. Avoid exercising too late in the day, however, which may disrupt sleep
• Avoid heavy eating just before bedtime
• Ensure adequate exposure to natural light, which helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle
• Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine
• Associate your bed with sleep only
• Ensure a peaceful and comfortable sleeping environment in terms of mattress comfort, lighting and temperature

Sleep Aids – Although some medications may impair sleep or spur sleepwalking episodes, some may aid sleep, resulting in less sleep deprivation, which helps reduce the incidence of sleepwalking. Effective natural sleeping aids include 5-HTP, melatonin and valerian root. Studies support that valerian, when taken for up to six weeks, can improve the quality of sleep and diminish the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. Studies suggest that melatonin can help older people fall asleep faster. Some suggest that 5-HTP, converted from amino acid L-tryptophan, may naturally induce the production of melatonin. Some pharmacological agents, such as sedatives, hypnotics or antidepressants may also effectively treat sleepwalking.

Create a Safe Environment – Because sleepwalking entails performing complex behaviors while unconscious, it’s imperative to ensure that harmful objects are out of reach of the sleepwalker. That might mean locking certain doors, hiding keys or placing barriers like gates in strategic places.

Hypnosis – Studies have shown that adults who sleep walk may note a reduction or elimination of this behavior when treated with hypnosis.

When it comes right down to it, perhaps the best treatment is prevention. In other words, if there is an identifiable cause, treat it. Often fatigue, stress or medications may be the culprit. Only in treating these underlying causes can creepy sleep walking abate. Be sure to speak with your healthcare professional to determine the most effective treatment for you.

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