What Causes Sleepwalking?
What is somnambulism?
Sleepwalking is also known as somnambulism. It is a condition where a person who is asleep, walks, or moves around as if they are awake. People with this condition carry out lots of tasks such as eating, going to the bathroom, getting dressed, and moving furniture.
It commonly occurs in children. It is important to seek treatment and take precautionary measures especially if you have someone with this condition around you.
What causes sleepwalking?
Medical conditions such as restless leg syndrome, obstructive sleep apnea, gastroesophageal reflux disease, or migraine headaches can manifest symptoms such as sleepwalking. It is thus important to rule out the possibility of such conditions.
Sleepwalking may be hereditary. It can occur in children whose parents have had somnambulism.
Some medications have been implicated in the causation of sleepwalking. Examples of such medications include antihistamines, and zolpidem (a sleep medication).
Symptoms of somnambulism
Symptoms are individualized. It may include sitting up in bed and either opening or closing the eye, having a glassy-eyed expression, performing everyday tasks such as turning the lights on and off.
The peak age of occurrence is in children aged 4 to 8 years and it is likely to occur during non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and within two hours after falling asleep.
The National Sleep Foundation advises that it is better to awaken a sleepwalker while they are sleepwalking. This should be done as gently as possible so they do not get startled. It is difficult to awaken them and even when they are awake, they get confused about their present location so it is best to gently lead them back to bed.
Sleepwalking usually occurs during deep sleep and not during a nap. Most sleepwalkers do not recall their sleepwalking episodes.
Sleepwalking is not disturbing as most children outgrow it. However, any case of somnambulism that occurs frequently or leads to injury will require the attention of a doctor who will rule out the possibility of a medical problem as the cause.
Keeping a sleep diary will be helpful when preparing for an appointment. It can also contain the type of food or drinks taken before sleep, duration of sleep, and other symptoms experienced during the sleepwalking.
Other household members should be involved, they should take note of the sleep pattern and symptoms observed. This is because the sleepwalker may not fully recall the sleepwalking episodes.
If a sleep disorder is suspected, a sleep study would be recommended by the doctor and this involves monitoring of brain waves, heart rhythms, and vital signs by sleep specialists while you are asleep.
Treatment for sleepwalking
Medications are not necessary for sleepwalking children. Why? Because they can be gently redirected to their beds.
It is important to treat any medical condition that could be causing sleepwalking such as restless leg syndrome.
It is important to also evaluate your home for potential hazards if you are prone to sleepwalking. During episodes, you are unaware of your surroundings and so stand the risk of injuring yourself by tripping and falling. Precautions that can be taken to avoid accidents during episodes include locking doors and windows before going to bed, taping electrical cords against the wall, keeping furniture out of the way before going to bed, and avoid upstairs to prevent falling off them.
Sleepwalking episodes can be made less-frequent by the use of medications such as benzodiazepines. These groups of drugs and antidepressants are used to treat anxiety disorders but have also been found to be useful in treating sleep disorders too especially diazepam and clonazepam.
Stress and anxiety are possible triggers of somnambulism and these drugs help manage these conditions.
This has to do with making the individual very relaxed and focused. It is a form of psychotherapy where a therapist makes healthy suggestions concerning the individual’s health issue. This helps the individual more open to receiving them as they would sink deeper into their consciousness.
How to prevent sleepwalking
Good management of stress, anxiety, or conflict will lessen the occurrence of a sleepwalking episode. Relaxation activities before bedtime such as reading, listening to music, taking a warm bath will also help lessen the occurrence of a sleepwalking episode. Extreme levels of fatigue can also cause sleepwalking. A sleeping schedule may be beneficial. Avoid intake of caffeine or alcohol before bedtime. Alcohol depresses the central nervous system and this can trigger somnambulism.
Tonika Bruce, MSN, RN, MBA. is an accomplished nurse leader, published author, and personal development expert passionate about advancing healthcare management and quality patient outcomes.
She taps into the years of experience in healthcare management to produce credible and easy-to-understand health and leadership content. Her exceptional work has been featured in reputable publications, including Forbes, Recruiter, Inc, and the Color of Wellness magazine.