We all probably have heard stories about sleepwalking, but what exactly is it and why is it occurring? Sleepwalking is also known as Somnambulism and is characterized by behaviour performed during sleep such as standing, sitting up or walking while sleeping. Sleepwalkers typically have no recognition of the event and when they are encountered in the act, it is difficult to wake them up. This is because the sleepwalker usually remains in deep sleep throughout the sleepwalking event.
Sleepwalking is generally more common in children. Based on statistic, about 70% of children sleepwalked and the majority of them get over it when by the age of 15. However, there is still small proportion of people (about 4%) who persisted throughout adult life.
Sleepwalking disorder is known to have a strong hereditary component where almost 50% of sleepwalkers have reported history of sleepwalking behaviour in their family. It can also occur in people who are not normally a sleepwalker where the sleepwalking behaviour is triggered by external factors such as drug, medication and alcohol. For instance, anti-anxiety, anti-psychotic or anti-seizure medication has been known to be able to induce sleepwalking in patients. Stress, fatigue and tiredness from both psychological and physiological sources are also factors that cause sleepwalking disorder.
There are five different stages of sleep with the 4 stage being a part of the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. Sleepwalking behaviour occurs mainly after 3 hours of sleep because it is which is during stages 3 and 4. This is why sleepwalking tends not to occur during naps.
During the initial stage of the NREM sleep, our brain transition from wakefulness to light sleep is characterized by shift in brain waves that indicates a decrease in brain activity. As the transition reach to the third stage of the NREM, our brain began to fall into a deep sleep episode. After the fourth stage, the transition to realm sleep and during this period, our brain activity goes up and dreaming occurs. Although our brain is more active during this stage, our body motor pathway are inhibited which causes temporary paralysis of the skeletal muscle and hence cause no body movement. However, contradict to sleepwalking patients; although they are unconscious during sleep, the brain still has the access to the same motor system that we used in our daily life resulting in movement during sleeping. The movement can range from simple action such as sitting or up to more complex actions. It has been shown that patients with sleepwalking disorder have an abnormality in their sleep wave regulation during NREM sleep where they have rapid brain activities as compared to non-sleep walkers.
Many cases of sleepwalking had been reported for years and some of them are even extreme. For instance, recently in the US, a man undiagnosed sleepwalking nearly killed himself while he sleepwalked and almost fall into the 60 feet cliff. On the other case in Norway, a four year old girl was found in the nearby town alone after sleepwalking from her home which is four kilometres away from the town.
Although treatment such as sedative and hypnotize has been used to treat the symptoms of sleepwalking, there is no definitive cure. However, there are ways to reduce it occurrences or it impacts. For instance, for adults who are sleepwalkers, healthy lifestyle practice and healthy diet could help to reduce sleepwalking behaviour as it helps to reduce the stress levels and also reduce consumption to alcohol and drugs. Lock your room’s windows and doors before you sleep would be one of the best options to reduce the impacts of your sleepwalking action.
Does anyone ever experienced sleepwalking throughout their life or know someone closer who is a sleepwalker? I am keen to know how they encountered it.