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Sleep Walking: a Condition That's Serious Business

If you have ever woken up out of bed in a strange place, then you probably know just how scary sleep walking can be. Also known as somnambulism, sleep walking is a sleeping disorder that most of us are at least somewhat familiar with, and it involves moving around and performing normal activities while still asleep. 

While most people who sleepwalk only move around a bit or for a very short period of time, there are cases where people have performed very complex tasks such as cooking or driving while still remaining completely asleep and unaware.

Causes of Somnambulism

Sleep walking usually happens during the deeper stages of sleep, and most people who sleep walk remain completely unaware of it, even if they are awoken during the act. Unlike most other sleeping disorders, the causes of somnambulism are not that well known and are incredibly wide ranging

It actually seems that one of the most common causes is actually related to genetics, as people with a family history of sleep walking are much more likely to suffer from somnambulism themselves. In addition to the genetic factor, there are also many other possible reasons that a person sleep walks, including:

  • Stress
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Poor sleep hygiene
  • Alcohol or Medication (sedatives, stimulants, antihistamines, and anti-psychotic drugs are all though to increase instances of somnambulism)
  • Abnormal heart rate
  • Fever
  • Sleep apnea
  • Psychological disorders
  • Asthma
  • Epilepsy or seizures

Symptoms of Sleepwalking

sleep walkingIf you have ever seen someone sleep walk, then you know that it is quite easy to spot. While sleepwalking, a person’s eyes will be open, but they will typically have a glazed over and faraway look to them. Additionally, if you try to speak to the person, they may answer you in very slurred or jumbled speech

Also, the person will most likely not remember the event, unless they are woken up before they make it back to bed. Most cases of sleep walking last for between two or three minutes up to thirty minutes, and if the person is not woken up, they will typically go back to sleep quite easily although not always in the same place. 

If you see your partner, friend, roommate, etc. walking around randomly during the night, maybe they could be sleep walking. Still other signs of the condition can include talking while sleeping (usually saying random or incomprehensible things), sitting up in bed abruptly during the night (usually look awake but will not respond), and sometimes even aggressive behavior towards a person who tries to wake them up, but luckily this seems to be incredibly rare. Still, there is an urban legend that waking a sleepwalker can cause permanent mental damage or psychosis, but this is completely untrue

While sleep walking, some people may simply just stumble around the room, while others have been known to perform much more complicated tasks. 

sleep walkingThere have been instances where people have driven while asleep, or started fires by attempting to cook while sleeping. Also, there are other, even scarier things that have been known to occur to some people who sleep walk. 

Some people have reported that their partner becomes very violent in the middle of the night and starts to hurt them, but eventually it is realized that this is all happening while the offender is still asleep. 

There is even a phenomenon known as sleep sex, which is a distinct version of somnambulism where a person attempts to have sex with whoever is around while they sleep. 

There have actually been several very public cases involving sleep sex, one in which a man was accused of rape until it was eventually determined that he often tried to have sex with whoever was nearby while he slept.

Treating or Preventing Somnabulism

In itself, this condition is actually considered to be quite harmless. In fact, the only real danger with this condition is that the person will injure themselves while walking around. Injuries due to walking in your sleep are actually quite common among those with this condition, so sometimes it is necessary to try and protect against these by moving dangerous objects out of the way or even locking doors to keep the sleepwalker out.

sleep walkingIf you have a child who sleepwalks, you might want to consider putting a gate to keep them in their room. You should also not let them sleep in a bunk bed, clear anything off the floor they might trip on, make sure there is a gate in front on the stairs, and lock the doors and windows to make sure they stay in the house and don’t get lost. 

As your child is very likely to be frightened if you wake them up, you should instead just try to guide them back to their bed as gently as possible if you find them walking around the house in a dazed state. Luckily episodes like this tend to get rarer and rare as the child ages, and they will most likely have outgrown the problem by the time they are a teenager.


Still, there are a few things that both adults and children can do to help prevents episodes of walking in their sleep. It seems that a high level of sleep deprivation often triggers this type of event, so it is important to get adequate sleep and prevent one’s self from becoming overly tired. 


Another way to prevent these episodes from occurring is to abstain from drinking alcohol or taking antidepressants as they can make the condition much worse and make it more likely for an episode to occur. Also, if you have a level of stress this can also be a cause, so trying to minimize your stress and ensure you go to bed relaxed can also help. 

Still, unless the problem is being caused by a medical condition or medication, there is not much a doctor can offer in the way of help, so trying to prevent injuries from occurring during an episode may be your only option.

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