Having a partner or child that suffers from bouts of sleepwalking can be frightening and frustrating.
Sleepwalking (also known as somnambulism) occurs while sleepers are at the deepest stage of sleeping, and is categorized as a parasomnia – a disruptive event that happens only during sleep.
And part of what makes it seem so scary for both the sleepwalker and their family is the fact that they can’t just “snap out of it” when they are wandering around the house in a glassy-eyed stupor. In fact, most sleepwalkers are so deep into their night’s sleep that they don’t even feel pain or wake up if they happen to injure themselves while sleepwalking. Yikes!
Awakening a sleepwalker is difficult and can even be dangerous, as sleepwalkers experience sleep inertia (confusion and grogginess) upon being awakened, and they might even lash out with violent and erratic behavior.
So what do you do if one of your family members is a sleepwalker? According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), you should simply guide them back to bed and make sure that any areas of the house that the sleepwalker has access to is free of anything that could trip them up or injure them, as well as being sure to keep your home’s doors and windows locked.
You might also encounter “sleep talking” with those that have episodes of somnambulism. Don’t be tempted to engage the sleepwalker in conversation, as they will most likely have no recollection of what was said, which can increase your frustration levels when you think you’re getting through to them but you’re really not.
When it comes to discussing episodes of somnambulism with the sleepwalker the next day, you should use your discretion. Sleepwalking can often make people feel embarrassed, frightened, or even out of control.
Most sleepwalking episodes occur in childhood, with up to 17% of school-aged children experiencing some form of somnambulism, as compared to only 4% of adults. Most kids will outgrow sleepwalking as they progress toward the teenage years.
If you have an adult sleepwalker in your family, there may be an underlying cause. Loyola University conducted a sleepwalking study that showed nearly 1 in 10 adult sleepwalkers also suffered from obstructive sleep apnea. Adults that experience somnambulism should consult their doctor to determine if they have some type of sleep disorder that is causing them to sleepwalk.
While scientists don’t yet know the underlying cause for sleepwalking, there are some things that you can do to help your somnambulistic family member.
Keep a sleepwalking diary to identify whether or not you should be concerned. Write down the time and day of the sleepwalking episode, how long it lasted, and how the sleepwalker behaved.
Most sleepwalking episodes can be relieved by adopting better sleep practices in order to help the sleepwalker to get a good night’s rest, as researchers have discovered that most sleepwalking is caused by periods of sleep deprivation.