Sleepwalking

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Biology 202
1999 First Web Reports
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Sleepwalking

Marion Howard

Sleepwalking is a sleep disorder effecting an estimated 10 percent of all humans at least once in their lives (1). This widespread phenomenon varies in its intensity and frequency. While most sleepwalking incidents are short and not dangerous, some can involve self-injury and are much more dangerous for the sleeper. Also, most interestingly, the disorder seems to stem from many different sources, not from one definable cause such as a chemical imbalance. While it is predominantly pre-adolescents who suffer from somnambulism, it is also observed in adults, although the frequency and severity of incidents increase with age. The source of the disorder was once thought to be entirely psychological and an extension of dreaming. It is now understood to be a complex combination of one or more factors, such as psychological and physiological factors as well as chemical interference (such as alcohol and drug abuse) (3). The source of the sleepwalking behavior varies according to age with the younger sufferers having more physiological problems which they grow out of, while older somnambulists, stress and substance abuse play a larger role.

Somnambulism is most common among children from the ages of 4 to 12 (3). Estimates for the percentage of the population which will sleepwalk at least once in their lifetime range quite a bit. Some sources say that most children will walk in their sleep at least once, with 15% sleepwalking more regularly (3). Others claim that 18% of the population is "prone to sleepwalking" (9). There is consensus, however, on the fact that boys sleepwalk more frequently than girls and that it is between the ages of 11 and 12 that the most cases of sleepwalking are reported (9). The fact that most children grow out of it after puberty and that people who start sleepwalking later in life tend to have the problem for the rest of their lives (9) seems to suggest that there are at least two classes of somnambulism, which may stem from different sources.

Sleepwalking most often occurs at a certain point in the sleep "architecture" (6).This is the point where the sleeper's brain waves have become larger and he or she has moved into deeper sleep. This is not REM sleep, but deep non-REM sleep. The series of complex behaviors characterizing somnambulism includes "amnesia following an episode," and "difficulty in arousing the patient during an episode" (9). The patient can also have other REM disorders or psychiatric and medical disorders which do not account for the sleepwalking. While sleepwalking, the patients' brainwaves show a mixture of types of brainwave patterns, including ones similar to those observed in waking patients, as well as those found in deep sleep. It is the "awake" patterns which match the waking behaviors like walking and talking while the patient is still asleep enough so that he or she is not aware of what it happening and is not forming memories of their actions (3).

The difference between older people's sleepwalking and that of children may be related to the sleep pattern changes a person undergoes as he grows older. Children spend more time in deep sleep (the stage during which sleepwalking is initiated) and as one becomes older, sleep is more fragmented, with more time spent in light sleep. The physiological aspects of sleepwalking probably have more to do with the cause of sleepwalking in children because they spend more time in deep sleep. To support the idea that it is physiological sources that cause the disturbance in their sleep, children undergo physiological changes (puberty) which cause the symptoms to go away without the intervention of drugs or other treatment. This is observable in the significant drop in post-pubescent incidences of sleepwalking. Drug therapies are also effective in stopping the problem for many children, implying that it is a chemical cause for the disorder in many cases involving young patients (5). There is also a genetic tendency for sleepwalking in adolescence which some people inherit and which plays out so that children in a family will often all sleepwalk, or uncles and parents will have sleepwalked in their childhood and outgrown it (3). This is another indication that childhood sleepwalking has less to do with psychological and substance abuse factors than with purely physiological factors.

On the other hand, if a patient begins sleepwalking later in life, he is more likely to have the disorder for the rest of his life (3). Stress and alcohol abuse, among other things, have been shown to contribute to sleepwalking among adults (3). Fatigue also increases the chances of a person sleepwalking because it forces the body to go into deeper sleep, allowing the dysfunctional transition into deep sleep to occur more readily, leading to somnambulism. Far fewer adults sleepwalk than do children, only about only about 1 in 200 (3). Adult sleepwalking is more serious in that it is often more aggressive, and so has more potential for self-injury. Sleepwalkers are not allowed in the armed services of the United States, at least partly because of the threat they pose to themselves and others when they have access to dangerous equipment (such as weapons) and are unaware of what they are doing when they sleep (2). Treatments for adult sleepwalkers often includes psychological treatment as well as relaxation techniques and sometimes requires anti-depressants to regulate the behavior (7). The difference in effective treatment from children to adult implies a different source for the disturbance. A more psychological or substance abuse-related set of causes seem to exist for adults.

Sleepwalking is a serious disorder for some and a mild annoyance for others. However, no matter whether it happens infrequently or often, there is the potential for harm to the person who is walking around without having full use of his brain's decision-making capabilities. The more common "type" of somnambulism, that affecting children, is less intrusive and goes away faster than the kind associated more with adults. This could be because the source is natural and a part of growing up and perhaps a part of the changing nature of the sleep patterns occurring during adolescence. Children grow out of their sleepwalking, but adults who suffer from it have in a way inflicted it on themselves or been influenced by the outside world. They then have to treat this other problem, such as a psychological problem, stress, or a drug habit, in order to get rid of the symptoms.

WWW Sources

1)"Is Sleepwalking Normal for Children?"

2) "Sleepwalking Question." by Carol King.

3)"Night Flying-An Overview of the Parasomnias." By Mark Mahowald and Carlos H. Schenck.

4) "The Sleep Disorders of Sleepwalking and Sleep Talking." By Jennifer Meuller.

5)"Paroxysmal Disorders."

6)"Sleep."

7)"Sleepwalking."

8)"Sleepwalking Disorder."

9)"Sleepwalking (Somnambulism)."

10)"Somnambulism (Sleepwalking): Guidelines for the Primary Care Provider."

 

 

Continuing conversation
(to contribute your own observations/thoughts, write in the Sleepwalking Experiences Forum on Serendip)


06/27/2005, from a Reader on the Web

I am interested in sleep walking. I did it as a child and have started doing it again. I am 51 years old and find myself in many different places in my home. I often wake up and when I figure out where I am I go back to the bed room and stay there for the rest of the night


07/01/2005, from a Reader on the Web

I am 28 years old. I have been sleepwalking for 10 years. I am aware of the situation when i sleepwalk. I just think the situation is real. I have gone looking for people that werent there. I have thought there were bugs everywhere. I have thought there was an earthquake. I will take my alarm clock off the table and put it under it. It makes sense to me as I am doing it. My husband will wake up and tell me that I'm dreaming and I get mad at him and tell him that it is real this time. I'm just wondering if that is normal with sleepwalkers---to remember all that you did. And is there anyway to stop sleepwalking.


07/06/2005, from a Reader on the Web

I have just got recently engaged to a wonderful man.We live together. He is so great to me, however, he has sleptwalked, talked and even fought ME in his sleep.(because I am right next to him) I was awakened in my sleep to him trying to gouge out one of my eyes,he has gotten up in his sleep and turned on the microwave in the kitchen, sat up and talked to me in his sleep, and so on. I am starting to get worried. It is getting to the point that I have to sleep in the daytime while he is at work, if I want to sleep. I read your posting on this site after having looked up sleepwalking in the search engine. Any insights you may have on this would be extremely grateful.

 

Additional comments made prior to 2007

yea so last night i think i was sleep walking. im only 15 years old turning 16 in like two weeks.but last night i came home i little drunk and was really really tired. i layed down and i just kept thinking about getting up and brushing my teeth and washing my face. i fell asleep and this morning i woke up with toothpaste in my hair and on my fingers and on my arm and leg. the only person that couldve done that to me would be my parents and im pretty posative it wasnt them but the bathroom was spotless when i woke up. so it lead me to believe i was sleep walking and tryed to brush my teeth ... James, 13 March 2006

 

 

Hi, my name's Joe and I have just turned 14. I am a really bad sleepwalker, I recently while asleep ran out of my room to the front door, ran outside and tried to jump over the neighbours fence, I know this because my Mum was watching TV and saw the whole thing. This is one of the worse sleepwalks I have ever done and I also sleeptalk alot and many other stuff. I am quite scared that one day I might wake up somewhere I have never been or even worse not wake up at all. And I would like to know if there are any things that can help prevent sleepwalking. Thank you for your time ... Joseph Agius, 24 March 2006

 

 

Hi I don't have a comment but a Question, a freind and I were talking the other day about sleep walking and the subject of not being able to wake a person up that is sleep walking because he said a freind of his had driven a car. I asked why they didn't wake him and he said you are not suppose to wake a sleep walker. My question is is that true and if it is true why is that? ... Les Redding, 8 October 2006

 

 

Hi i am only 11 years of age. I sleep walk probably almost every other night. When i wake up i have no clue what has happened.This morning my mom told me i had slepwalked. That night i went downstairs asked my mom what she was doing(of course i was sleepwalking) she told me she was going to go to sleep,then she asked me what i was doing then i said i was just going to watch T.V.She told me it was 11 o clock and i needed to go to sleep so i yelled "FINE" then went back upstairs. Later at 6:30 when my mom usually wakes me for school she called me then i yelled "morning!" then fell asleep. she noticed i wasnt down a little while later so she called.This time i woke up and went on with my day......Is that normal for a child my age to sleep walk? ... Ruby, 21 November 2006

 

 

I have a son age six who has been sleepwalking and talking scince he could walk and talk,he tries to get out of the windows, doors, and often throws his toys or what ever is in his way across the room cursing at what ever he is dreaming of, this is taking it toal on our family as he does not go one night without waking more than three times a night, he is a very emotional person easily frustrated etc. we are currently waitng on a hospital opt so he can be assesed but in the mean time do you have any advice? ... Leanne Fox, 11 October 2007

 

 

I am alarmed that you say those who begin sleepwalking later in life tend to keep it up. I am 67, and last night fell out of bed on my head. I hurt my arm and have a knot on my head. It hurt like the dickens. This is one of many episodes that I have had in the past 3 or 4 years. I have awakened my husband, telling him the ceiling is on fire, I have crawled over the footboard to "escape", tried to get out of the front door, etc. I am afraid I have some form of strokes. My doctor wants me to go to a sleep clinic. Any opinion? ... Martha Meyer, 18 october 2007

 

 

I'm interested in the subject of sleepwalking because i feel this is influencial in the beginning stages of life as a person. As a fact, we understand they grow out if it. Like if flowing in natural, somewho a stage or natural behavior into growing up. I'm trying to write a childrens book and so i want to be familiar to their way of thinking of learning. Habits that mark their life through adulthood and influence them to the their way of way of think and viewing perspectives. How are paradigms created? ... Juan Adame, 27 October 2007

Comments

Janine's picture

Midnight feasts

My husband of 9 years, tends to have midnight feasts - from midnight through to 3am. He insists this is sleep walking. Is this possible, or just an excuse.

Kidd's picture

I think i've heard a case

I think i've heard a case which the sleepwalker who woke up at midnight and went eating and she done it everyday yet she doesnt remember anything about it. i guess there's a probability.........

Anonymous's picture

does he take sleeping

does he take sleeping pills?
my mother had the same problem when she would use a sleep aid. She would actually dream that she was eating all sorts of sweets (normally chips, popcorn, icecream etc.) and in the morning, she would go to the kitchen to make coffee, and find a gigantic mess of food - all of which she dreampt about. it was a side-effect from the sleeping pills.

Anonymous's picture

Sounds like a sleep walker

Sounds like a sleep walker to me.

Anonymous's picture

Sleep walk urinating

As a child I would sleep walk. Now I talk in my sleep. When others try to wake me up i'll kick or swear at them.

But last night was my worst. I had several drinks at a bar and smoked an illegal substance. I went to bed..i was at my boyfriend's dorm. I slept walked towards my boyfriend's roommates chair and corner of the bed..a bit near his desk. anyway his roommate woke me up..by asking me what am i doing..i found my pants down tilt a little forward..urinating..i was so embrassed and confused..i just went back to bed like nothing happen. Now i dont want to sleep the anymore.I'm too embrassed.

Anonymous's picture

Drunken Sleepwalking

Hey all judge if you want but here goes. I am 26 years old. I drink socially, I smoke, and have previously had issues with drug abuse (5 years sober from drugs). I noticed about the time I quit doing drugs I started sleepwalking. at first it was just kinda weird and I shrugged it off. Then some crazy things started happening, I woke up once in the middle of the night to my girlfriend hitting and slapping me telling me to get out of her apartment. I was shocked, I had no idea why she was so angry, so I asked her..."What the hell is your problem...why are you hitting me", she stopped and then got angrier that I was "playing dumb", she said that she had tried to wake me up because I was violently punching the bed, and then I slapped her so hard on the thigh that I left a welt, anyway we worked it out and it didnt happen again for a few months (the sleepwalking, i never hit her again). I have never struck anyone else in my life prior or since that day I have done alot of extremely bad things but hitting women isn't oone of them. The sleepwalking is getting worse I think, I have been found naked in apartment hall ways, sleeping in the lobby of a hotel, urinating just about anywhere that you can think of. One of my friends pointed it out, that it seems to only happen when I drink, is this true? Can alcohol cause this? What should I do? I DO NOT WANT THIS TO GET OUT OF CONTROL, does anyone have advice for me????

Anonymous's picture

If you haven't noticed there

If you haven't noticed there are dozens of comments like yours in which sleep walkers stated they are drinkers or get drunk before bed and wind up sleep walking during the night. And alot of articles on this subject do list alchohol as a probable cause for some sleep walking. So my advice to you would be to quit drinking?? If you value your dignity that is, and might even prevent someone from getting hurt in the future, to include yourself. Seems like a bit of a no brainer to me. Further proof that alcohol and drugs never do anyone any good.

Jody's picture

Don't know if you're still there but...

I wouldn't judge you for this story but it may help if you completely avoid alcohol for a while (few months)...

My husband did this while we were dating - he had a period of time when he had a lot of anxiety and he was drinking too much... Normally 4 beers over the course of a night would not be a problem for him but for some reason it caused changes in personality and I do believe that he was sleepwalking at times when he interacted with me. Asleep and drunk is not a good combination. He would oscillate between being nice, being angry and fighting irrationally with me, and once he peed on the floor next to the bed. Then he would storm out of the house, and I would call him and beg him to come home. When he stopped drinking it stopped almost immediately and he was himself again. He currently drinks occasionally with no problems. Now when I notice this pattern starting, I ask him to avoid alcohol for a few months - he does, and there are no problems!

Personally, I am 26 years old and sometimes carry on conversations in my sleep. I sleepwalk occasionally when I am really tired and usually am aware but also dreaming (things don't make sense and can't control myself normally). I have been diagnosed with sleep apnea and have always been "very active" at night, but never have had any problems (beyond wandering the house and occasionally the street).

Angela Conradson's picture

Drunken sleepwalking

I got on the computer this morning searching for answers. My boyfriend is 24 years old and we have a 1 year old daughter together. He doesnt drink all the time, and he is very picky about what he drinks. The problem is, when he does have a day off to drink....he cant control himself. Sure hes hilarious, its what I have to deal with later thats ridiculous. He drank with some buddies at the house, and once they left he fell asleep in the basement. I tried to give him food, and I tried like hell to get him to bed. Finally I just left his food on the floor in front of him, and I slept in our room so I could wake him for work(thats where our alarm clock is). When he woke up the next morning he was pissed that I left his food out. He said that it had leaked, soaked the bag, and got all over the floor. That night I sat there thinking that the floor was WAY to wet to be from his stupid sub, and the dog had been in her cage all night. Sure enough, he had woken in the middle of the night and peed right on his dinner. He done this crap before, and its only when he drinks obsessivly. I can always tell when its going to happen. Hes uncontrolable, unresponsive, hes an asshole, and he falls asleep in random places. The next morning hes usually still a raging asshole. I dont know what to do....if you try to help him, he thinks your attacking him. I dont know how many friends Ive seen come and go. I just know as a mother, I cant deal with this forever. I hope this helped you in some way. Its not fair for someone to have to deal with it.

Anonymous's picture

You sound as though you have

You sound as though you have the same problem as me.
It is probably due to over tiredness not alcohol.

I specialise in being naked outside my home My Mother is very worred about - I'm 45! - but my friends dine out on the stories!

Anonymous's picture

i remeber it...and do freaky things!

I am 18 and have been sleep walking for quite awhile. It started with the basics of just talking in my sleep but its been getting worse and worse. I have found myself sleeping on the floor in the kitchen and i actually remember moving from my bed as i dreamt my grandparents needed my bed but i thought i went to lie on the couch. The other day i phoned my parents that were in the room next door to mine and then before they answered i think i noticed the ringing of the phone i then stood up and told my parents i was worried about the people we had left at the dance that evening, they told me not to worry and i went back to bed. The next morning they told me about it and i clearly remebered doing it? it is so weird! pls pls pls pls pls help me get this away! im so scared i do something or say something way embarrasing or freaky infront of my friends!!!!

Anonymous's picture

Husband

My husband comes home from the bar and talks of killing me in his sleep
We have been married 27 years...most nights it is different scenio but still always comes to my demise
He too pees in corners, dressers drawers and really off wall places
Should I be worried?

Anonymous's picture

Hi there, I have read your

Hi there,

I have read your email, unfortunately I dont have an answer for you but I thought I would write to you to find out if you found anything out. I have been with my boyfriend for approx. 1 year, and I too have noticed that after he has had a few beers and goes to sleep, he tends to sleepwalk in the middle of the night and urinate in awkward places. corners, drawers, closets, and the kitchen sink. This only tends to happen if he goes to bed drunk and the next morning he doesn't recall anything. My boyfriend is an amazing person and I want to help him, just not too sure on how. I have looked at different websites, and some say that they can be dangerous while sleepwalking. I really dont know if this is something I can deal with for the rest of my life if we get married....sad thing to say, this is what is holding me back. I am still looking for answers but if you do know anything that will help please let me know. I need help.

MICHAEL's picture

*~ok as far as i know this is the first time pretty funny~*

OK HELLO EVERYONE THAT I AM 19YEARS OLD AND I BELIEVE I'VE EXPERIENCED MY FIRST SLEEP WALKING INCIDENT. TO ELABORATE, I "BELIEVE" THAT AT SOME POINT DURING THE NIGHT I WOKE UP AND URINATED INSIDE OF MY TOP DRESSER DRAWER. I HAVE MANY NIGHTS TO WHERE I WAKE UP NUMBEROUS AMOUNT OF TIME WHICH I'VE KNOWN ABOUT AND HAPPENED TO SHUN OFF DUE TO THE FACT THAT NOTHING TO THE EXTREME HAS HAPPENED WHICH LEAD ME TO BELIEVE OR EVEN HAVE THE THOUGHT THAT I SLEEP WALK. THIS TIME I HAVE KNOW IDEA HOW URIN COULD END UP IN MY DRESSER. I LIVE IN A VERY CLEAN HOME WHICH WE ARE SURE OF THE FACT THAT THERE ARE NO RODENTS IN OUR HOME OR ANY ANIMALS AT THAT. I TRY TO THINK REALLY HARD TO TRY AND REMEBER IF I HAD WOKEN UP AT ALL THE PREVIOUS NIGHT WHICH I CAN'T BUT I DO HAVE VISIONS OF ME WAKING UP BUT I'M NOT NESS. SURE IF IT IS MY IMAGINATION OR IF I'M ACTUALLY HAVING/SEEING GLIMPSE'S OF MY "BATHROOM BREAK." I AM POSITIVE THAT I DID COME FROM ME AND I AM POSITIVE THAT IT IS URINE INSIDE OF MY DRESSER. GROSE I KNOW BUT YET SO FUNNY! I AM UNDERGOING SO MUCH STRESS DUE TO MANY INCIDENTS IN MY LIFE WHICH I WOULD NOT LIKE TO ELABORATE ON DUE TO THE FACT I DO NOT WANT TO BE PROFILED. I FEEL I HAVE PROBLEMS. MY MOTHER SAY THAT IT MAY BE BECAUSE OF MY LACK OF SLEEP DUE TO COLLEGE AND WORK AND ALSO BECAUSE THE LACK OF EATING. WHICH IS ALSO LEAD BY THE STRESS. I JUSTWANTED TO SHARE MY EXPERIENCE. IF ANYONE WOULD LIKE TO RESPOND FEEL FREE I NEED AS MUCH LOGICAL INFORMATION AS POSSIBLE. I KNOW IT SOUNDS LIKE SOME KIND OF DRUNKEN EXPIDITION BUT I DO NOT DRINK. PLEASE FEEL FREE TO RESPOND.

lisha's picture

Hi micheal how is your sleep

Hi micheal
how is your sleep walking now? as for me, i've just had a few episodes lately after never having done this before. i'm 48 and i thought this was a childhood thing. i have had a lot of stress lately and i do drink some and take antihistimenes plus since my son left home i don't eat as well as i should. please tell me there is hope out there. oh and i peed in the hall on a beautiful wool rug complete with the toilet paper roll right out of the bathroom....also put the sugarbowl in the microwave oven...go figure...

Anonymous's picture

It does happen...

This is so gross, and it consistently happens to me after a night of drinking. I'm also 19. The first time it happened my roommate found me peeing in her drawer. I was mortified, and convinced myself it wouldn't happen again. The second and third times she caught me before it was too late. Last night I actually left our dorm and proceeded to walk down the hallway. My roommate woke up and looked out the door and didn't see me. I've been trying to remember, but I have NO IDEA where I went, which really scares me.

This has happened to me 4 times now, so I think it's a serious problem. The problem, in my opinion, is worse because you would assume I'm a guy, but no. I'm a 19-year-old female, and obviously this behavior is mortifying and unacceptable.

If anyone has any suggestions to eliminate this behavior, please let me know. I don't want it to happen ever again.

Thank you.

Angela Conradson's picture

Sleep peeing

"Sleep peeing" is being linked to two things....Stress, and obsessive drinking. Yours sounds like it just because youve got a whole lot going on. If I were you Id just stop drinking beverages say...after 7, go to the bathroom right before you go to bed, and make sure your eating well and sleeping long enough. If it keeps happening, just set an alarm clock for a halfway through the night so you can wake up and take a bathroom break.

sheila's picture

sleep walking

am in my 30s..Early Last year can't remember calling the police saying i couldn't look after my baby or something like that. Next i hear the bell ringing, opening the door i saw two offices tellinng me they where going to take my baby as she was in danger. fought hard to keep her as i couldn't believe i called them because they woke me and my baby. Any way i lost her in the end. the problem is i used to sleep walk as child severely and once on two occassion as an adult i have been told iwas sleep walking. i dismissed the comment as it's a very annoying thing in my life. since i was a child, that evenning i had one beer and later a shot of vodka, could be the cause but what about when i was child or when i didn't drink but still slept walked. About nine years for the first time went to bed early at ten. i can't remember making that call, i have suffered from depression in the past, how do i treat something out of my control, and how i can help myself remember making that call. please help. i have tried to relax to be able to remember or for me never to be beaten by sleep walking, I hate sleep walking and am embrassed by it as i embrassing lossing control. Advise please i need it as much as possible for i feel angry even talking of sleep walking i feel it will detroy me and hope my baby doesn't get the condition. please help any one with a solution please any thing i need get it out of my system please help.

Anonymous's picture

why me?

I am 25 years old. Last night I had the worst case yet with my sleepwalking. I woke up on the couch with no pants on and no socks. The glass coffee table had fallen over and everything on the coffee table was strown around the house. I have also cussed out my boyfriend calling him a bastard and to get the f&$k out of my way or I would kill him. When I woke up he was in a ball on the couch and crying his eyes out. I told him it wasnt me that did it. i dont remember anything and I would never do that to him. I feel so embarassed and bad for doing these things. But its not really me. I dont remember. What should I do now to stop it. I do it now almost everynight! I have bruises all over and dont know where they come from and I am scared to hurt someone.

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