What Is Sleepwalking?

Sleepwalking which in medical terms is known as somnambulism is a sleep disorder in which individuals walk around in a state of sleep. Tendency to sleepwalk is mostly found in children but can be seen in adults as well. It is a benign condition and generally occurs very rarely but in cases it becomes more frequent then it may suggest an underlying sleep disorder which may require treatment. Sometimes Sleepwalking in adults may be misinterpreted as other sleep disorders. It is important to note here that frequent sleepwalker needs to be protected from sustaining injuries.

Sleep Walking

Why Do People Sleepwalk Or What Causes Sleepwalking?

There are many factors which may cause an adult or a child to walk in sleep like:

  • Being sleep deprived regularly
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Excessive stress
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • High fever
  • Frequent sleep disruptions.

There are certain medications like hypnotics or sedatives as well as use of alcohol that may cause people to Sleepwalk.

Sleepwalking may also be caused by certain underlying medical conditions like:

What Are The Risk Factors For Sleepwalking?

Some of the factors which increase the risk of sleepwalk are:

  • Genetic Orientation: Sleepwalking runs in family and if an individual has a prior family history of Sleepwalking then more often than not that individual will also suffer from the same.
  • Age: Walking in Sleep is seen more in children than in adults.

What Are The Symptoms Of Sleepwalking?

Another term for Sleepwalking is parasomnia which is an involuntary or an undesirable behavior while sleeping. Sleepwalking is a type of sleep disorder which occurs when the individual is in the deepest form of sleep. Walking in sleep normally occurs in the early stages of night after about a couple of hours of falling asleep lasting about a minute or so but in some cases it lasts even longer. When an individual is suffering from Sleepwalking then he or she will

  • Get out of bed and walk around
  • Sit up suddenly in bed and stare straight ahead
  • Have a glazed facial expression
  • May do all the routine activities that the individual performs while awake like getting dressed, putting on shoes, or even making a snack
  • Does not respond to anyone
  • Tough to wake the individual up from an episode
  • Confused after waking up from an episode
  • Immediately goes back to sleep
  • Does not remember the event after waking up
  • Excessive fatigue and daytime drowsiness due to poor sleep.

In rare cases an individual with the habit of walking in sleep may do the following:

  • Go out of the house
  • Do something like driving a vehicle
  • May perform sexual activity without even knowing about it
  • Can get injured like falling in the steps.

How Sleepwalking Diagnosed?

Majority of the times the partner of the individual suffering from Sleepwalking will come to know about the illness. At times, Sleepwalking may be confused with other conditions like sleep seizures or a panic attacks. To distinguish these episodes from Sleepwalking sleep studies may have to be performed. The most preferred sleep study performed to diagnose sleep disorders is a Polysomnography.

Polysomnography: This is a test in which the patient is connected to a device which monitors the heart, lung and brain activity, breathing pattern, and oxygen levels in the blood while asleep. This test by far confirms the diagnosis of a sleep disorder and allows the physician to formulate a treatment plan.

Oximetry: This test monitors the blood oxygen level while asleep and is an effective way to diagnose sleep disorder. In case of an abnormality, there will be a drop in the oxygen levels during an apneic episode.

How To Stop Sleepwalking Or How To Get Rid Of The Habit Of Walking In Sleep?

How to Stop Sleepwalking

There is no treatment required for an individual suffering from occasional episodes of Sleepwalking. Children suffering from Sleepwalking generally outgrow this condition with time. The best method to help an individual to stop sleepwalking is to take the individual gently back to bed and allow him or her to sleep peacefully. It is okay to try to wake the individual from sleep but it may disrupt the sleep further and may make the patient further agitated due to poor sleep.

Some form of treatment may be required for people who have frequent episodes of Sleepwalking. This can be done by identifying the underlying cause of the sleep disorder and formulate a treatment plan to treat that condition. If it is thought that Sleepwalking is caused due to a medication then change of medication may be required to help stop walking in sleep. If the patient has some sort of timing or pattern to the sleepwalking then it is better to wake the patient up some time before that time to avoid the episode. Sometimes antidepressants and benzodiazepines are also given for treatment of Sleepwalking.

What Are The Complications Of Sleepwalking?

Sleepwalking normally is not a cause for concern unless it becomes a chronic problem and causes distress to the patient and people close to them for fear of causing injury. Some of the potential complications of Sleepwalking are:

  • Injuries: People who suffer from Sleepwalking have a high likelihood of hurting themselves like falling from stairs or stumbling onto furniture etc.
  • Hypersomnia: Since people who sleepwalk have a disrupted sleep pattern hence they suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness.
  • The habit of walking in sleep is also a cause of social embarrassment.
  • Sleepwalking can cause distress to self and their family members.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:


Last Modified On: May 2, 2016

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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