Sleepwalking occurs when a person walks or performs complex activities while they are not yet fully awake.
Usually, it occurs in the first hours after falling asleep during the deep sleep phase. Sleepwalking can occur at any age but is more common in children. It is thought that at least 20% of them may experience sleepwalking at least once. In most cases, the disorder disappears at the age of puberty but, sometimes, it can persist into adulthood.
In some episodes of sleepwalking the person sits on the bed and looks around seemingly confused; in others, she gets out of bed and walks, opens wardrobes, gets dressed or eats or appears agitated. In extreme cases it can even leave the house and perform complex actions such as driving a car.
During the episode of sleepwalking the eyes are generally open, although with a look that crosses people without recognizing them. In addition, the person is often able to move well between familiar objects and can respond, at least in part, if spoken to. by the way or saying nonsense.
Most episodes last less than 10 minutes, but in some cases it can last longer. At the end of each episode, the person may wake up or go back to bed and go to sleep. In the morning when you wake up, usually, you will not have a memory or will have a fragmented memory. If, on the other hand, she is awakened during the episode of sleepwalking, she may feel confused and agitated and not remember anything about what happened.
The exact cause of sleepwalking is unknown, but it appears to be hereditary in nature. In fact, there is a greater probability of having episodes of sleepwalking if in the family of origin there are already people with this disorder or with night fears.
Causes that can trigger sleepwalking, or make it worse, are:
- stress and anxiety
- infections with fever (especially in children)
- excessive alcohol consumption
- narcotic substances
- some medications, such as sedatives
- being abruptly awakened by a noisewhile in deep sleep
Other sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome can cause sleepwalking episodes.
If occasional, episodes of sleepwalking do not require special attention from the doctor. In fact, they rarely represent signs of something serious and generally improve over time, particularly in children. However, it is advisable to see a doctor. of general medicine if the episodes become frequent, if you believe you are at risk of running into dangerous situations with the possibility of harming yourself or causing it to others, if the episodes persist or arise in adulthood.
The general practitioner may prescribe a visit to the neurologist, a specialist in sleep disorders, to rule out the presence of other disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome and receive appropriate treatment.
There is no specific cure for sleepwalking but it usually helps to sleep for an adequate amount of time and to maintain regular, relaxing habits (routines) before going to sleep such as:
- go to bed at the same time every night, When possible
- make sure the bedroom is dark and quiet
- limit drinks, especially those containing caffeine
- going to the bathroom (emptying the bladder) before bedtime, to avoid having to get up during the night
- find ways to relax, such as taking a warm bath, reading, or breathing deeply
If the disorder affects a child and the episodes of sleepwalking generally occur at the same time of the night, you can try to keep them awake for about 15-30 minutes before the time when sleepwalking normally occurs, so as to prevent them from occurring. to change the sleep cycle.
Usually, no medicines are prescribed. However, in cases of frequent episodes of sleepwalking or in those that put the safety of the person or others at risk, the neurologist may prescribe benzodiazepines or antidepressants. These drugs promote sleep and reduce the frequency of sleepwalking episodes. , therapies like that cognitive behavioral or thehypnosis can prove useful.
To prevent sleepwalking it is necessary to act on the causes that favor its appearance; Getting enough sleep and strategies to treat and reduce stress are helpful. In addition, it is important to keep the areas of the house where the sleepwalker usually walks free of obstacles to prevent them from getting hurt. It is also good to make sure that doors and windows are closed.
If a child is a sleepwalker, you should avoid making him sleep in the upper part of a bunk bed, make sure that there is a well-closed gate at the top of any stairs and instruct any people who have the task of supervising him at night (such as, e.g. the babysitter, relatives or friends) about what to do in case an episode occurs.
The main thing in the presence of a person with an episode is to ensure their safety. Therefore, it will be necessary to bring her back to bed gently, reassuring her. If she is not awakened, she will often go to bed and sleep again.Sometimes, gently waking her up and walking her to bed only after she has fully recovered from the sleepwalking episode can prevent recurrence of the episodes. It is important not to yell or yank the sleepwalker and not try to physically restrain them unless they are in danger immediate, as it may fidget.
NHS. Sleepwalking (English)