The Skinny on Sleepwalking
For those of us who are fortunate enough to sleep soundly (and in one place), the idea of getting up and performing tasks while asleep seems other-worldly.
But it’s more common than you might think.
Sleepwalking (somnambulism) occurs in about 15% of children, peaking between ages 8 and 12, and typically resolving during adolescence. Adult sleepwalking affects 2.5% of the general population, which may not seem like a lot but which amounts to millions of people. Drug and alcohol use can bring it on.
People with this condition may jump out of bed, walk around or even act out different activities -- from eating and rearranging furniture, to leaving the house and driving a car. Individuals who sleepwalk usually have no memory of the event.
It occurs while the brain is in deep non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM stages 3 and 4), which happens during the first third of the night. Basically, sleepwalking is an error in timing and balance, where something triggers the brain out of deep sleep and into a transitional state between sleeping and waking.
But the bottom line is that the cause of sleepwalking is not well understood. Just the same, it rarely involves any serious underlying medical or psychiatric problems. Treatment is centered on improving sleep hygiene, identifying and managing potential triggers and keeping the sleepwalking individual safe from harm.