What happens when you sleepwalk?

The technical name for sleepwalking is “somnambulism” and it is essentially when a person walks around whilst in deep sleep. It’s most common in children but is also suffered at times by adults, especially by those who are stressed or sleep deprived. Sleepwalkers don’t usually wake up whilst they’re sleepwalking and generally have no recollection of it when they wake up in the morning. If your partner is a sleepwalker, you may well find they’re difficult to wake up during these episodes, so unless they’re in immediate danger it’s best to just let it pass.

People who sleepwalk will likely carry out a range of complex tasks during their sleepwalking, such as sitting up in bed, walking around, or even leaving the house. In very extreme cases they may try to carry out familiar jobs they routinely complete when awake such as cooking or cleaning. Obviously carrying out such tasks when you’re asleep is dangerous so if this sounds like you it’s well worth asking your partner to wake you up if they can, as well as making an appointment with your GP.

Amongst the population as a whole, as many as 15% of people will sleepwalk regularly. In adults, sleepwalking can be triggered by a number of factors including certain drugs, alcohol consumption or illnesses. In children, sleepwalking can be the result of a high temperature, for example if they have a fever, although sleepwalking is so common in kids that the vast majority will have sleepwalked before secondary school age. Interestingly, sleepwalking is more prevalent in children who suffer with sleep apnea as well as those who experience bedwetting. They are also often related to night terrors and like most sleep disturbances tend to run in families.

What are the symptoms of sleepwalking?

Sleepwalking usually takes place during deep sleep but can also happen at lighter stages of sleep. It’s also most common in the hours immediately after dozing off, and sleepwalkers may be partially awake whilst it’s happening.

Although typically characterised by getting out of bed and walking around, there are other symptoms that may be present alongside sleepwalking too. These include:

  • Little or no memory of the sleepwalking episode
  • Talking whilst asleep
  • Difficulty in waking up the sleepwalker whilst they are sleepwalking
  • Screaming, shouting or night terrors
  • Unusual behaviour such as hiding in a cupboard (more likely in children)
  • Episodes of violence whilst asleep, particularly if attempts are being made to wake the sleepwalker up

What treatment is available for sleepwalking?

Sleepwalking can occur in a huge range of forms and for all sorts of reasons. It can also be temporary or something that continues most nights for years; indeed there may not always be an obvious cause. This means that treatment is highly specific to the requirements of the individual, as sleepwalking is really a symptom of other issues at play.

If you are experiencing sleepwalking, it’s important to speak to your doctor or a sleep specialist to make sure you’re not likely to injure yourself during an episode. They will also help to pinpoint any potential causes, such as stress, mental poor health, medication or other physical factors. There are also some alternative therapies available which you might find useful including essential oils and even hypnosis. Additionally, your doctor may be able to recommend a specific medication or sleep aid such as a sedative.

Don’t forget as well that comfortable bedding can help you massively when it comes to relaxing both your mind and body. New pillows in particular can offer extra support for your whole body, especially your neck and back. Our Kally Adjustable Pillow for instance is a great one to try for any sleeping position as it means you can choose the perfect height and firmness of your pillow. It’s made with four removable inner pads and a soft, quilted washable cover to keep you perfectly cool. It’s hypoallergenic too so ideal for anyone with asthma or allergies.

Coping with sleepwalking

Sleep deprivation is a huge contributor to sleepwalking so make sure you’re getting enough hours of good quality sleep when you can. It’s also worth cutting down caffeine and alcohol consumption and taking some gentle exercise like swimming or walking. A safe sleeping environment is also vital in protecting yourself during any sleepwalking episodes. If your child tends to sleepwalk then bunk beds are a no-no. Also make sure there are no sharp objects nearby or anything breakable. You may also want to install stairgates and locks on the windows.

Luckily sleepwalking is usually only temporary and is just another phase of childhood. But if you’re an adult sufferer or you’re worried about any aspect of sleepwalking either in yourself or another family member, we recommend making an appointment with your GP to discuss your concerns.

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