Why Do We Sleepwalk?

Finding your child or any family member roaming around the house while still sleeping is very disturbing. We are never sure what to do: wake them up, make sure they are not going to the roof or drive a car, or just let them be. While scary to deal with, sleepwalking  is not so uncommon. Scientists found that more than one million or 3.6 percent of the American adults sleepwalk fairly regularly. This is much more common than previously thought. The results of the study conducted by the researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine show the link between sleepwalking and sleep and psychiatric disorders like anxiety and depression. Their results were published in the recent issue of the Neurology journal.

What makes people sleepwalk?

Besides depression and anxiety, scientists found that some other health issues make people walk in their sleep: obstructive sleep apnea, circadian rhythm sleep disorder, insomnia, alcohol abuse, obsessive-compulsive disorder, over-the-counter sleeping pills, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or antidepressants. Some people simply have family history of sleepwalking.

Why some people sleepwalk is not completely understood. It has been hypothesized that it happens because of some kind of incomplete transfer from brain frequency characteristic of being asleep, to frequency of being awake. It is just an idea, since no such center in the brain has been located.

Should it be treated?

Sleepwalking is not serious as long as the person is safe. Making sure that your child or any other family member who regularly sleepwalks cannot leave the safe bedroom is the best way of dealing with it without any drugs. Another safe and effective intervention is to wake him or her up several times during the night. The explanation why this works seems to be because REM sleep occurs at predictable intervals and waking a person up resets the mechanism responsible.

For adults, flurazepam and clonazepam are often prescribed in order to suppress REM sleep. The drugs are often used together with psychotherapy. For some people who do not respond to benzodiazepines, some anticonvulsants and tricyclic antidepressants can be tried as well.


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