Somnambulism / Sleepwalking, Part 1

Sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism, is a parasomnia that tends to occur during arous­als from slow-wave sleep. It most often emerges in the first third or first half of the sleep period when slow-wave sleep is more common.

Sleepwalking consists of a series of complex behaviours that culminate in walking around with an altered state of consciousness and im­paired judgment.

Before walking the person often sits up in bed and looks about in a confused manner with eyes wide open. Some­times the person immediately gets up and walks or even bolts from the bed running. The sleepwalker can be hard to awaken. Once he or she is awake, the person is often confused and has little recall of the event. The sleep­walking may end suddenly, sometimes in unusual or inappropriate places. In other cases the person may return to bed and continue sleeping without ever becoming alert.

Sleep talking is a common sleep disorder that is classi­fied as an isolated symptom.

It can arise during any stage of sleep and can occur with varying levels of com­prehensibility. The sleep talker tends to be unaware of the problem, but loud and frequent talking can disturb the sleep of the bed partner. At times the content of the talking can be objectionable and offensive to others.

PREVALENCE

Sleepwalking occurs in as many as 17 percent of children and four percent of adults. Sleep talking occurs in half of young children and in about five percent of adults.

RISK GROUPS

Sleepwalking tends to be a fairly normal part of a child’s development, peaking by the age of eight to 12 years. When they were younger most children who sleepwalk had another parasomnia called confusional arousals. Sleepwalking is more com­mon when one parent has a history of the disorder, and it is much more common if both parents were sleepwalkers. Sleepwalking may occur in people who have other para­somnias such as sleep terrors or REM sleep behaviour disor­der (RBD). Sleepwalking may occur as a rare side effect of medications such as sleeping pills.

Sleepwalking can involve strange, inappropriate and even violent behaviours. The person may walk out of the house or even climb out of a window. On rare occasions the sleepwalker may get in a car and drive. A sleepwalk­ing child may walk quietly toward a light or to the par­ents’ bedroom. Sleepwalking can be dangerous if the child walks toward a window or goes outside.

Sleep walkers get out of bed and move around the house during deep sleep.

Sometimes they may leave the house. Sleep walking usually occurs for just a few minutes at a time and may occur up to 3 or 4 nights per week. However, some people sleep walk for longer periods of time and less often. When it is over, most people are able to remember very little of what they did, if anything at all.

Usually, sleepwalking starts in childhood, becomes less common as a teenager and stops as a young adult. However for some people, it may continue for most of their life. The longer a child keeps sleepwalking into their teenage years, the greater the chance that it will go on into early adulthood

By Robert Ekow Grimmond-Thompson

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