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Somnambulism: What Is Sleepwalking?

Somnambulism: What Is Sleepwalking?
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Somnambulism is more commonly known as sleepwalking. Sleepwalking is characterized by walking or trying to perform daily activities while still asleep. Someone suffering from sleepwalking may walk around their house while they are sleeping or try to perform household chores while asleep. In some cases, the patient may actually try to leave the house while actually asleep. Somnambulism can be an isolated incident, occurring only once for the patient, or it can be a chronic problem that occurs several times a week or month. Sleepwalking is common, affecting 200,000 new patients every year in the U.S.

What Causes Somnambulism?

The cause of somnambulism is still unknown, but it can be triggered by the following factors:

  • Stress
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Family history of sleepwalking or sleep disorders
  • Sleep apnea
  • Certain medications
  • Antihistamines
  • Sedatives
  • Hypnotics

Types of Somnambulism

There is only one recognized type of somnambulism.

Somnambulism Symptoms

  • Walking during sleep
  • Grabbing for things or gesturing while asleep
  • Trying to perform chores during sleep
  • Trying to leave the house during sleep
  • Trying to engage in sexual intercourse while sleeping
  • Showing no response when someone tries to wake you
  • Open, glassy eyes during sleep
  • Irritability when awake
  • Drowsiness when awake
  • Confusion or disorientation when awake


Diagnosing Somnambulism

If your primary care physician suspects you are suffering from somnambulism, they will refer you to a sleep specialist for diagnosis. Diagnosis relies on report from the patient or observed sleepwalking activity during a sleep study. In a sleep study, you will be asked to stay overnight at a sleep specialist clinic and a technician will observe your behavior, brainwave activity, and other vital signs while sleeping. If you do not experience an episode of sleepwalking during the study, they may ask you to set up a video recorder in your home to catch a somnambulism episode.

Treating Somnambulism

There is no cure for somnambulism, so treatment relies on managing the condition. For many people, it will often resolve on its own and they will find that they have fewer episodes of sleepwalking – or none at all. Managing the condition relies on avoiding triggers like certain medications or lifestyle factors. You will also be advised to make your living situation safer for episodes of sleepwalking. This includes sleeping on the first floor of a building, to decrease the likelihood of falling downstairs during an episode. Dangerous items like knives, guns, or matches should be kept locked up during sleeping hours so that anyone suffering from somnambulism cannot access them during an episode.

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