Sleepwalking Basics
Learn about the causes and treatment options for sleepwalking. Sleepwalking is an REM behavior disorder that can include include sitting up and...

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What Is Sleepwalking?

Sleepwalking (sometimes called "somnambulism") is a sleeping disorder where a person walks or performs activities while sleeping. People who sleepwalk may appear to be awake as they get up and walk around or possibly perform fairly complex activities like going to the bathroom, taking off his or her clothes, or moving furniture. In some documented cases, sleepwalkers have driven cars, climbed out of windows, and prepared complete meals.

If you encounter someone who is sleepwalking, gently lead him or her back to their bed. It is fine to wake the person up—especially if he or she is in danger. However, the person may be confused or startled when awoken and might lash out at the awakener.

Sleepwalking occurs during the deep, non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) part of sleep occurring early in the night. If it occurs during REM sleep closer to the morning, it is considered REM behavior disorder. Sleepwalking occurs most in children between the ages of four to eight. The reason why is usually unknown, and children tend to outgrow it. In adults, sleepwalking might be accompanied by mental disorders, seizures, head injuries, migraines, or a reaction to drugs and alcohol.

Symptoms

In addition to getting up and walking around while sleeping, symptoms of sleepwalking include:

  • sitting up and appearing awake
  • eyes open while sleeping
  • a blank look on the sleepwalker's face
  • an inability to remember the event
  • acting confused when waking up
  • talking during sleep in a way that doesn't make any sense

Causes and Treatments

Sleepwalking tends to run in families and can be triggered by the following:

  • fever
  • anxiety
  • fatigue
  • sleep deprivation
  • stress
  • sleeping in a new place
  • or certain medications

Sleepwalking is usually harmless, and treatment for sleepwalking usually isn't warranted unless the person is unusually tired during the day or poses a risk of serious injury to him or herself or others. Benzodiazepines and some antidepressants may be prescribed for a short-term use. Sometimes hypnosis is used. 

Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Edited by:
Medically Reviewed by: Jennifer Monti, MD, MPH
Published: Aug 25, 2010
Last Updated: Jan 22, 2014
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.
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