Many of the portrayals of sleepwalking in film and television are that of a comedic sequence of events. Bumping into objects, performing amusing tasks, and just generally acting out of the ordinary while being oblivious. However, in reality sleepwalking can result in serious and dangerous situations at its most severe. This makes it important to treat the condition to prevent this happening.
What is Sleepwalking?
Formally known as somnambulism – or noctambulism – sleepwalking is the act of performing complex tasks while not fully conscious. It’s most commonly found in children with around 20% of them experiencing a bout of the condition at some point. However, it can also occur in adults as well. The causes of sleepwalking are numerous and the following stimuli can trigger or exacerbate the condition:
- Insufficient sleep
- High stress and anxiety
- High fever – especially likely with children
- Excessive alcohol
- Recreational drug use
- Certain medications, like sedatives
- Being suddenly – but not completely – woken by a noise or jolt
- Waking up to go to the toilet during a deep sleep
- Obstructive sleep apnoea
- Restless les syndrome
What Are the Consequences of Sleepwalking?
Although sleepwalking will often result in a simple absent-minded trip to the toilet, there are more extreme situations that can occur. Incidents that may result in injury or even a threat to life can happen. There are recorded incidents of individuals driving in their sleep, finding themselves on busy roads, and even operating appliances that could cause harm. Although these incidents are rare the consequences can be serious. Not only is the unconsciousness of the individual a significant danger, but the potential for waking up mid sleepwalk can result in someone being startled at the worst possible time.
In order to prevent episodes occurring treatment may be necessary. Due to the psychological nature of the condition there is no one treatment that can be prescribed, it is dependent on the individual. Most of the time it will require simple adjustments in routine and lifestyle such as:
- Having a consistent bedtime
- Improving your sleeping environment by darkening and quieting your room
- Not consuming fluids before bed, especially caffeinated drinks
- Urinating before bed
- Relaxing before bed, but avoiding the use of electronic screens
- If you know when you sleepwalking happens waking yourself for a short time before that time may help alter your sleep cycle.
These are just the simplest ways to help typical cases of the condition. However, in the most severe cases professional treatment may be used to help. Therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or hypnotherapy may be used. In rare cases medications like benzodiazepines (psychoactive drug) and antidepressants can help you sleep and reduce the number of episodes someone may have.