Why do people sleepwalk? Sleepwalking can be defined as someone exhibiting a complex behavior whilst asleep. It is basically a sleep disorder: the person goes to bed as normal, but instead of staying tucked up under their duvet all night long like the rest of the family, they get up and do all kinds of things, from walking around to cooking a meal and murdering their spouse — all while asleep.
So Why do People Sleepwalk?
Sleep experts refer to sleepwalking as a disorder of arousal, also known as somnambulism. Sleep occurs in cycles, from deep sleep in the early stages through to REM sleep when most of our dreaming takes place.
Sleepwalking normally happens during the deep sleep stages of the sleep cycle and can last from a few minutes to an hour or more.
Sleepwalkers can do all kinds of things. Some do not get out of bed — they just sit up and maybe make a few noises or say something before going back to sleep again.
However, many sleepwalkers get up and appear to be completely awake, although they are in fact deeply asleep. Sleepwalking people have been known to do all kinds of complex activities whiles asleep, but despite this, the person will have no recollection of their nocturnal activities once they wake up the next morning.
What Causes Sleepwalking?
There appear to be several factors responsible for sleepwalking. It tends to run in family clusters, so if you have a close relative with a history of somnambulism, you are ten times more likely to sleepwalk than another person.
If one parent sleepwalks, the risk factor is 45% in their children, and if both parents sleepwalk, the risk factor increases to 60%.
Environmental issues can lead to sleepwalking, including stress, sleep deprivation, and reactions to certain drugs.
There are also several physiological factors known to be linked with sleepwalking: pregnant women are more likely to sleepwalk, as are people who suffer from night time asthma, sleep apnea, abnormal heart rhythms, certain psychiatric disorders and various other medical conditions.
However, because sleepwalking occurs equally in male and females, it is likely that a combination of several factors is responsible for whether an individual will sleepwalk.
The habit is much more common in children and it is most likely to affect children between the ages of 4 and 8.
Some experts believe that sleepwalking is caused in part by an immature central nervous system—as the child matures, sleepwalking becomes less frequent and by the time adulthood is reached, the habit is fairly rare.
Is Sleepwalking Connected With Other Sleep Disorders?
Studies carried out on children who sleepwalk has shown that sleepwalking is very often linked to other sleep disorders and when the other disorder is treated, the sleepwalking tends to disappear.
Sleepwalking in adults is far rarer, but can sometimes be symptomatic of a psychological disorder or drug use. Adults who suffer from migraine headaches or Tourette Syndrome are much more likely to sleepwalk, as are those taking certain medications such as benzodiazepines and amitriptyline.