Sleepwalking disorder can be very scary for relatives of the affected person. The somnambulist usually has a blank staring expression and is completely unresponsive to efforts that are made to wake them up. If they do wake up, the patient appears groggy and disoriented and does not remember what they were doing during sleepwalking.
Top Five Sleepwalking Disorder Symptoms:
The disorder has to be differentiated from other common sleep disorders like night terrors, which have the same symptoms. The condition usually starts in children and may continue into adulthood. A few of the most common sleepwalking disorder symptoms are:
- The disorder starts with repeated episodes of rising from bed and walking around in the middle of the night. The individual can carry out simple tasks during the sleepwalking episodes or may just quietly wander about.
- There can be episodes of running, or trying to escape from the house or the room they are in. Repeated behaviors like combing the hair or sitting in chairs are common during sleepwalking episodes.
- Generally, the patient can be woken up easily from the sleepwalking episode and usually does not remember anything that they were doing.
- The patients can also be led back to their own bed without waking them up. Most of the time, the patient goes back to sleep without any disturbance or resistance.
- Some studies have shown that children who have the condition may be restless sleepers, which may contribute to sleepwalking.
Sleepwalking Disorder Causes
The causes of sleepwalking are not well known, but a disrupted sleep pattern can cause sleepwalking to take place at night. Sleep is usually divided into five stages. Stages 1, 2, 3, and 4 are called nonrapid eye movement sleep. REM or rapid eye pattern sleep (stage 5) is the stage that is associated with dreaming. During this stage, important hormones are released that contribute to growth and metabolism. All five stages last for about 90 minutes in total and repeat themselves throughout the night. Sleepwalking happens during stage 3 or 4 of sleep. These stages are usually four or five hours after a person has gone to bed. Because of this, sleepwalking rarely occurs during naps that are of shorter duration. Other factors that can contribute to the condition include:
- Genetic factors- Sleepwalking is more common in twins and is ten times more likely in male children.
- Environmental factors- A sudden change in the social environment of the child or adult, high fevers, stress, and even magnesium deficiencies can cause sleepwalking disorder.
- Drugs- Strong medication that has been prescribed for underlying medical conditions can contribute to sleepwalking. A few drugs that can cause the problem include antidepressants, antihistamines, neuroleptics, sedatives and hypnotics, and stimulants.
- Underlying medical conditions- Serious medical conditions like obstructive sleep apnea, GERD, asthma, and cardiac arrhythmias can contribute to sleepwalking disorder.
Somnambulism or sleepwalking does not require diagnostic tests. Sleepwalking Disorder diagnosis is based on interviews with relatives and friends. Sleep study tests may then be conducted. A detailed medical check-up is necessary to rule out other sleep disorders, stress, and psychological conditions that may be causing the sleepwalking.
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