Sleepwalking occurs when you get out of bed and walk around, even though you are asleep. You can perform complex actions while you sleepwalk, and sometimes these actions can involve embarrassing or inappropriate behavior.
Sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism, usually occurs within the first one to two hours after falling asleep. It is unlikely to occur during naps. An episode typically lasts just a few minutes, but can last longer.
About Sleepwalking Episodes
If you sleepwalk, you probably won’t remember what happens during the episode. If you have ever seen someone else sleepwalking, however, you know how startling it can be. They may sit up in bed and open their eyes, wearing a glazed or glassy-eyed expression. They might get out of bed and perform routine tasks, such as getting dressed or making a snack. They may talk – or even shout – but not respond to or communicate with others, or respond with bizarre comments they wouldn’t make while awake.
Someone who sleepwalks is usually difficult to rouse. He may be disoriented, confused or even combative for a short time after waking up. He might fall back asleep quickly. Most people do not remember the episode in the morning.
In some cases, a sleepwalker will leave the house, drive a car, or engage in unusual behavior. Sleepwalking can cause injury if the individual falls down stairs, crashes a car, or jumps out of a window.
When to See a Sleep Specialist
Occasional sleepwalking is usually not a cause for concern. However, you may want to see our sleep specialists at O2 Pulmonary & Sleep Group if you experience an episode more than once or twice a week, if your episodes endanger yourself or the health and well-being of others, or if your sleepwalking activities significantly disrupt the sleep habits of the other people living in your home. A visit with a sleep doctor may also be in order if you are an adult who has recently begun sleepwalking, but never experienced an episode as a child.
A sleep doctor may help determine the underlying cause of the episodes. Possible causes include:
- Sleep deprivation
- Disruptions to the sleep schedule
- Certain medications and substances
Sometimes an underlying medical condition can cause somnambulism, including:
- Sleep – disordered breathing – obstructive sleep apnea and other breathing disorders that cause abnormal breathing patterns during sleep
- Narcolepsy – a condition where the brain has trouble regulating wake/sleep cycles
- Restless leg syndrome
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Mental health issues such as depression or anxiety
- Certain other medical conditions
Our sleep doctors will perform tests to determine the cause of your episodes. Polysomnography records your brain waves, the oxygen level in your blood, heart rate and breathing, as well as eye and leg movements as you sleep. This information helps doctors determine if you have a sleep disorder.