What is Sleepwalking?
Have you ever wondered about being asleep and awake at the same time? Well, have you heard of sleepwalking disorder? In this disorder, the person performs activities during sleep that we do while awake. Sleepwalking is also known by other names such as noctambulism or somnambulism. The person suffering from the sleepwalking disorder is completely unaware of the activities he is performing while asleep. The activities can be cleaning, consuming food, walking to a bathroom, sitting up in bed, and talking. Even sleepwalkers tend to perform hazardous activities while asleep such as cooking, driving a motor vehicle, and even homicide.
A Brief History
The phenomenon of sleepwalking has mystified and surprised researchers over many decades. Little was known regarding the disorder until the beginning of the 19th century. At first instance, researchers thought that sleepwalking is the act performed by a dreamer of what he/she has envisioned in the dream. Also, it was studied and published that sleepwalkers tend to perform activities that they couldn’t perform in reality. For example, in one study it was observed that sleepwalkers also performed those activities while asleep that were endured by them while awake. Also, the repressed hostile feelings that they have regarding a person are expressed during sleepwalking.
In other words, the sleepwalkers repeat instincts and movements that they have during daytime when they are in a preconscious or conscious state. Furthermore, sleepwalkers also perform those movements to fulfill their unfulfilled wishes. The wishes could be of childhood time or when they were young and even recent. The unconscious instinctual demand could be expressed in the form of mobility during sleep.
The link between sleepwalking and dreams
Contrary to most people’s belief, sleepwalkers have little to do with dreaming. The stage when the sleepwalkers are in deepest sleep, no dreams are usually reported. Research has also found out that sleepwalkers have their eyes open during sleep and have non-rapid eye movements. Moreover, sleepwalkers have their pupils dilated. They appear to have a glassy-eyed stare or no expression. Sleepwalking is usually a disorder relating to non-rapid eye movements. Another sleeping disorder involving rapid eye movements while dreaming is not characterized by sleepwalking disorder.
Sleepwalkers and memory
Sleepwalkers may or may not recall the memories they have while sleepwalking. They may seem perplexed or confused while awake and might not know at which time they have got out of bed. Additionally, they may seem completely disoriented but this disorientation may fade away within minutes. There are varying levels of amnesia reported with sleepwalking; having little, vague, or no memory of activities performed during sleepwalking.
Causes of sleepwalking
The main cause of sleepwalking is still not known. However, many unproven hypotheses suggest that sleepwalking might be the result of the delayed maturity of the brain and the central nervous system. Also, other factors including sleep deprivation, excessive tiredness, slow-wave sleep, or fever may cause sleepwalking. Furthermore, genetic factors also make individuals vulnerable to suffering from a sleepwalking disorder. One study has found that children who have one parent suffering from the sleepwalking disorder have a 45% chance of suffering from this disorder. And, if both the parents are suffering, then the chances of children suffering from sleepwalking disorder increases to 60%.
Furthermore, hormonal fluctuations also act as contributors to sleepwalking disorders. According to one study, the chances of women suffering from sleepwalking disorder are higher before the menstruation onset. Moreover, the sleepwalking disorder is also linked to the differential metabolism of the neurotransmitter serotonin.
Moreover, according to one study, the chances of sleepwalking increase in patients suffering from other sleeping disorders. Also, some conditions such as Parkinson’s disease trigger the sleepwalking disorder in patients without any previous history related to the sleepwalking disorder.
Although the sleepwalking disorder is not harmful to the patient’s health compared to other sleeping disorders. However, sleepwalkers can physically hurt themselves while sleepwalking. They may suffer from minor or major injuries including cuts or bruises or fracture their bones while walking unconsciously. Moreover, sleepwalkers can damage themselves from a free fall.
There are still no proven clinical trials that can show the efficacy of the pharmacological or psychological intervention in preventing sleepwalking disorder. Despite this, a wide range of treatment options has been adopted and used to treat this disorder. Several medicines including anticholinergic (biperiden), antipsychotics (quetiapine), antiepileptics (carbamazepine, valproate), benzodiazepines (clonazepam, flurazepam, diazepam, melatonin, imipramine, and others have been used to treat the sleepwalking disorder. Researchers have also used and tried to incorporate natural herbs in medicines of patients of sleepwalkers.
Moreover, psychological therapies including psychoanalysis, scheduled waking, hypnosis, assertion training, managing aggressive feelings, relaxation training, classical conditioning, sleep hygiene, and play therapy have been used as well for treating this disorder.
If the sleepwalking is not causing or leading to any problems, then parents are usually reassured by doctors not to worry. Reassurance is another treatment option for patients of sleepwalkers.
It is important to take the necessary precautions so that sleepwalkers don’t hurt themselves. As a necessary precaution, knives or loaded guns should not be placed close to or nearby sleepwalkers. The doors of sleepwalkers could be locked. Also, alarm clocks or doorbells that rings can be attached to doors of sleepwalkers so that they or nearby people can awake in a case when the bell rings.
Please consult the physician of your choice before starting this, or any, diet plan or exercise program