Researchers don’t know the fundamental cause of sleepwalking, but mental and physical stress may be triggers.
A sleepwalking event usually occurs when you are in a stage of deep sleep called non-rapid eye movement (NREM). If someone tried to wake you, you probably wouldn’t respond or even remember it happening in the morning.
Sleepwalking is a relatively common condition, and most people who sleepwalk don’t require treatment. But it’s a serious condition that may be linked to your mental health.
Sleepwalking, also called somnambulism, is a sleep disturbance or parasomnia in which a person walks or moves around as if they were awake when they are actually asleep.
Experts have found that sleepwalking tends to occur during slow-wave sleep, a stage of NREM sleep critical for body recovery and growth. The condition is likely due to a disruption in how the brain goes through cycles or stages of sleep.
During a sleepwalking episode, you may:
- open your eyes and look around
- speak to or text people
- handle objects as if you were awake
On rare occasions, people have been known to cook meals or even drive a car. This is dangerous and can put yourself and others in harm’s way.
Also, other kinds of behavior can be observed while sleepwalking.
Someone who is sleepwalking may:
- get out of bed and walk around
- have a dazed and confused look on their face
- do routine activities
- use the bathroom
- eat food
- leave the house
- be difficult to wake up
It’s also very common for sleepwalkers to engage in other activities and have no memory of it.
Sleepwalking is a parasomnia, a behavior that you carry out while asleep. Though the fundamental cause of sleepwalking is unknown, several factors may influence the condition.
Some sleep specialists think stress can contribute to what causes sleepwalking.
Sleepwalking also appears to run in families. Researchers have found that people were more likely to sleepwalk if they had a family member who also sleepwalked.
Research has found that first-degree relatives (parent, child, or sibling) have a 10 times higher recurrence rate of sleepwalking than the general public.
Some additional factors that may have a role in causing sleepwalking include:
- sleep deprivation
- substance use
- restless leg syndrome
In older adults, sleepwalking may be due to an underlying health condition, such as sleep apnea or Parkinson’s disease.
Many factors can increase your risk of sleepwalking.
According to a 2012 study, people with alcohol abuse or dependence and individuals using over-the-counter sleeping pills were at higher risk of nocturnal wandering.
Another risk factor for sleepwalking the study showed was particular anxiety disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
The study also indicated that people with depression are 3.5 times more likely to sleepwalk than those who do not have depression.
Also, individuals taking antidepressants were three times more likely to sleepwalk more than once a month than those who did not.
The study revealed there is a clear link between sleepwalking and specific conditions. But researchers don’t know whether the medical conditions are causing the sleepwalking or if it’s the other way around.
There is no known way to prevent sleepwalking. But you can take steps to minimize your risk.
Here are some tips to try:
- Limit stress. Consider using relaxation exercises.
- Get an adequate amount of sleep each night.
- Avoid stimulation before bedtime.
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine
- Maintain a safe environment. This might mean locking doors or clearing away sharp objects before bed.
Therapy can also help. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of talk therapy, can help you counteract unhelpful thoughts about sleepwalking and teach you relaxation techniques.
Consider seeking medical treatment if sleepwalking is caused by an underlying medical condition, such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome. You may benefit from taking medications if sleepwalking is causing significant disruption in your life.
Sleepwalking involves walking or engaging in other activities while you’re in a deep state of sleep. It usually occurs after sleeping for 1 to 2 hours.
Somnambulism, another word used for sleepwalking, is more common among children than adults and is often hereditary.
It can be caused by stress, sleep deprivation, or other conditions and can be linked to anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders.
If your nighttime wandering is causing problems, and you’d like to help improve your sleep quality, consider limiting your stress or establishing a new nighttime routine.
If you’re concerned about your sleepwalking, consider CBT to help you reframe how you think about sleep. Consider medication for underlying health conditions.