You’ve seen sleepwalkers depicted in movies, on TV, and even in some beloved cartoons. From the hilarious Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly in Step Brothers to Disney’s take on a sleepwalking Pluto, we’re used to seeing sleepwalking in a humorous light. However, sleepwalking isn’t always a laughing matter.
Sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism, occurs when some parts of the brain are awake while other parts of the brain are still asleep. While sleepwalking more commonly affects children, about 25% of children who sleepwalk will continue to do so through adulthood, according to a study done by the University of Montreal. This study also explains that sleepwalking may be genetic, with 80% of sleepwalkers having a family history of the disorder. Although there is no clear cause for sleepwalking, anxiety and stress, lack of sleep, use of alcohol and certain medications can increase a person’s chance of sleepwalking if they are already predisposed to it.
Most sleepwalkers perform routine activities such as changing their clothes, sitting up in bed, watching TV, or going to the bathroom. However some people have reported much more dangerous behaviors like leaving their homes or even driving a car. The National Library of Medicine says that most sleepwalking episodes last for no more than 10 minutes, although some rare instances have been reported to last for over a half hour.
Now there’s a new generation of somnambulism referred to as “sleep-texting”. We live in a world of constant connection. The ability to communicate and connect with others at any time of day has become a great convenience, except for when you’re trying to get some sleep! Sleep-texting is exactly what it sounds like—sending a message while you’re sleeping that you don’t remember sending upon waking up. Some people have reported sending messages to unintentional recipients or sending messages that make no sense to them upon waking up. To prevent sleep-texting, shut down all of your electronic devices before going to sleep. You’re less likely to send a message in your sleep if you have to go through the extra step of turning on your phone. You can learn more about the benefits of “unplugging” before bed here.
So, what do you do if you encounter a sleepwalker or sleep-texter? You’ve probably heard the old wives tale to “never wake a sleepwalker”, but this is not always the case. If you wake a sleepwalker they may become disorientated or confused. However, if you know someone with a history of getting into precarious sleepwalking situations, then it is safer to wake them in order to prevent them from accidentally harming themselves or others. If you don’t feel comfortable waking them up, you can gently guide them back to bed instead. If left alone, sleepwalkers will eventually go back to sleep, although they may not return to bed. They are more likely to go to sleep wherever is convenient at the time, such as on a couch, in a chair, or even on the floor.
If you have concerns about sleepwalking, be sure to talk to your doctor.
Contributor: Elizabeth Murphy