What Is Sleepwalking?

June 22, 2018 · Mattress Warehouse
what is sleepwalking

We are capable of some pretty quirky things in the middle of the night—some of which we’re not even awake for. Whether you snore, kick, talk, mumble, or even shake a little while you sleep — they’re more common than you might think. One of the most unique, interesting and sometimes dangerous bedtime anomalies is sleepwalking.

About 15% of children aged 4 to 12 will sleepwalk during their childhood. But only a small number, around 4%, continue this behavior into adulthood. So what’s the deal? What causes sleepwalking and how can you prevent it? Whether it’s yourself, a family member, or your partner, there are things you should know about dealing with sleepwalking.

What is sleepwalking?

Sleepwalking, or somnambulism, is a behavioral disorder that occurs during sleep and results in walking or performing activities that typically one would only do when awake. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why sleepwalking happens and why the brain issues certain commands during different stages of sleep.

Scientifically speaking, sleepwalking is a byproduct of normal physiological processes occurring at irregular times. Once you’ve woken up for good the next morning, you aren’t likely to remember any of your sleepwalking adventures.

When does sleepwalking happen?

Sleepwalking only occurs during the deep sleep before REM sleep starts. This is our deepest stage of sleep prior to REM sleep. Deep sleep usually occurs when our body is the most relaxed, but REM sleep occurs when our brain catches up and also calms down. This is why sleepwalking most often occurs within the first 90 minutes after going to bed — because you haven’t hit your REM stage yet.

This explains why children are more likely to sleepwalk than adults, because a greater percentage of their night is in deep stage 2 or 3 sleep.

Once your body hits REM sleep, you can still make movements or actions that look like sleepwalking. But it’s not called sleepwalking. It’s called REM behavior disorder (RBD), and you’re actually acting out your dreams.

Why do we sleepwalk?

There’s research to support that sleepwalking is genetic. For example, identical twins tend to both sleepwalk or not sleepwalk at all. Also, in the vein of genetic makeup, boys are more likely to sleepwalk than girls.

But outside of genetics, there are environmental factors that can lead to sleepwalking. Sleep deprivation, fever, taking sedative drugs, and intoxication can all lead to sleepwalking.

How do you stop sleepwalking?

It’s a common misconception that it is dangerous to wake up someone that is sleepwalking. In fact, people that sleepwalk could be putting themselves or others in dangerous situations with their actions. This makes it ultimately more dangerous for you to not wake them up.

But, there is a right and wrong way to do it. The sleepwalker is entirely unaware of what they are doing — remember, they’re asleep. So scaring, shaking, jolting or yelling their name are all wrong ways to do it. They could awake frightened, alarmed, lose their balance and even react with force.

The best thing to try is to guide them back into bed calmly, keeping them away from any hazards that may cause obstruction, tripping, or harm. It’s important to remain calm and wake them using soft tones and gestures because they will be alarmed upon waking.

Can you prepare the night before?

Yes! This is especially helpful for children that sleepwalk, so parents listen up!

  1. First, monitor the environment before bed. Make sure to remove all potential tripping hazards from the floor (toys, shoes, etc.).
  2. Avoid bunk beds, as these are especially dangerous for sleepwalking children.
  3. Be extra vigilant about their audio or video stimulation right before bed. Have them wind down with no screen time before bed. The stimulation right before bedtime will increase the chance of sleepwalking, while meditation or relaxation exercises help to prevent sleepwalking.

Sleepwalking due to sleep deprivation

If you’re looking for a long-term end to sleepwalking, for either you or someone else, it isn’t simple. The sleepwalking could be caused by sleep apnea, medication, or just genetics. But if you think you fall into the category of sleepwalking due to sleep deprivation, there are steps you can take to stop it.

Read more: 5 Effects of Sleep Deprivation You May Not Know About

Sleep deprivation can be caused by a combination of lifestyle, genetics, diet, and environment. If your sleep environment isn’t optimized for high quality sleep, you’ll notice. And the culprit could be your mattress. If you’ve had your current mattress for 7-10 years or more, it’s time to replace it.

Sleepwalking fun facts

  • Sleeping in a cool, dark room with no TV on or extra light can prevent you from waking up after you’ve fallen asleep.
  • A sleepwalker’s eyes are almost always open while they’re walking around, but they don’t see in the same way they do when they’re awake. They won’t necessarily register people or dangers in front of them.
  • Lee Hadwin, a nurse by day, has a rare talent when he is sleepwalking! He has drawn and sketched hundreds of world-class pieces of art.
  • In 2005, a sleepwalking 44-year-old woman sent out an email to her friends inviting them to a party she would not remember at all the next day! “Dinner and drinks 4pm. Bring wine and caviar only,” it read.
  • An 18-year-old not only jumped from her 25-foot-high window while sleeping, she did so without sustaining any injuries. Maybe sleepwalkers have superpowers?
  • In 2015, a Colorado woman woke up after sleep walking — 9 miles from her home.

Decrease mileage and get back to sleep.

Most cases of sleepwalking don’t result in harm or wildly abnormal events. But if you, or a family member, is at risk due to sleepwalking, it’s important to talk to a doctor. Anything that impacts your sleep health over a period of time can be a toll on your overall health.

If your sleepwalking is caused by frequent restless nights, you should consider how your bedroom and bedding contribute to your sleep quality. Ensure you’re getting the best night’s sleep possible with the right mattress for you. Visit your local Mattress Warehouse today to find a bed so comfortable, you'll never want to leave it.