Sleepwalking can be a scary thing for everybody concerned.
People don’t expect their family members to go wandering around the house at night, eat from the fridge, or evening going for drives – at least, not while they’re asleep. Many might even call it creepy.
And obviously, that must go double for the actual person who goes to sleep in their bed and then wakes up somewhere outside of it, sometimes in the house and sometimes even outside of it! That must feel like you’re in some kind of weird horror movie! Heck, it might be even more terrifying than sleep paralysis and that’s pretty bad already.
What is sleepwalking?
It isn’t that scary, though. Sleepwalking is a surprisingly common phenomenon. According to a study reported on by the CBS, 30% of American adults say they have sleep strolled at some point in their lives, while 3.6% of people, or about 8.4 million, have done so in the last year. It’s even more prevalent among children than it is among adults.
It can occur slowly, with people getting up and looking around in a confused manner. In other cases, people may spring from the bed, believing that the things they are imagining or dreaming about are actually in the room. People will have their eyes open while they are sleepwalking (so that answers how they navigate and don’t run into walls), but will often look confused and have a glassy cast to them. And when they are awakened, they often do not remember how they got where they are.
That’s an important point! You should try to wake a sleep walker! This does not, as some people believe, cause brain damage, any kind of episode or anything else negative to happen. That said, it can be incredibly hard and sometimes, sleepwalkers can resist (even violently). So be careful. Alternatively, you can try to steer them back to bed.
What causes it?
“Sleepwalking and related arousal disorders represent one of the least researched areas of sleep medicine,” Nancy Foldvary-Schaefer, the Director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Cleveland Clinic, says, “So we aren’t sure of the exact causes.”
That said, there seem to be some things that predict it. Sleepwalking can be triggered by work stress and similar life stressors. It can also be triggered by certain drugs, which include sedatives/hypnotics (or drugs that help you sleep), drugs that treat psychosis, minor tranquilizers and stimulants, as well as antihistamines. There also seems to be a genetic element to sleepwalking, with multiple generations of families often experiencing it.
Types of sleepwalking
Sleepwalking comes in many different forms. In its mildest form, it manifests as sleep talking. This can be quite cohesive if somebody engages in it during the earlier stages of sleep, with them possibly holding whole conversations or narrating whole stories. If the person sleep talks deeper in their sleep, then there is a good chance that what they are saying will make less sense.
From there it escalates, with people wandering around their bedroom, their house, or even outside. There have even been cases of people waking up driving their car! Other people eat, go to the bathroom (even though it might not be the bathroom where they go) or start preparing for the day in the middle of the night (talk about not getting your rest!).
Things you should do if somebody sleep walks
The first thing to do is not to panic. They have not been turned into zombies, they will not eat your brains, and there is no need for an exorcism. In most cases, the condition will go away on its own over time. To help the sleepwalker, remove all sharp objects from the room that they might bump into. If it’s your kid who is sleepwalking, don’t let them sleep on the top bunk! That’s just inviting problems. Remove weapons, keys, and any other things that could cause trouble. Not that it is likely, it’s just much better to be safe than sorry! To help sleepwalking children, consider installing gates at the top of stairs so that they don’t go wandering down them, where they might fall and hurt themselves.
If it happens more than once, it might be a good idea to speak to your doctor, who might help you identify the cause of the sleepwalking, such as life stressors or medications that you might want to stop taking. Interestingly, hypnosis has been known to work, so you might want to give that a try. Many reports suggest that a single session can sometimes be enough to end sleepwalking and restore a person to more normal sleeping habits. There are also some medicines that can be helpful, such as antidepressants, but your doctor can probably tell you more about this.
If it’s your child that suffers from the condition, then you might not need to do anything. It happens more often among children and is often simply outgrown. You just need to make certain your kid can’t hurt themselves. If the symptoms do continue into adolescence, then it might be time to speak with a doctor.
Some weird things that have happened to sleepwalkers
There are some fascinating stories out there about sleepwalkers! There is a nurse who draws masterpieces while he’s asleep. This is doubly strange because he has absolutely no interest in art while he’s actually awake. It started as a child when he’d start doodling all over the walls. Eventually, he purchased art equipment, which helped as now he restricts his works to these mediums.
Then there’s a chef who cooks during the night, preparing eggs, stir fries and other meals. The couple is a little worried, however, as he isn’t completely with it. Sometimes, he tries to put both a whole box of cereal and a whole carton of milk into a small bowl.
A woman got up in the middle of the night, logged onto her computer (she remembered the password) and sent emails to her friends. They read like something Hunter S. Thompson would write, with one reading, “Come tomorrow and sort this hell hole out. Dinner and drinks, 4pm. Bring wine and caviar only.” And another saying “What the…”.
And, of course, there is the sleep sexing, with people telling stories like giving blowjobs while they sleep or having sex with strangers. One woman was going down to her ex-boyfriend’s apartment, who lived in the same building, and had sex with him every night. No need to say that she wouldn’t remember it the next day, which, I’m sure, causes some seriously awkward situations.
These stories might sound funny to those of us who haven’t experienced them, but have no doubt that they’re quite terrifying for the people involved. If anything like this is happening to you, it’s important that you seek out medical help. A doctor or psychiatrist should be able to help and prevent such situations from manifesting again. For example, the woman who had sex with strangers stopped doing so after only going through counseling. No medicine was required.
Sleepwalking is not a well-understood phenomenon. It may be due to the fact that it can’t be induced and you have to wait around for people to do it, something that can be tedious. That said, it’s quite terrifying for the people involved, so hopefully, in the coming years, we’ll get a better understanding of this fascinating but strange condition.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Elaina Meiser is a graduate student and an enthusiastic blogger with a passion for self-improvement and motivation. She also loves creative arts, different tips & tricks guides, excursion and backpacking trips. You can follow her on Twitter @ElainaMeiser.
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