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Definition

Sleepwalking is a type of sleep disorder. It leads to complex movement or action during sleep. Sleepwalking may include simple actions like walking or talking or more dangerous tasks like cooking or driving. The person often has no memory of the event since they are still asleep.

Causes

It is not clear why some people are more likely to sleepwalk than others. Sleepwalking may be triggered by:

Risk Factors

Sleepwalking is more common in children up to about 12 years old. It can happen in adults.

Your chances of sleepwalking are higher if you have:

  • Certain genes
  • A family history of sleepwalking

Symptoms

Movements or action during sleep is the most common symptom. Someone who is sleepwalking:

  • Will not respond to others
  • May have open eyes
  • Move in ways that don't make sense or are clumsy
  • May talk
  • Do not remember the event

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health past. A physical exam will be done. A sleep study may be done. Sleep will watched in a clinic. This will show possible sleep problems. An EEG may be done. It measures brain waves and can help to rule out other problems.

Treatment

Treatment may not be needed if sleepwalking does not happen often. Children may also grow out of it as they age. Sleepwalking may need treatment if it:

  • Makes it hard to get good sleep on a regular basis
  • Leads to harmful or dangerous events such as leaving house or injury
  • Interrupts other people's sleep

Treatment steps will be based on needs. Steps may include:

Prevent Injury

Make the home safer for the sleepwalker. You may need to:

  • Keep home clear from clutter, especially bedroom floor.
  • Keep doors and windows closed and locked.
  • Be aware of stairs. A safety gate may help to block the path. A bedroom on first floor may also be a safer choice.
  • Keep car keys safely tucked away.
  • Secure and weapons or knives.

If possible, guide a sleepwalker back to bed. If needed, it is OK to wake a sleepwalker. Wake them gently and guide them back to bed.

Awakening

Sleepwalking can be stopped by waking just before it would happen. Sleep and sleepwalking will be tracked over many nights. The sleepwalker can then be woken up 15 minutes before sleepwalking normally happens. Even a short break in sleep may stop sleepwalking from happening.

Other Treatments

Steps that may help include:

  • Set a regular sleep schedule. Make a healthy sleep environment. This includes relaxing before bed, avoiding screens 1 hour before bed, and keeping bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.
  • Treat other sleep problems such as sleep apnea.
  • Medicine may help to manage symptoms or severe behaviors.
  • If you are at risk, avoid alcohol and manage stress levels.

Prevention

The tendency to sleepwalk cannot be prevented. Treatment and good sleep habits may decrease the number of events.

RESOURCES:

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
https://www.familydoctor.org

National Sleep Foundation
https://sleepfoundation.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children
https://www.aboutkidshealth.ca

Better Sleep Council Canada
https://www.bettersleep.ca

REFERENCES:

Sleepwalking. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/sleepwalking. Updated June 27, 2017. Accessed February 4, 2020.

Sleepwalking. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/sleepwalking. Updated May 23, 2019. Accessed February 4, 2020.

Sleepwalking. National Sleep Foundation website. Available at: http://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-disorders-problems/abnormal-sleep-behaviors/sleepwalking. Accessed February 4, 2020.

Last reviewed January 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD  Last Updated: 2/4/2020