Aaron Sta Maria
Written by Aaron Sta Maria

Reviewed by Dr Jessica Gunawan

What is Sleepwalking and How to Cure This Troubling Condition

Sleepwalking sees a person awaking and performing various activities while in a state of slumber. If untreated, it can leave them vulnerable to physical harm.

Woman yawning while extending hands out as she awakes from bed with her eyes closed

If you’re an avid TikTok user, you might have come across videos of Canadian author and social media influencer Celina Myers’ remarkable antics while sleepwalking around her house. Also known as somnambulism, sleepwalking is a strange phenomenon that sees people awaking from their slumber and walking while in sleep mode. It’s kind of like a zombie, but without the element of death. 

Discover the reasons behind the disorder and ways to stop clocking more steps than the 10,000 daily that you need to.

Woman sitting up in bed and rubbing her eyes
Sitting up in bed and a constant rubbing of the eyes can point towards the start of a sleep-walking episode.

Symptoms which Indicate Sleepwalking  

Sleepwalking is more common in children than adults. A study found that 29% of children between ages two to 13 are susceptible. Meanwhile, the condition is prevalent in approximately 4% of the adult population.

Studies also show that sleepwalking occurs when a person enters the third or fourth deep sleep stage (deep nonrapid eye movement, NREM). The part of the brain that triggers physical activity may partially awake, but the other areas remain asleep. 

A few of the signs that a sleepwalker exhibits include: 

  • Clumsiness 
  • Appearing dazed 
  • Sitting up in bed 
  • Talking in their sleep 
  • Urinating in undesirable places 
  • Irresponsive when spoken to or responding illogically 
  • Struggling to wake up at the appropriate time 
  • Performing repetitive movements, such as eye-rubbing and pyjamas-tugging 

Keeping it within the bloodline 

Studies show that people who have a genetic predisposition to non-rapid eye movement sleep disorders are likely to sleepwalk. 47% of people who sleepwalk have one parent with the condition, while 61% of sleepwalkers have both parents diagnosed with the condition.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) states that sleepwalking is the by-product of a spiritual imbalance. It relates to a Deficiency of Congenital Kidney Jing (essence) in people with a family history of the condition. 

Less shut-eye equals more sleepwalking 

A lack of restful sleep can also put a person at an increased risk of sleepwalking. It can be attributed to longer durations of deep sleep after a period of deprivation. 

It’s not you, it’s sleep apnoea 

Obstructive sleep apnoea blocks the airways, causing short lapses as a person breathes during sleep. These can happen multiple times nightly, triggering sleep interruptions that contribute to sleepwalking. 

Woman latching windows closed
Latching doors and windows are necessary to prevent sleepwalkers from injuring themselves.

Steps to Decrease Sleepwalking in Children and Adults  

For many, sleepwalking doesn’t require active treatment, as episodes of the condition pose minimal risk to the person or people around them. These episodes also become less frequent with age.

However, taking a few necessary steps can help prevent a sleepwalking person from injuring themselves. These are: 

  • Keeping sharp and dangerous items out of reach 
  • Closing and latching doors and windows 
  • Installing heavy drapes to prevent a person from climbing out a window 
  • Installing safety gates outside the room or at the top of the stairs 

Treat the root cause of the disorder 

Addressing an underlying health condition will reduce a person’s tendency to sleepwalk. If the condition arises from medication or sedative use, a clinical physician may propose a revised dosage or different brand.

Awaken a sleepwalker before they awaken you 

This method can prevent a partial awakening, which is often associated with the condition. Firstly, observe when a person falls asleep and when the sleep-walking episode starts.

Wake the person up a few minutes before the perceived commencement. In doing so, you’ll interrupt their sleep cycle and could potentially slow the condition’s recurrence. 

Better sleep hygiene, better management of sleepwalking 

Good sleep hygiene promotes a stable, uninterrupted snooze-fest while lowering the risk of sleep deprivation. It’s advisable to go to bed at the same time every night, and, and avoid consuming alcoholic or caffeinated beverages just before bedtime.

In addition, it’s essential to use a mattress that’s suitable for your body type. 

Talk your way to fewer sleepwalking episodes 

Cognitive-behavioural therapy helps a person fend off negative thoughts and actions. It has demonstrated significant effectiveness in enhancing the sleep quality of people with insomnia by reframing their perception of sleep. It can also be adapted for anxiety and stress, thus keeping sleepwalking to a minimal. 

Keep the pressure on until the disorder wears off 

Acupuncture for sleepwalking aims to provide balance to the diaphragm by stabilising GV9 (zhi yang, 至陽). It comprises a needling of all points between BL17 (ge shu, 膈俞) and BL46 (ge guan, 膈关) on the Bladder channel. These needles should point towards GV9, centralising a person’s Spirit.

If a person is genetically susceptible, stimulation of KI6 (zhao hai, 照海) can help. HT7 (shen men, 神门) and a cupping of BL15 (xin shu, 心俞) can ease the stress and tension felt by a person. The consumption of a herbal soup can also induce relaxation who are overwhelmed by the emotion.

Early intervention may help curb a person’s sleepwalking habit before they unknowingly inflict physical harm. As always, speaking to a licensed TCM practitioner is viable to ensure the safety of acupoint stimulation for unique body constitutions.

This is an adaptation of an article, “Why Do People Have Sleepwalking“, which first appeared on Eu Yan Sang’s website.   

References

  1. Sleep Foundation. 2022. Sleepwalking: What is Somnambulism? [online] [Accessed 27 April 2022] 
  2. Cleveland Clinic. Sleepwalking. [online] [Accessed 27 April 2022] 
  3. National Library of Medicine. 2013. Traditional Chinese Medicine as a Basis for Treating Psychiatric Disorders: A Review of Theory with Illustrative Cases. [online] [Accessed 27 April 2022] 

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