Here’s Why You’re Sleep Walking And How to Stop It
Published | 6 min read
Sleep walking is a disorder that occurs when the part of your brain responsible for physical activity partially awakes. Here's what happens when you sleep walk and how you can prevent it from happening.
The condition is not usually linked to serious health conditions. However, sleep walkers are prone to injuring themselves or others.
Additionally, more children than adults are sleep walkers. Therefore, it’s important to know how to help someone with this condition.
In this guide, our experts explain what sleep walking is, possible causes, and prevention and safety tips everyone should know.
What Is Sleep Walking?
Sleep walking, also called somnambulism, is a type of sleep disorder known as a parasomnia that occurs when a person enters the third or fourth deep sleep stage (deep nonrapid eye movement or NREM).
The part of the brain that triggers physical activity may partially awake, but the other areas remain asleep.
A parasomnia is a disorder that occurs on the border of sleep and wakefulness. The condition is more common in children than adults.
During a sleep walking episode, a person may have open, glossy eyes with a blank expression on their face.
They may be incoherent or minimally responsive in their speech and may try to do things like getting dressed or walk around.
In rare or severe cases, some people who sleep walk may try to perform inappropriate sexual behaviors or even drive a car.
A sleep walker usually exhibits the following characteristics:
- 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 tugging on clothes or pajamas
Episodes usually last for around 10 minutes. Some can last for up to half an hour. Sleep walkers may return to bed or go back to sleep on their own, or they may wake up confused.
It’s important to note that sleep walkers usually never remember what they did while they were sleep walking.
What Causes Sleep Walking?
Studies show that people who have a genetic predisposition to non-rapid eye movement sleep disorders are likely to sleepwalk.
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.
Lastly, people with sleep apnea are also more likely to become sleep walkers. Obstructive sleep apnea blocks airways, causing short lapses as a person breathes during sleep. These can happen multiple times nightly, triggering sleep interruptions that contribute to sleepwalking.
Sleep Walking Treatment Options
For many, sleep walking 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
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 a different brand.
Here are other treatment options to try:
Promote good sleep hygiene
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 alcohol or caffeinated beverages just before bedtime.
Some people find it helpful to take melatonin or an herbal sleep formula at night to relieve insomnia. In addition, it’s essential to use a mattress that’s suitable for your body type.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps a person
It has demonstrated significant effectiveness in enhancing the sleep quality of people with insomnia by reframing their perception of sleep.
Use acupressure and herbal soup
If a person is genetically susceptible, stimulation of Zhao Hai (KI6) can help. Shen Men (HT7) and cupping of Xin Shu (BL15) can ease the stress and tension felt by a person. The consumption of herbal soup, such as Lingzhi Tonic Soup, can also induce relaxation in those who are overwhelmed by emotions.
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.
- Sleep Foundation. 2022. Sleepwalking: What is Somnambulism?
- Cleveland Clinic. Sleepwalking.
- National Library of Medicine. 2013. Traditional Chinese Medicine as a Basis for Treating Psychiatric Disorders: A Review of Theory with Illustrative Cases.
- Clinical Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. 2017. What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
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