5 sleepwalking myths debunked

5 sleepwalking myths debunked

Sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism, is a parasomnia that tends to occur during arousals from slow-wave sleep. Sleepwalking is not exclusive to just walking around during sleep – it can involve sitting up in bed and looking around, or complex behaviors like doing routine daily activities. It affects about one to five percent of the general population, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Dr. Darius Loghmanee, a pediatric sleep specialist with Advocate’s Children’s Medical Group in Oak Lawn, Ill., weighs in on common myths regarding sleepwalking:

1) Myth: You should never wake up a sleepwalker.

Fact: Never say never! It can be quite dangerous not to wake a sleepwalker. If someone is going to hurt themselves or other people while sleepwalking, of course wake them up, Dr. Loghmanee says. However, for the most part, the best intervention is to guide them back to bed without waking them up.

2) Myth: Sleepwalking occurs randomly.

Fact: Loghmanee explains that sleepwalking is a type of partial arousal, where part of the person’s brain is awake and part of it is asleep. This typically occurs in the first half of the night, often at the same time every night, correlating with the end of the first or second period of stage 3 non-rapid eye movement sleep.

3) Myth: Sleepwalking is not dangerous.

Fact: Sleepwalkers have been noted to perform dangerous activities and can hurt themselves and others if precautions are not taken. Dangerous activities that sleepwalkers have engaged in include leaving the home during winter, climbing out of windows and driving, Dr. Loghmanee says. However, for the most part, sleepwalking during childhood is benign, he says. Most families can protect their children with basic safety precautions like putting a high lock on doors at night, locking windows and putting away dangerous items like knives and scissors at bedtime.

4) Myth: Sleepwalking mainly occurs in adults.

Fact: According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, sleepwalking occurs in about 17 percent of children and about 4 percent of adults. Although children are more likely to sleepwalk, it can persist into adulthood, sometimes being triggered by alcohol use, fever or sleep deprivation.

5) Myth: Sleepwalking has no effect on daytime behavior.

Fact: There are most definitely daytime effects of sleepwalking, he says. It can disrupt sleep, causing sleepiness the following day. It is important to note that sleepiness in children is more often manifested as inattention and hyperactivity rather than dozing off.

Sleepwalking itself requires treatment if it associated with signs of daytime sleepiness, Dr. Loghmanee adds.

“If there is concern about the child hurting themselves, or if it is disrupting the sleep of others in the home, seek help” he says. “Treatment is usually guided by results of a sleep study, which helps the physician determine if the sleepwalking episodes might be triggered by a disorder of sleep fragmentation, such as obstructive sleep apnea or periodic limb movements of sleep.”

In the absence of other sleep disorders, sleepwalking can often be treated by establishing a consistent bedtime routine that ends with the child or adult resting comfortably in bed in a relaxed state.

Dr. Loghmanee recommends talking to a physician or pediatrician if you have questions or concerns about sleepwalking.

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About the Author

Tiffany Nguyen
Tiffany Nguyen

Tiffany Nguyen, health enews contributor, is a public affairs and marketing intern at Advocate Support Centers in Downers Grove, IL. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University with a degree in public health. She is currently pursuing a Master’s in Business Administration focusing specifically on healthcare management at Lewis University. Tiffany enjoys hanging out with her friends, exploring new restaurants, and binge watching Netflix shows.