Also known as somnambulism — involves getting up and walking around while in a state of sleep. More common in children than adults, sleepwalking is usually outgrown by the teen years. Isolated incidents of sleepwalking often don’t signal any serious problems or require treatment. However, recurrent sleepwalking may suggest an underlying sleep disorder.
If anyone in your household sleepwalks, it’s important to protect him or her from potential injuries related to sleepwalking.
Sleepwalking usually occurs early in the night — often one to two hours after falling asleep. It’s unlikely to occur during naps. A sleepwalking episode can occur rarely or often, and an episode generally lasts several minutes but can last longer.
Someone who is sleepwalking may:
Get out of bed and walk around
Sit up in bed and open his or her eyes
Have a glazed, glassy-eyed expression
Not respond or communicate with others
Be difficult to wake up during an episode
Be disoriented or confused for a short time after being awakened
Not remember the episode in the morning
Have problems functioning during the day because of disturbed sleep
Have sleep terrors in addition to sleepwalking
Sometimes, a person who is sleepwalking will:
Do routine activities, such as getting dressed, talking or eating
Leave the house
Drive a car
Engage in unusual behavior, such as urinating in a closet
Get injured, for example, by falling down the stairs or jumping out a window
Become violent during the period of brief confusion immediately after waking or, occasionally, during sleepwalking
When to see a doctor
Occasional episodes of sleepwalking aren’t usually a cause for concern and typically resolve on their own. You can simply mention sleepwalking at a routine physical or well-child exam. However, consult your doctor if the sleepwalking episodes:
Occur often — for example, more than one to two times a week or several times a night
Lead to dangerous behavior or injury to the person who sleepwalks or to others
Cause significant sleep disruption to household members or the person who sleepwalks
Result in daytime symptoms of excessive sleepiness or problems functioning
Start for the first time as an adult
Sleepwalking is classified as parasomnia — an undesirable behavior or experience during sleep. Sleepwalking is a disorder of arousal, meaning it occurs during N3 sleep, the deepest stage of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. Another NREM disorder is sleep terrors, which can occur together with sleepwalking.
Many factors can contribute to sleepwalking, including:
- Sleep deprivation
Sleep schedule disruptions, travel or sleep interruptions
Sometimes sleepwalking can be triggered by underlying conditions that interfere with sleep, such as:
Sleep-disordered breathing — a group of disorders featuring abnormal breathing patterns during sleep (for example, obstructive sleep apnea)
Taking certain medications, such as hypnotics, sedatives or certain medications used for psychiatric disorders
Restless legs syndrome
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Factors that may increase the risk of sleepwalking include:
- Genetics. Sleepwalking appears to run in families. It’s more common if you have one parent who has a history of sleepwalking, and much more common if both parents have a history of the disorder.
- Age. Sleepwalking occurs more often in children than adults, and onset in adulthood is more likely related to other underlying conditions.
Sleepwalking itself isn’t necessarily a concern, but a person who sleepwalks can:
Hurt themselves — especially if they walk near furniture or stairs, wander outdoors, drive a car or eat something inappropriate during a sleepwalking episode
Experience prolonged sleep disruption, which can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness and possible school or behavior issues
Be embarrassed or experience problems with social relationships
Disturb others’ sleep
Rarely, injure someone else nearby