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What Causes Sleepwalking in Adults?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Sleepwalking in adults can be associated with a number of causes, including other parasomnias, which are disorders that manifest during sleep. Often, multiple factors, such as stress, certain medications, and head injuries, interact to create a sleepwalking problem. People who sleepwalk can consult a doctor for evaluation to check for any potentially dangerous causes and treat them. This may resolve the sleepwalking issue.

Sleepwalking is much more common in children. As people shift into adulthood, sleep patterns change and the probability of sleepwalking declines. Stress is commonly a factor in sleepwalking in adults. People can also develop disorders during sleep as a result of alcohol or drug abuse, medications known to interfere with the sleep cycle, and sleep deprivation. Hyperthyroid conditions have been linked with sleepwalking in adults, as have head injuries and migraine headaches. In some cases, there is no clear cause.

People in treatment for sleepwalking may be asked to spend a night in a sleep clinic so they can be observed. Data will be collected about brain function in sleep and used to see what is happening in the patient's mind before and during sleepwalking episodes. The link with other parasomias can play a role and patients will be observed for signs of other sleep issues while they are in the sleep clinic. A basic blood panel may also be run to check for signs of thyroid problems and other issues.

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If none of these measures can reveal an underlying cause, other risk factors for sleepwalking in adults may be considered. The patient will be interviewed for lifestyle factors like stress and drug use. A doctor may also screen for mental health conditions. Though usually not causes of sleepwalking in adults, when untreated, they can contribute to stress levels and may result in coping behaviors like drinking, causing the patient to develop disordered sleeping.

Management options for sleepwalking in adults are varied. Sometimes the cause can be addressed and the patient will experience normal sleep patterns after treatment. For other patients, medications may be needed. Patients who pose a danger may need to be restrained and family members can be tasked with supervising them during sleep for safety. Once sleepwalking in adults develops, it can be very persistent and some time may be required to eradicate it. For some patients, the best treatment option may be learning to live with occasional bouts of wandering during sleep, with basic safety precautions implemented to reduce the risk of injuries.

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