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What is a Sleepwalking Disorder?

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  • Written By: Marisa O'Connor
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2016
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A sleepwalking disorder, also called somnambulism, is diagnosed by a doctor or mental health professional. It describes a sleeping disorder in the parasomnia family, where a person has repeated episodes of motor activity while sleeping. This motor activity generally manifests as sitting up in bed and rising and walking around while unconscious.

A person usually appears to be awake while sleepwalking, with his or her eyes open, but is unresponsive and considered asleep. Sleepwalking occurs during the deepest phase of sleep, usually in the first third of the night. A single episode of a sleepwalking disorder can last anywhere from 30 seconds to an hour. On average, sleepwalking lasts 5 to 15 minutes. A sleepwalking disorder is associated with incoherent talking, sometimes mumbling or using real words in a nonsensical order. Once awake, the sleepwalker typically doesn't remember the episode.

There are a few different factors that may increase the likelihood of developing a sleepwalking disorder. Genetics are believed to play a part in sleepwalking, meaning that it tends to run in families. Stress is another factor that can increase the chances of a sleepwalking episode. Significant life changes such as divorce, marriage, or the death of a loved one all increase occurrences of stress-related sleepwalking.

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Fever or illnesses that affect the nervous system can trigger sleepwalking. Alcohol use and sleep deprivation also increase chances of sleepwalking. It may also be brought on by hormonal changes. Pregnancy, puberty, and menstruation are some hormonal changes that might lead to sleepwalking. Some medications, such as sedatives, neuroleptics, and antihistamines, can also increase chances of developing a sleepwalking disorder.

A sleepwalking disorder is symptomatic of certain medical conditions. Nighttime asthma, nighttime seizures, and sleep apnea may be triggers. Arrhythmias, or abnormal heart rhythms, might also cause sleepwalking. It may occur due to post traumatic stress disorder, a panic disorder, and dissociative disorders as well as other psychiatric disorders.

The risks of sleepwalking mostly revolve around the sleepwalker getting injured. Sleepwalkers are not conscious of their surroundings despite the fact that they can usually navigate familiar places, such as their home. Some sleepwalkers repeatedly attempt an escape in their sleep. This can be very dangerous if they try to climb out windows or walk into busy streets.

A sleepwalking disorder does not usually require any treatment. Sleepwalking does not usually have negative consequences that require treatment, with the exception of occasional injuries from loss of balance. Injuries can be prevented by making sure the environment is secure and removing tripping hazards from the floor. Sometimes short-acting tranquilizers may help reduce sleepwalking episodes.

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