While most people might not recognize the name somnambulism, they most likely have heard of sleepwalking. This condition occurs within the first couple of hours of sleeping and can last up to a half an hour. In most cases, people do not have any memory of sleepwalking or any activities and interactions that have taken place during this time. This disorder appears most commonly during childhood and decreases with age. Nevertheless, adults can experience somnambulism as well. Sleepwalkers can perform complex (and dangerous) actions ranging from cooking and driving to exhibiting violent behavior.
While there are quite a few symptoms of somnambulism, not all of them are experienced by all individuals.
- Suddenly sitting up in bed or doing repetitive movements including, chewing, tugging at clothing and rubbing eyes
- Having a dazed look on the sleepwalker’s face. In most cases, the eyes are open, but are unable to focus
- Displaying clumsy actions while walking
- The inability to wake up
- Talking in sleep
- Urinating in strange places
- Not interacting correctly with people
The most common causes of sleepwalking are:
- A family history of somnambulism
- Overall lack of sleep and possibly fatigue before going to bed
- Sleep conditions like sleep apnea interrupting sleep
- An underlying Illness or psychological conditions
- Stress or anxiety
- Loud sleeping environment
- Certain medications, such as, beta blockers and hypnotics
While these can be the long term causes of this condition, even having a lack of sleep and some stress in your life can trigger the occasional occurrence. Most physicians won’t diagnose this condition unless there have been repeat episodes. To prepare for a visit to your doctor, keep a sleep journal that records the times and durations that these sleepwalking events occur. For this journal, it will be important that you keep very detailed records. The more information that your physician has, the easier it will be to make a diagnosis and treat you.
Depending on the severity of the somnambulism, no treatment may be required. However, if this does become an increasing problem, scheduled waking may be prescribed. This is where you record the time that the affected individual is seen sleepwalking to pinpoint a pattern. Then, you can rouse the individual 15 minutes before the usual time of the event. This can help reduce the occurrence of the problem. You don’t have to fully wake up the person, instead just gently stir them out of sleep.
You also have some other choices you can make to help counteract this condition. They include:
- Playing soothing music at bedtime
- Sticking with normal sleep schedules and taking regular naps when possible
- Stop drinking fluids an hour before bedtime
- Avoiding caffeine within 3 hours of bedtime
- Keeping the room dark and at a comfortable temperature
- Low doses of medication, such as, benzodiazepines, clonazepam and antidepressants
Counseling can also be an effective treatment that should be considered in extreme cases. This can be especially important if the person experiencing somnambulism is leaving the house or has injured themselves at any point.
If the affected individual is experiencing seizures of any kind during the experience, a medical professional should be consulted right away. An EEG or some other sleep study should be done to determine the root cause. As with any condition, only a qualified doctor will be able to provide an accurate diagnosis.
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