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What is the cause of sleepwalking and how does it happen?



What causes sleepwalking, and who is at greater risk of developing it, are still being debated. Sleepwalking is a common subject of comedy, but those who have experienced it, whether as a sufferer or as a partner, know that it is not amusing at all. Sleepwalking is a common occurrence in children between the ages of two and thirteen, and its prevalence is highest between the ages of ten and thirteen, according to a 2015 study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. The phenomenon is, however, surprisingly common in adults as well, according to research conducted at Stanford University School of Medicine, which estimates that 3.6 percent of adults in the United States – or more than eight million people – are affected on a regular basis by this strange phenomenon.


Despite the fact that sleepwalking is more common in children, Dr. Angus Nisbet, a consultant neurologist and sleep physician, told Live Science that it can be extremely problematic in adulthood.


What exactly does the term "sleepwalking" mean?


Sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism, is defined by the Sleep Foundation as "a behavior disorder that begins during deep sleep and results in walking or performing other complex behaviors while still primarily asleep."


Sleepwalking is a type of sleep disorder known as 'parasomnias,' which includes other symptoms such as night terrors, teeth grinding, and bedwetting. It is most common during the deep stage of sleep, also known as "slow wave" sleep, which occurs during the first third of the night and is characterized by deep sleep.


Sleepwalking episodes are characterized by the sleeper opening their eyes and appearing confused before rising from their bed and wandering around their room or house. Despite the fact that they will not be fully conscious as they would be if they were awake, they may still engage in routine behaviors such as opening windows, eating, dressing, and rearranging a room, among other things. They may even urinate in places that are not expected. "Sleepwalking is a type of incomplete arousal from deep sleep that occurs in some people. Even though certain areas of your mind are awake, such as those that control your motor skills, other areas of your brain remain soundly asleep "Dr. Nisbet made the following statement.


In most cases, these episodes last no longer than a few minutes, though a study published in the journal Current Biology in 2018 found that severe cases of sleepwalking can last for several hours.


What is the cause of sleepwalking?


People who sleepwalk are frequently genetically predisposed to suffer more than the general population. It is estimated that approximately 22 percent of children whose parents have no history of sleepwalking will develop the condition. (Source: National Sleep Foundation.) However, if one parent has had a sleepwalking experience, this figure rises to 47 percent, and 61 percent if both parents were sleepwalkers, according to the study.


Despite the fact that sleepwalking is most common in children, it usually diminishes as they enter their adolescent years. It is possible that you will experience an increase in the likelihood and frequency of sleepwalking as an adult if you are still prone to it. This is especially true if you are also suffering from sleep deprivation and stress/anxiety. As with the effects of a head or brain injury, certain medications, alcohol consumption, and having a full bladder prior to bed all increase the likelihood of sleepwalking, as does the use of sleeping pills. Even a minor change in your sleeping environment, such as staying in a hotel, may be enough to set off a sleepwalking episode in some people. In fact, Samantha Briscoe, Lead Clinical Physiologist at London Bridge Hospital in England, told Live Science that "it could even be your phone receiving notifications during the night." "Anything that causes a disruption in your sleep cycle can result in an episode of sleepwalking."


Individuals who are suffering from psychological problems are also more likely to sleepwalk. According to Dr. Nisbet, patients suffering from psychiatric illnesses or post-traumatic stress disorder frequently have bad dreams or nightmares at night, which frequently result in them walking around while they are asleep.


Is sleepwalking a medical condition that can be treated?


If you have any concerns about sleepwalking, you should first consult with a medical professional. It is possible that they will perform a physical examination in order to rule out other sleep disorders or even panic attacks. Invite your roommate to share their experiences with your doctor about your sleep behaviors if you live with someone else, and make sure to mention any family history of sleepwalking as well. Nocturnal sleep studies, also known as polysomnography, are performed during which specialists record and monitor everything that happens while you sleep, from your blood oxygen levels to your heart rate, your eye movements to your brain waves, and this information can be used to determine what kind of therapy is best for you.


In addition, as Dr. Angus Nisbet pointed out, improving your "sleep hygiene" is essential. As he explained, "you must maintain your composure in the final hour before bed." "As a result, avoid being exposed to blue light emitted by electronic devices and other stimuli before retiring for the evening hours. In addition to helping you fall asleep, it will also assist you in maintaining your sleep."


A sleepwalker's behavior becomes not only disruptive to their own and their family's lives, but also potentially dangerous. Treatment is required in this situation. According to The New York Times, in June 2010, a young designer named Tobias Wong was discovered dead in his New York City apartment after apparently hanging himself during the night, according to an article published in the newspaper. A history of severe sleepwalking episodes preceded Wong's hospitalization, and his partner was convinced that he committed suicide during one of these episodes.


When it comes to treating sleepwalking, anticipatory awakenings are a common treatment option. It is necessary to wake up the sleepwalker 15 minutes before they are likely to begin sleepwalking. These individuals are then permitted to sleep for a few more minutes before being permitted to sleep once more. Following that, the procedure is repeated several nights in a row until the sleep pattern is completely disrupted. Hypnosis is also becoming increasingly popular.


As part of the evaluation, sleep specialists will look for underlying conditions in adults that may be contributing to the onset of sleepwalking episodes, such as obstructive sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome, and will adjust any medications that may be contributing to the onset of an episode of sleepwalking. On the other hand, more serious cases may benefit from counseling and stress-reduction/ relaxation techniques, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to aid sufferers in rethinking their approach to sleeping disorders in general. In extreme cases, sedatives may be prescribed for a short period of time in order to ensure uninterrupted sleeping. According to Nisbet, "Generally, sleepwalkers are not treated with medication; however, if medication is prescribed, it will almost certainly be a benzodiazepine [which decreases brain activity] or a sedating antidepressant in adults, and melatonin in children."


What should you do if you happen to come across someone who is sleepwalking is also important to know. Contrary to popular belief, awaking a sleepwalker is not dangerous, not least because they will be confused and it will take several minutes for them to come to full consciousness again. Having said that, the most effective course of action is to gently reintroduce them to bed by speaking in a low voice and giving them simple instructions. It's preferable to trying to reason with them if you can help it.

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