Approximately 85 percent of the world’s population is susceptible to sleepwalking, a condition clinically referred to as somnambulism. While the perception of sleepwalking often includes someone wandering around the home while still asleep, somnambulism occurs most frequently when a person has his or her slow-wave sleep or deep sleep briefly interrupted. This could result in the person rising up in bed to look around before immediately falling back asleep rather than getting up out of bed.
Somnambulism occurs more frequently in children than adults, with up to 17 percent of children between the age of 11 and 12 engaging in sleepwalking. However, adults don’t always outgrow their youthful sleepwalking ways, and those who never stop sleepwalking can present a risk to not only themselves but to those they share a bed with.
According to the results of a new study conducted by researchers at the Gui-de-Chauliac Hospital located in Montpelier, France, 58 percent of sleepwalkers may become violent and injure a sleeping partner or themselves during a somnambulism episode. The study also found that individuals who suffer from sleepwalking also deal with a variety of health problems, including chronic fatigue, anxiety, and a lower quality of life.
Injuries involving sleepwalking, whether to sleepwalkers or their partners, occur 17 percent of the time. In the most dramatic of instances, sleepwalkers have been reported to jump out of windows, fallen down stairs, and walked onto the roofs of their houses.
The results of this latest study were published in the March issue of Sleep, a peer reviewed journal.
To conduct their study, researchers at Gui-de-Chauliac evaluated 100 adult sleepwalkers who admitted themselves to the hospital’s sleep clinic. The average age of each participant was 30. Participants were each monitored on video during one overnight session at the sleep lab. Participants were also asked to answer questions detailing any problems they had with depression, anxiety, fatigue, sleep, or overall quality of life.
Participants also disclosed details on potential sleepwalking triggers, such as intense physical activity during the evening prior to bedtime, alcohol consumption, strong emotional feelings, or stress.
Researchers then interviewed 100 people who had no history of sleepwalking to compare answers to these same questions.
Of those who sleepwalked, approximately 23 percent did so nightly and 43.5 percent engaged in sleepwalking weekly. Over half of those engaged in sleepwalking reported having a family history of habit, with the average age of episodes first manifesting at nine.
When compared to non-sleepwalkers, sleepwalkers were more likely to experience daytime drowsiness, depression, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, and a lower quality of life. In 17 percent of participants who became violent during a somnambulism episode, at least one hospital visit was required for either the sleepwalker or the bed partner.
For individuals with a history of sleepwalking, researchers recommend avoiding triggers for somnambulism. In addition to reducing stress, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, and getting enough sleep a night, researchers also recommended that sleepwalkers avoid alcohol and caffeine prior to bedtime. In cases of frequent somnambulism, sleepwalkers may want to consider installing a bell on their bedroom door that makes a loud enough noise to wake them should they try to leave the room.
Timothy Lemke is a freelance writer. To read more of his work, visit the website of Dr. Timothy Harbolt, a Salem, Oregon dentist.