Sleep Walking – Sleep Disorder
Sleepwalking , under the larger category of parasomnias, is a sleep disorder where the sufferer engages in activities that are normally associated with wakefulness while he or she is asleep or in a sleeplike state. Sleepwalking is usually defined by, or involves the person affected apparently shifting from his or her prior sleeping position and moving around and performing normal actions as if awake (cleaning, walking and other activities). Sleepwalkers are not conscious of their actions on a level where memory of the sleepwalking episode can be recalled, and because of this, unless the sleepwalker is woken or aroused by someone else, this sleep disorder can go unnoticed. Sleepwalking is more commonly experienced in people with high levels of stress, anxiety or other psychological factors and in people with genetic factors (family history) or sometimes a combination of both.
A common misconception is that sleepwalking is an individual acting out the physical movements within a dream, but in fact sleepwalking occurs earlier on in the night when rapid eye movement (REM), or the “dream stage” of sleep, has not yet occurred.
Activities such as eating, bathing, urinating, dressing, or even driving cars, whistling, engaging in sexual intercourse, and committing murder have also been recorded as taking place while the subjects are technically
asleep. Contrary to popular belief, most cases of sleepwalking do not consist of walking around (without the conscious knowledge of the subject). Most cases of somnambulism occur when the person is awakened (something or someone disturbs their SWS), the person may sit up, look around and immediately go back to sleep. But these kinds of incidences are rarely noticed or reported unless recorded in a sleep clinic.
Sleepwalkers engage in their activities with their eyes open so they can navigate their surroundings, not with their eyes closed and their arms outstretched, as often parodied in cartoons and films. The victims’ eyes may have a glazed or empty appearance and if questioned, the subject will be slow to answer and will be unable to respond in an intelligible manner.
Sleepwalkers are more likely to endanger themselves than anyone else. When sleepwalkers are a danger to themselves or others (for example, when climbing up or down steps or trying to use a potentially dangerous tool such as a stove or a knife), steering them away from the danger and back to bed is advisable. It has even been reported that people have fallen out of windows, and died, or were injured as a result. However, sleepwalkers will only engage in behaviors they normally perform when awake. Sleepwalking should not be confused with psychosis.Often the best way to deal with a sleepwalker safely is to direct him or her back to the bed. However, the person may continue getting up until he or she has accomplished the task that prompted the sleepwalking in the first place. For instance, if a sleepwalker is cleaning – a common sleepwalking activity – assisting in the cleaning may help to end the episode. Telling the person “It looks like you have cleaned it all up” can help him or her to feel as though the “necessary” task has been accomplished. As sleepwalkers do not tend to remember anything said or done while sleepwalking, there is no need to worry about embarrassment to you or the individual afterward.