Sleepwalking Disorder

Sleepwalking disorder causes a person to perform activities, such as walking around or sitting up in bed, while still considered to be asleep. This usually occurs during the first third of sleep while the person is in non-REM sleep mode. This is an activity of very low consciousness, and patients do not often recall any of the activities performed while in this state. In extreme cases, reports have shown people to involve themselves in potentially dangerous activities, such as cooking, driving or even crime during a sleepwalking episode.

Symptoms of Sleepwalking Disorder

There are a number of symptoms of sleepwalking disorder that help to qualify the act for a medical diagnosis. Sleepwalking can occur in anyone's life at any time, and following is a list of symptoms one should look for if sleepwalking becomes a problem:

  • Repeated episodes of movement or activity while sleeping, such as sitting up in bed, walking around or performing household activities.
  • Patient does not respond to attempts at communication. Eyes may be open, but the patient will appear to have a blank stare, dilated pupils and is not easily awakened by talking, touching or other methods. (There is some controversy regarding whether or not it may cause danger to awaken a person who is sleepwalking. Some specialists agree that disorientation is the highest degree of danger, while others assess that it's best to simply guide a sleepwalker back to the safety of bed.)
  • No recollection of the incident involving sleepwalking.
  • Nothing more than slight disorientation, if anything, occurs upon waking from a sleepwalking episode.

Causes of Sleepwalking Disorder

While the direct cause of sleepwalking disorder has not yet been discovered, there are some statistics which may prove to be helpful in uncovering a potential for individual susceptibility. Those who sleep very deeply may be more prone to sleepwalking disorder, as may those who have a family history of the condition. Many things can lead to episodes of sleepwalking, but may not indicate a medical disorder. These can include hormonal changes, fever, sleep deprivation and the use of alcohol or drugs. Specific periods of stress or anxiety, or certain prescription medications may induce symptoms as well.

Diagnosing Sleepwalking Disorder

If a person's safety and well-being are being adversely affected by symptoms of sleepwalking disorder, professional evaluation may lead to a diagnosis of this disorder. In order to qualify, sleepwalking periods cannot be caused by drug use, whether illegal or prescription, or any type of illness or other mental disorder. Likewise, diagnosis usually results from reports of long-term sleepwalking episodes, beginning in childhood or adolescence and continuing throughout adulthood. Since the sleepwalker is not usually aware of events which take place during an episode, the only interview that may benefit may be that of a family member or significant other. The preferred test for diagnosis is called a polysomnography. This test monitors brain wave activity, breathing and heart rate which can lead specialists to important information regarding the illness.

Treating Sleepwalking Disorder

Depending upon information that may indicate the individual cause of sleepwalking disorder, there are a few treatment options that may benefit. If sleepwalking leads to only mild activity and does not appear to affect waking life, treatment is not generally recommended. If a polysomnography indicates the disorder, there are a few medications that may be discussed, including anti-anxiety drugs which may be prescribed on a temporary basis at a very low dosage. If stress appears to be causing the disorder, stress management classes, relaxation techniques or cognitive therapy sessions can be helpful. Hypnosis is also a method which can help patients to awaken once their feet touch the floor, and one-on-one psychotherapy may assist someone who suffers from psychological issues which may be causing the sleep disorder.