Sleep walking or Sleep walk can include anything from walking around your home to driving your car. It typically occurs during deep sleep stages. Sleep walkers usually have a wide-eyed stare, aren't responsive and can't recall their episodes when they awaken. The following steps can help you discover the causes of your sleep walk problem.

The normal sleep cycle involves distinct stages from light drowsiness to deep sleep. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is a different type of sleep, in which the eyes move rapidly and vivid dreaming is most common.

During a night, there will be several cycles of non-REM and REM sleep. Sleep walking (somnambulism) most often occurs during deep non-REM sleep (stage 3 or stage 4 sleep) early in the night. It can occur during REM sleep near morning.

What are sleep walk causes? First there are Genetic factors. Sleepwalking occurs more frequently in identical twins and is 10 times more likely to occur if a first-degree relative has a history of sleepwalking. Next, there are environmental factors:

  • sleep deprivation
  • chaotic sleep schedules
  • fever, stress, magnesium deficiency
  • alcohol intoxication can trigger sleepwalking

Drugs, for example, sedative/hypnotics (drugs that promote sleep), neuroleptics (drugs used to treat psychosis), minor tranquilizers (drugs that produce a calming effect), stimulants (drugs that increase activity), and antihistamines (drugs used to treat symptoms of allergy) can cause a person to become a sleep walker.

Physiologic factors are also major causes of sleep walking such as:

  • The length and depth of slow wave sleep, which is greater in young children, may be a factor in the increased frequency of sleepwalking in children.
  • Conditions, such as pregnancy and menstruation, are known to increase the frequency of sleepwalking.

Usually no specific treatment for sleep walk is needed.

Safety measures may be necessary to prevent injury. This may include modifying the environment by moving objects such as electrical cords or furniture to reduce tripping and falling. Stairways may need to be blocked off with a gate.

In some cases, short-acting tranquilizers have been helpful in reducing the incidence of sleepwalking.

The outlook for resolution of the disorder is excellent.

  • Sleepwalking is not a serious disorder, although children can be injured by objects or falls during sleepwalking.
  • Although disruptive and frightening for parents over the short term, sleepwalking is not associated with long-term complications.
  • Prolonged disturbed sleep may be associated with school and behavioral issues.

How can I prevent sleepwalking?

  • Avoid the use of alcohol or central nervous system depressants if prone to sleepwalking.
  • Avoid fatigue or insomnia, because this can instigate an episode of sleepwalking.
  • Avoid or minimize stress, anxiety, and conflict, which can worsen the condition.

A sleep walk problem usually does not require a visit to your health care provider. However, the condition should be discussed with your health care provider if:

  • Sleepwalking is accompanied by other symptoms.
  • Sleepwalking is frequent or persistent.
  • Sleepwalking includes potentially dangerous activities (such as driving).

Sleep walking occurs at any age, but it occurs most often in children aged 6 to 12 years old. It may occur in younger children, in adults, or in the elderly, and it appears to run in families. Sleepwalking (somnambulism) is fairly common, especially among children. An estimated 15 percent of all children between the ages of 5 and 12 have walked in their sleep at least once and most outgrow the disorder. Typically, the child (or adult) sleepwalker sits up, gets out of bed, and moves about in an uncoordinated manner. Less frequently, the sleepwalker may dress, open doors, eat, or go to the bathroom without incident and usually will avoid obstacles. But sleepwalkers don't always make their rounds in safety. They sometimes hurt themselves, stumbling against furniture and losing their balance, going through windows, or falling down stairs.

With their eyes open but their reasoning mind asleep, a sleepwalker may find themselves in dangerous circumstances. While a few sleepwalkers may behave violently during their episodes or do uncharacteristic things, there's no truth to the myth that waking a sleepwalker will kill them. They'll simply be startled, disoriented, and have no memory of what they've just experienced. If you encounter a sleepwalker, gently lead them back to bed by the elbow, allowing them to remain asleep if possible.

Here are some tips to help prevent sleepwalking:

  • Relax at bedtime by listening to soft music or relaxation tapes.
  • Have a regular sleep schedule and stick to it.
  • Keep noise and lights to a minimum while you're trying to sleep.
  • Avoid drinking a lot in the evening and be sure to go to the bathroom before going to bed. (A full bladder can contribute to sleepwalking.)

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