4 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Sleepwalking
It can be dangerous to wake a sleepwalker, but not for the reason you think.
Everybody’s heard that you shouldn’t wake a sleepwalker, lest the shock spin them into a heart attack or coma. This is definitely a myth. However, waking a sleepwalker can be dangerous for other reasons. Typically, sleepwalking occurs during stage 3 non-REM sleep—that is, very deep sleep. Waking up in an unexpected location can thoroughly confuse and shock a person, and it’s possible they’ll react by hurting themselves or lashing out.
That said, sleepwalkers sometimes engage in risky activities like cooking or even driving. In 2005, a teenage girl was found to have sleepwalked to the top of a 130ft crane! If you catch a sleepwalker in a situation where they could hurt themselves or others, wake them up as gently as you can. Otherwise, the best course of action is to gingerly guide them back to bed without waking them up.
Sleepwalking does not occur randomly.
Many factors are associated with sleepwalking. Firstly, it tends to be a hereditary trait—if someone if your family sleepwalks, it’s much more likely that you will too. Identical twins are also more likely to sleepwalk than others.
A variety of conditions ranging from stress and anxiety to fever and alcohol abuse increase the likelihood of sleepwalking, as do medications like sedative-hypnotics, stimulants, antihistamines, and antipsychotics. Sleep deprivation, especially as a result of a chaotic sleep schedule, can significantly up your chances as well.
Kids are much more likely to sleepwalk.
People of all ages walk in their sleep, but children aged 4-12 are far more likely to. In fact, an estimated 15% of kids in this age group sleepwalk! The problem tends to resolve by late adolescence but occasionally persists into adulthood, especially when there’s a genetic component.
In certain cases, you should seek medical attention.
Though sleepwalking is not inherently dangerous—aside from risky activities one may engage in while asleep—it rarely appears on its own. As mentioned above, emotional problems, sleep deprivation, and substance abuse are all associated with sleepwalking. If you or someone you know wanders from the bed during sleep, it may be worth evaluating what’s causing the problem. It’s possible that the underlying issue, whatever it may be, requires medical attention. Don’t underestimate the significance of problems like anxiety, for instance—if something is serious enough to keep you walking in your sleep, it’s probably something you should share with your doctor!