The How sleepwalking works.


How does sleepwalking work?

Have you ever seen someone sleepwalking? It’s a pretty extraordinary phenomenon. Someone who is in a deep sleep while in their bed, gets up and starts moving around, all while they’re still soundly asleep! Sometimes they may just walk around, sometimes they might get up only to sit down again and continue sleeping. Other times, they may even do very odd things, such as start throwing fruit, or set the dinner table. There are many myths about sleepwalking and many movies, television shows and other forms of entertainment have played on the act of sleepwalking. The movie Dracula and the play Lady Macbeth from Shakespeare have included their own aspect of sleepwalking. But how really does sleepwalking work? And what makes a person rise up from their sleep so that they can walk around and perform certain actions?

What is Sleepwalking?

Sleepwalking is known as somnambulism in medical terms and it’s one of many parasomnias. A parasomnia is something that a person does involuntarily while they sleep such as wetting the bed, grinding their teeth or in this case, sleepwalking. Sleepwalking has been described by many doctors as an “error in timing and balance” when the body is making its transition from sleeping to waking. And this is despite the fact that people once thought that sleepwalkers were only acting out their greatest fears or dreams while they sleepwalked. Another school of thought on sleepwalking is that it’s an act of the occult, while many think that it’s only a purely physical response.

There are many different beliefs when it comes to sleepwalking. And one of those beliefs is that a person sleepwalking always has the same general appearance: they are standing up with their eyes shut and with their arms outstretched in front of them. This of course, isn’t always true either. So before going any further, let’s define what “sleepwalking” is a little further. The DSM-IV is a handbook that is used by medical professionals and it defines sleepwalking by a few common characteristics.

One of those characteristics is that a person will leave their bed while sleeping, and that this will happen most likely in the third and fourth stages of sleep. These stages of sleep are known as non-REM (NREM) sleep. During NREM, the brain goes almost completely quiet, but the body is more active than during any other stage of sleep. This is when the body will toss and turn, or when you might steal the blankets from your partner. However, because the brain is almost silent, there is no dreaming that is taking place. Because of this, it’s clear to see that people who are sleepwalking are not acting out their dreams.

Another characteristic of sleepwalking as defined by the DSM-IV is that it is difficult to wake someone up while they are sleepwalking and they do wake up while they’re in the middle of sleepwalking, they’ll be very confused and won’t remember anything that happened while they were sleepwalking. In fact, they may wake up and act very anxious because they are not in their bed, where they last remembered being. Sleepwalkers don’t always have their eyes closed either, although this is sometimes the case. In fact, most sleepwalkers tend to have glassy eyes and a dazed look on their face. They will be able to perform many functions, in some cases, even driving. But while they may look like they’re awake, they will still act very clumsy, bumping into walls and banging their legs off tables.

Many people think that you should never wake a sleepwalker. This is a myth although it’s never nice to startle someone when they’re sleeping and trying to wake up a sleepwalker will definitely startle them. And in fact, sometimes it’s necessary to wake up a sleepwalker because sleepwalkers can do some pretty dangerous things, such as trying to get into a car and driving. However, if you do need to stop a sleepwalker from doing something that isn’t entirely safe, it’s usually best to just try and gently guide them back to their bed.

Other characteristics of sleepwalking include that it’s affecting your work or social life and that the person isn’t suffering from dementia or another physical disorder. This latter characteristic is to eliminate any other reason for the sleepwalking that might be due to physical problems. Sleepwalking can also last a very short time, such as thirty seconds, to a longer period, such as thirty minutes. It is most common in children and boys tend to sleepwalk more than girls do.

Why do People Sleepwalk?

The thing that everyone wants to know about sleepwalking is why people sleepwalk in the first place. Truthfully, no one has yet found an actual reason why some people sleepwalk but there have been many theories that have thrown around. Sometimes sleepwalking is referred to by mental health professionals as a “disorder of arousal.” This means that while the person has been in the deepest phases of sleep, something has awoken their brain, which is usually very quiet, during these times of sleep. This means that the person will now have an active body with a slightly active brain, which is different than the active body and sleepy brain that is usually found during this phase of sleep. However, because the body is still actually in stage three or four of sleep, the body will remain in a deep sleep.

The fact that most sleepwalking occurs within children is important and for this, there can be many reasons. One reason that’s been proposed by some is that children’s brains are simply too immature to understand the different phases of being awake and sleeping. Others though say that it may actually be because a child’s brain grows so quickly. Consider that a completely helpless newborn will be a kindergartener in five years that will be learning how to read, and you can get an idea of just how quickly a child’s brain develops. Because of this, it’s thought that while the brain is growing so quickly, some areas might grow more quickly than others and that some aspects of development might take precedence over other areas in some cases. In the case of sleepwalking, fully understanding the difference between wakefulness and sleeping just has not caught up in terms of development to the other areas of the brain.

It’s also during NREM sleep that a body releases growth hormones and repairs itself. Because children grow so quickly and so often, it’s thought that sleepwalking among children might have something to do with these growth hormones. However, parents of sleepwalkers are often relieved to know that children usually outgrow their sleepwalking tendencies.

But not all children outgrow sleepwalking and most adults who sleepwalk also did it when they were children. If an adult starts sleepwalking, and they’ve never done it before, it’s usually a good idea to see a doctor. This can actually be a symptom of another disorder such as seizures, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. Children can also often be helped with their sleepwalking by setting a regular sleep schedule and reducing stress.

Aside from sleepwalking, there are many other parasomnias that involve sleeping. One is sleep-talking, which is much more common and usually fairly harmless and another is sleep-eating, which is where people will consume large amounts of food while they are sleeping. This can be harmless but sometimes, such as when a person is eating raw meat, can be very dangerous as well. Sleepwalking itself is also usually pretty harmless but because it can also be very dangerous, it’s important to get it looked into because it could become a serious problem. Although there is no medication or “cure” for sleepwalking, there are some changes in habits and lifestyle that can help a person overcome sleepwalking if they feel as though they need to.


 How sleepwalking works.