Sleepwalking (somnambulism)

The least common but one of the strangest and most frightening sleep disorders is sleepwalking or somnambulism. Surely many of us in childhood heard stories about “sleepwalkers” who came out the window or simply wandered sleepily down the street in their night clothes. What is it?

In medical literature, the term “somnambulism” comes from the Latin somnus – sleep and ambulare – to walk, walk. In its most general form, somnambulism is a sleep disorder in which a person begins to unconsciously perform a series of atypical actions on the part of those who look purposeful. According to statistics, about 1-2% of adults from time to time move around in their sleep and about 15-20% of people reported rare cases of somnambulism. Among the people, such people are called lunatics, referring to the ancient belief about the mystical influence of the Moon on a sleeping person.

In fact, somnambulism manifests itself in the case when the processes of inhibition in the parts of the brain responsible for motor or speech functions do not work. Sleepwalking usually occurs 1.5-2 hours after falling asleep at the stage of slow wave sleep. The man sits up in bed, his eyes wide open, a surprised expression on his face. Often this is where it all ends, but the real “somnambulists” begin outwardly quite naturally to move or even run around the room and outside. In medical practice, there have been cases of strange or even indecent behavior: people can travel long distances, independently driving a car, eat while sleeping, or urinate in an inappropriate place. In this state, a person is often guided by the plot of his dream, trying to perform a dream action or prevent an event by running away from it. Sometimes the activity of the “somnambulist” is aggressive: he can accidentally or purposefully hurt the bedroommate or the one who is trying to wake him up. There have been cases when the sleeping people began to fight or shout at another person, while continuing, while being in a state of confusion. By the way, it is quite difficult to wake up a sleepwalker, and you shouldn’t – they usually return to bed on their own in 15-20 minutes. Sometimes this process takes longer (up to 50 minutes), but a sudden awakening does not occur. During the morning awakening, a person vaguely remembers what happened or has no idea at all about the events of the previous night.

Episodes of quiet sleepwalking rarely threaten a person’s health: after wandering a little around the house, he returns to bed and continues to sleep there. However, the risk of physical injury increases sharply if the somnambulist moves quickly, making sudden movements, or even leaves the home. The common opinion among ordinary people that, together with the ability to move unconsciously, a person acquires extraordinary dexterity is nothing more than a myth. The lunatic standing on the cornice simply does not feel the fear of danger due to the fact that he is asleep, and since the coordination of movements in a dream is impaired, any wrong step can lead to serious injury and death.


Sleep- speaking is another sleep disorder with similar causes and mechanisms of action . Similar phenomena occur in 50% of children and usually disappear upon reaching the age of 15-17. In adults, these episodes are less common, but about 5% of people experience such episodes from time to time. Unlike sleepwalking , sleepwalking can manifest itself in both REM and NREM sleep. There is no negative effect in this disorder, since such people only utter a few phrases related to the events of the dream. Sometimes their words are completely incoherent and can even be funny: ‚Äúpeople in socks are everywhere! They’re coming! ” Is a good example of a snippet of your roommate’s nightly humor.

Causes of the disorder

Somnambulism manifests itself in an intermediate state between sleep and wakefulness, when the cerebral cortex is inhibited, but the ability to fine motor skills remains. Doctors identify heredity as one of the causes of the disorder, but more often it is the experienced stress or prolonged nervous situation in the human environment. Among children, sleepwalking usually affects impressionable, easily tired toddlers, as well as those who have recently started to walk. The peak manifestation of childhood somnambulism occurs at the age of 8 to 12 years. Much less often, this happens in adults and the elderly, which is sometimes a symptom of serious diseases such as epilepsy, stroke or Alzheimer’s disease. However, you should not be scared in advance, since the list of causes of sleepwalking is quite large:

  • headaches and head injuries;
  • high physical and emotional stress;
  • excessive food or fluid intake shortly before bedtime;
  • increased body temperature and diseases of internal organs;
  • reaction to medications;
  • unusual sleeping place and distractions (noise, light);
  • sleep deprivation;
  • alcohol abuse, etc.

Somnambulism treatment

In milder forms of somnambulism in children, treatment is usually not required because it does not pose any significant health risk. It is enough, if possible, to control his movements and carefully lead him back to bed if such activity is detected. If the episodes are often repeated, or can pose a threat to life in both children and adults, you should seek the advice of a neuropsychiatric doctor. At the appointment, you will need to list the reasons that, in your opinion, could affect the development of the disorder, as well as the diseases from which you suffer or have ever suffered. If desired, the patient can independently compile a two-week sleep diary that will help doctors in making a diagnosis and treatment.

As a treatment for frequent seizures, the doctor may prescribe mild tranquilizers, as well as a number of procedures, including an electroencephalogram of the brain (EEG), Doppler ultrasonography of the vessels of the head and cervical spine. In addition, it is possible to conduct a number of studies of nocturnal sleep, for example, polysomnography , which consists in the study of brain waves, heartbeat and breathing of a sleeping person. Sometimes video recording of sleep is used, which allows you to track all the movements and movements of the patient.

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