Sleepwalking is most often initiated during deep sleep but may occur in the lighter sleep stages or NREM, usually within a few hours of falling asleep, and the sleepwalker may be partially aroused during the episode.
In addition to walking during deep sleep, other symptoms of sleepwalking include:
- Little or no memory of the event
- Difficulty arousing the sleepwalker during an episode
- Inappropriate behavior such as urinating in closets (more common in children)
- Screaming (when sleepwalking occurs in conjunction with sleep terrors)
- Violent attacks on the person trying to awaken the sleepwalker
Unless you live alone and are completely unaware of your sleepwalking, chances are you'll make the diagnosis of sleepwalking for yourself. If your child sleepwalks, you'll know it.
Your doctor may do a physical or psychological exam to identify any conditions that may be confused with sleepwalking, such as nighttime seizures, other sleep disorders or panic attacks. In some cases, a sleep study in an overnight sleep lab may be recommended.
There is no specific treatment for sleepwalking. In many cases simply improving sleep hygiene may eliminate the problem. If you are experiencing symptoms, you should talk to your doctor or a sleep specialist about ways to prevent injury during the episodes and about the possibility of underlying illness. Also, be prepared to discuss with your doctor or pediatrician any factors, such as fatigue, medication, or stress, which may trigger symptoms.
Treatment for sleepwalking in adults may include hypnosis. In fact, there are many cases in which sleepwalking patients have successfully treated their symptoms with hypnosis alone. Also, pharmacological therapies such as sedative-hypnotics or antidepressants have been helpful in reducing the incidence of sleepwalking in some people.
Sleepwalking is common in children and is usually outgrown over time, especially as the amount of deep sleep decreases. If symptoms persist through adolescence, consult your doctor or psychiatrist.