What Is Sleep Walking?

Sleepwalking is an interesting sleep disorder in that it’s fairly common and involves a lot more than just walking while you’re sleeping. This sleep disorder is what is considered a parasomnia, which means it’s an abnormal behavior that takes place between a state of sleep and a state of being awake. It occurs while you’re in a deep sleep, which is also NREM sleep, or sleep that’s not part of your REM cycle.

Any sort of movement out of your bed while you’re sleeping is considered sleepwalking. Although it’s more common in children, it affects adults as well. A 2016 study of 51 sleep studies found that about 5% of children dealt with sleep walking, compared to only 1.5% of adults.

Sleepwalking children
Most of the sleepwalkers are children

Symptoms Of Sleep Walking

When someone is sleepwalking, they might be doing any number of things. They can generally be found with their eyes open and glazed over, giving a blank stare while walking, running, doing household activities, or in extreme cases, attempting to drive a car, ride a bike, or something similar. Some people might also engage in sexual activities while sleep walking or try to do normal activities like go to the bathroom, but do it in the wrong place because they’re not properly aware of their surroundings.

Sleep walking doesn’t usually last very long — generally 10 minutes or less. However, some people experience sleep walking for up to 30 minutes or for as little as 10 seconds. The tricky thing with sleep walking is that you usually have no memory of sleepwalking, making it hard to nail down your own patterns. Most people find their way back to bed during a sleep walking spell but others will wake in a different location confused. It varies by person.

Woman sleepwalking
Sleepwalking usually lasts 10 minutes or less

Why Do I Sleep Walk?

There are a number of reasons someone might sleepwalk. Any of the following (or a combination) might apply to you:

  • Your DNA: Sleepwalking is genetic, so if you come from a family of sleep walkers, chances are you’ll also deal with this sleep disorder. If you’re a parent with a child who is sleepwalking, they might outgrow it though. There’s not necessarily a genetic pattern in how long it might last, but the habit itself is genetic.
  • A Lack of Sleep: If you’re overtired, it can lead to sleepwalking because your sleep cycle is out of whack. Overtiredness can lead to a different deep sleep than you’re used to, which can trigger a sleepwalking spell.
  • Sleep Disorders: Such things as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome can lead to sleepwalking. Sleep apnea is a disorder where you momentarily stop breathing, which can trigger a sleepwalking episode. Restless leg syndrome is when you experience pains in your legs while laying down, and if you have a spasm while in a deep sleep, it can wake your body up enough to sleep walk but not wake you up the whole way.
  • Alcohol Before Bed: Alcohol causes irregularity in your sleep, which can mean sleepwalking. If you drink too close to going to sleep, you might find yourself experiencing sleepwalking spells.
  • Medications: Some medications have a side effect of drowsiness, which will put you into a different sleeping pattern than you’re used to. This can lead to an unusual deep sleep and thus, sleep walking.
  • Stress or Anxiety: Stress and anxiety can cause a host of health problems, namely sleep issues. When you’re stressed or anxious, you can’t properly relax enough to sleep, which can trigger sleepwalking simply because your sleep cycles aren’t working right.

How Dangerous Is Sleep Walking?

The obvious danger of sleepwalking is to yourself. If your sleepwalking extends farther than a casual stroll around your bedroom and back to bed, it can lead to real problems. Any time you’re moving around without being aware, you run the risk of injuring yourself. If you share your home with other people, you also run the risk of injuring them and at the very least, disturbing their sleep.

Sleepwalking can also cause you stress once you know you’re doing it. If you’re concerned about your behavior while sleep walking, it’ll build up anxiety, which can in turn make sleeping more difficult for you. There’s also a concern of how those you share your space with will react to your sleep walking, especially if you’re doing something inappropriate like going to the bathroom outside the bathroom or engaging in sexual behavior without consent or in an untoward manner.

Dangers of sleepwalking
Sleep walking can lead to injuries

How To Stop Sleepwalking

In most cases, sleep walking doesn’t happen often enough and severely enough to need a real treatment plan, but it’s never a bad idea to bring it up to your doctor, just to make sure. If you’re dealing with sleep walking, though, and want to try to make things easier on yourself, you can do a few things at home. For one, you can improve your sleep hygiene. Make sure you’re getting enough quality sleep each night and setting yourself up for a successful night of rest.

You can also try to monitor your sleep patterns so you can find out what triggers your sleep walking and possibly eliminate the cause. If you have someone else in the house who can help — or if you can help the person in your house who’s sleep walking — it will make this part easier. Then there’s always the option of sleep studies or medication through your doctor or other medical professionals.

Additional Tips For Sleep Walking

Sleepwalking can be a confusing sleep disorder to decipher, especially if you’re dealing with it on your own and don’t know what to do. However, there are things you can do for yourself or anyone else in your house who is sleepwalking.

Remove Potential Hazards from the Environment

If you know you’re having issues with sleep walking, one of the first things you can do for yourself is to remove hazards from your home to keep yourself safe. Hide anything that can be a weapon, lock the doors and windows, install motion-sensor lights, keep the floors clear, etc. This would be a huge help for you or for anyone in your house who is sleepwalking. If nothing else, this should keep you safe from a sleep walker trying to climb out a window, hurt someone, hurt themselves, etc.

Be Careful When You’re Waking Up A Sleep Walker 

If you’re in a situation where you’re around someone who is sleepwalking, take care in waking them. Because they aren’t actually aware of their surroundings, jarring them awake can scare them or cause them to react angrily out of fear. Instead, try to gently guide them back to bed or into a safe situation and allow them to wake up — or fall back to sleep — on their own.