Sleepwalking is classified as a parasomnia — an undesirable behavior or experience during sleep. Sleepwalking is a disorder of arousal, meaning it occurs during slow wave sleep, the deepest stage of dreamless (non-rapid eye movement, or NREM) sleep. Another NREM disorder is sleep terrors, which can occur together with sleepwalking.
Sleepwalking usually occurs early in the night — often one to two hours after falling asleep. It's unlikely to occur during naps. A sleepwalking episode can occur rarely or often, and an episode generally lasts several minutes, but can last longer.
Someone who is sleepwalking may:
- Get out of bed and walk around
- Sit up in bed and open his or her eyes
- Have a glazed, glassy-eyed expression
- Do routine activities, such as getting dressed, talking or making a snack
- Not respond or communicate with others
- Be difficult to wake up during an episode
- Be disoriented or confused for a short time after being awakened
- Quickly return to sleep
- Not remember the episode in the morning
- Sometimes have problems functioning during the day because of disturbed sleep
- Have sleep terrors in addition to sleepwalking
Rarely, a person who is sleepwalking will:
- Leave the house
- Drive a car
- Engage in unusual behavior, such as urinating in a closet
- Engage in sexual activity without awareness
- Get injured, for example, by falling down the stairs or jumping out a window
- Become violent during the confused period after awakening or, occasionally, during the event
When to see a doctor
Occasional episodes of sleepwalking aren't usually a cause for concern. You can simply mention the sleepwalking at a routine physical or well-child exam. However, consult your doctor if the sleepwalking episodes:
July 31, 2014
- Occur often — for example, more than one to two times a week
- Lead to dangerous behavior or injury to the person who sleepwalks (which may occur, for example, after leaving the house) or to others
- Cause significant sleep disruption to household members or embarrassment to the person who sleepwalks
- Start for the first time in an adult
- Continue into your child's teen years
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- Kotagal S (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. May 19, 2014.
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