Sleepwalking is classified as a parasomnia — an undesirable behavior or experience during sleep. Sleepwalking is a parasomnia of arousal, meaning it occurs during deep, dreamless (non-rapid eye movement, or NREM) sleep. Someone who is sleepwalking may:
- Sit up in bed and open his or her eyes
- Have a glazed, glassy-eyed expression
- Roam around the house, perhaps opening and closing doors or turning lights on and off
- Do routine activities, such as getting dressed or making a snack — even driving a car
- Speak or move in a clumsy manner
- Scream, especially if also experiencing night terrors, another parasomnia in which you are likely to sit up, scream, talk, thrash and kick
- Be difficult to wake up during an episode
Sleepwalking usually occurs during deep sleep, early in the night — often one to two hours after falling asleep. Sleepwalking is unlikely to occur during naps. The sleepwalker won't remember the episode in the morning.
Sleepwalking episodes can occur rarely or often, including multiple times a night for a few consecutive nights.
Sleepwalking is common in children, who typically outgrow the behavior by their teens, as the amount of deep sleep they get decreases.
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:
Aug. 12, 2011
- Become more frequent
- Lead to dangerous behavior or injury
- Are accompanied by other signs or symptoms
- Continue into your child's teens
- Sleepwalking. Sleepeducation.com. http://yoursleep.aasmnet.org/disorder.aspx?id=14. Accessed June 9, 2011.
- Overnight sleep study. Sleepeducation.com. http://yoursleep.aasmnet.org/Topic.aspx?id=12. Accessed June 10, 2011.
- National sleep disorders research plan. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. National Institutes of Health. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/prof/sleep/res_plan/section5/section5a.html. Accessed June 7, 2011.
- Matwiyoff J, et al. Parasomnias: An overview. Indian Journal of Medical Research. 2010;131:333.
- Stores G. Aspects of parasomnias in childhood and adolescents. Archives of Disease in Childhood. 2009;94:63.
- Avidan AY, et al. The parasomnias: Epidemiology, clinical features, and diagnostic approach. Clinics in Chest Medicine. 2010;31:353.
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- Harris M, et al. Treatments for somnambulism in adults: Assessing the evidence. Sleep Medicine Reviews. 2009;13:295.