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:

  • 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
Jul. 31, 2014

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