Sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism, is when people get up and walk around while asleep. It's more common in children than adults. Children usually outgrow sleepwalking by the teen years. Sleepwalking that happens once in a while often isn't a serious problem and doesn't need treatment. But sleepwalking that happens a lot may suggest an underlying sleep disorder.

Sleepwalking in adults is more likely to be confused with, or happen as part of, other sleep disorders. Medical conditions also can cause people to walk in their sleep.

If people in your household sleepwalk, it's important to take steps to help prevent them from getting injured while sleepwalking.


Sleepwalking usually occurs early in the night — often 1 to 2 hours after falling asleep. It isn't likely to happen during naps, but it is possible. A bout of sleepwalking can occur rarely or often. A bout generally lasts several minutes, but it can last longer.

People who sleepwalk may:

  • Get out of bed and walk around.
  • Sit up in bed and open their eyes.
  • Have a glazed, glassy-eyed expression.
  • Not respond or talk to others.
  • Be hard to wake up.
  • Be confused for a short time after waking up.
  • Not remember in the morning that they sleepwalked.
  • Have problems functioning during the day because of disturbed sleep.
  • Also have sleep terrors that cause screaming and waving of arms and legs.

Sometimes, people who sleepwalk will:

  • Do routine activities, such as getting dressed, talking or eating.
  • Leave the house.
  • Drive a car.
  • Take part in unusual behavior, such as passing urine in a closet.
  • Take part in sexual activity without being aware of it.
  • Get injured, such as by falling down the stairs or jumping out a window.
  • Become violent while briefly confused after waking up or once in a while sleepwalking.

When to see a doctor

Occasional bouts of sleepwalking aren't usually a cause for concern. They usually go away on their own. You can simply mention the sleepwalking at a routine physical or well-child exam.

See your healthcare professional if the bouts of sleepwalking:

  • Happen often — for example, more than 1 to 2 times a week or several times a night.
  • Lead to dangerous behavior or injuries to those who sleepwalk or others.
  • Disturb the sleep of household members or those who sleepwalk.
  • Lead to being very tired during the day or causing problems in daily life activities, such as at school or work.
  • Continue into your child's teen years or start for the first time as an adult.


Sleepwalking is classified as a parasomnia — an undesirable behavior or event during sleep. Sleepwalking is a disorder of arousal. This means it occurs during N3 sleep, the deepest stage of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. Another NREM disorder is sleep terrors, which can occur with sleepwalking.

Many factors can lead to sleepwalking, including:

  • Not getting enough sleep.
  • Stress.
  • Fever.
  • Sleep schedule disruptions, travel or sleep interruptions.

Sometimes underlying conditions that affect sleep can cause sleepwalking, such as:

  • Sleep-disordered breathing — a group of disorders featuring unusual breathing patterns during sleep, such as obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Taking certain medicines, such as hypnotics, sedatives or some medicines used for mental health conditions.
  • Substance use, such as alcohol.
  • Restless legs syndrome.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Risk factors

Factors that may raise the risk of sleepwalking include:

  • Genetics. Sleepwalking appears to run in families. It's more common if one parent has a history of sleepwalking, and much more common if both parents have a history of the sleep disorder.
  • Age. Sleepwalking occurs more often in children than adults. When it starts in an adult, it's more likely related to other underlying conditions.


Sleepwalking itself isn't necessarily a concern, but people who sleepwalk can:

  • Get hurt, especially if they walk near furniture or stairs, wander outdoors, drive a car, or eat something that shouldn't be eaten while sleepwalking.
  • Have a sleep disruption that lasts a long time, which can lead to being very tired during the day and possible school or behavioral issues.
  • Be very embarrassed about their actions.
  • Disturb others' sleep.

Rarely, people who sleepwalk can injure someone else nearby.

Sleepwalking care at Mayo Clinic

June 04, 2024
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