The study of sleep is both an intriguing and interdisciplinary field, ranging from conducting deep statistical analysis of REM cycles to unearthing the psychological basis of dreams. From a medical perspective, the unquestionable necessity of a proper night’s rest to recharge the body and thereby maintain one’s health has prompted greater research into widespread sleep disorders. However, one disorder in particular has captivated both physicians and the public alike due to its sheer peculiarity: sleepwalking.
In the United States alone, approximately fifty to seventy million adults suffer from one of many sleep disorders, including snoring, sleep apnea, insomnia, and, of course, sleepwalking. According to research done by the University Hospital of Bern,
fifteen percent of children exhibited sleepwalking (also known as somnambulism) behavior at one point or another by the age of 6. These percentages decline with time, resulting in only two to three percent of adults exhibiting similar symptoms. As a result, it is commonly believed that sleepwalking is a behavior reserved to the early phases of life. Repeated incidents of sleepwalking in adults, on the other hand, may require the consultation of a medical professional given its link to other conditions.
Image Source: Brad Wenner
Sleep is divided into a number of stages. The first stage is referred to as NREM sleep (non-rapid eye movement sleep), which includes a separate subdivision known as N3 sleep. Sleepwalking behavior typically takes place during this sub-stage of sleep and can result from: fever, stress, or lack of sleep. Sleepwalking may also be viewed as a symptom of conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease or restless legs syndrome. In terms of genetic predisposition, somnambulism can also be a hereditary condition.
Sleepwalking does not usually lead to further complications later in life; however, physicians are often mindful of the fact that individuals who exhibit frequent sleepwalking behavior may be more prone to accident and injury. A recent study validated this concern in its reporting that those who sleepwalk are unaware of any pain sensations they may experience while in such a state.
While sleepwalking itself cannot be cured, physicians typically recommend that individuals with sleepwalking tendencies adjust their lifestyles to reduce stress and get more rest. If, however, sleepwalking is perceived as a symptom of a larger condition, doctors may suggest alternative treatment plans. Fostering a greater understanding of common sleep disorders and their causes can encourage individuals to take their health and well-being into their own hands by making appropriate lifestyle changes.
Feature Image Source: Sleeping Julie by Sebastien Wiertz