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Sleep Walking

Definition of Sleep Walking

Sleepwalking is a Parasomnia-an undesirable physical or behavioral phenomena that occurs during sleep.  Sleep walking is more prevalent in childhood between the ages of 3 and 8 years and occurs in 1-17% of children.  It is more common if one or two parents were sleep walkers.  Sleepwalking typically resolves by age 11 to 12 years old.  However, 4% of Adults Sleep Walk.  The manifestations can be sitting up in bed, walking or running.   The behaviors can be calm or agitated.  The person’s eyes may be open, and they may appear to be awake but are really asleep.  Sleep walking, as all parasomnias, increase in incidence with chronic sleep loss.  Typically sleepwalking does not result in injury but some children may walk outside putting them at significant risk.   A main concern is to ensure a person’s safety during an episode:  lock doors and windows, have alarms, inform family and friends if the walking is frequent.  The sleep walking event is not remembered by the sleep walker the next day.


Causes of Sleep Walking

The exact cause of sleepwalking is unknown.  It occurs in all stages of sleep.  Excessive tiredness, interrupted sleep from an illness or fever, chronic sleep insufficiency, anxiety, mental illness and  medications appear to contribute to sleepwalking.  If frequent, seizure activity must be ruled out.


Sleep Walking Diagnosis 

You should let Dr. Gingras  know if you or a member of your household sleepwalks.  She will review your medical history and medications and ask you questions about your sleep patterns.  Dr. Gingras may order a sleep study if she is concerned about an intrinsic sleep disorder triggering the sleep walking.


Treatment of Sleep Walking

Children may outgrow sleepwalking as they grow older and their sleep patterns change.  Most people do  not need treatment for sleep walking, but all safety measures should be taken to ensure that they remain in the house and do not fall.  Do not wake the person who is sleep walking but gently direct them back to their room.    

If sleep walking is due to an underlying medical condition, Dr. Gingras will identify this and treat it. 


Prevention of Sleep Walking

You may help prevent sleepwalking injuries by making changes in your home environment to ensure that a person does not leave or fall.  It can be helpful to install additional locks.  You may prevent falls by removing throw rugs, cords, or other items on the floor that may be potentially hazardous.  You may consider increasing the total sleep time if sleep is restricted.


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