Maybe you just discovered you’ve been sleepwalking. Or maybe you have done it for years, but a recent episode has you somewhat concerned. Perhaps a friend or loved one is suffering from this embarrassing condition, and you would like to help them. Regardless of the reason, you’re looking for information. You’d like to know what causes sleepwalking, and is there a way to stop it.
Sleepwalking, in medical terms, is called somnambulism or noctambulism. It is one in a classification of sleep disorders, called parasomnias, which also includes bruxism (teeth grinding), adult bedwetting, night terrors and other problems. The definition of parasomnia is: “Undesired events during sleep.” Sleepwalking is probably the most well known of the parasomnias, but also the least understood.
There are countless reasons why a person may sleepwalk. It could have its foundation in genetics, medical problems, stress, sleep deprivation, medications, or many other possible issues. There is no one-size, fits all answer to the question: “What causes sleepwalking?”
Sleepwalking definitely runs in families. It is estimated that your chances of being a sleepwalker are increased by about ten times, if you have a close relative who wanders around in their sleep. Scientists have even discovered a genetic marker that is fairly often present in the DNA of sleepwalkers. So it is entirely possible “your grandma makes you do it!”
There are a number of medical problems that are often associated with sleepwalking. Obstructive sleep apnea is one of the most common offenders. Because the apnea patient has numerous interruptions during the sleep cycle, due to irregular breathing, there are times they are roused up enough to sleepwalk, even though the episode didn’t actually wake them up. Other common medical causes include asthma and hyperthyroidism. Migraine sufferers may also experience sleepwalking events. Fever can trigger episodes, especially in children. While there are other medical conditions that are known to cause sleepwalking, these are the most common.
Stress is known to be a major cause of sleepwalking, and is probably the most common reason people sleepwalk. While it’s not possible to eliminate all the causes of stress in your life…unless you want to get rid of your spouse, your kids and your job…it is possible to learn new coping mechanisms, to deal with stress in a less negative manner. Many sleepwalkers find that the episodes are much reduced or even eliminated, after learning stress management.
Many people, who have never, ever experienced a sleepwalking problem, have had a real doozey of a late-night meander, when severely sleep deprived. Several medications can bring about somnambulism episodes. Anti-arrhythmia heart medicines are common triggers. So are some anti-anxiety and anti-seizure drugs. The popular sleep aids, Ambien and Lunesta are notorious for causing sleepwalking, sometimes with very dangerous behaviors, such as sleep driving.
Other common causes of sleepwalking include hormone changes during puberty, PMS, pregnancy and menopause; noise and light; alcohol or drug abuse; or sleeping in strange surroundings. Hopefully, this helps to answer your question, “What causes sleepwalking.” This is only a quick overview of the most common reasons people sleepwalk.
Is there a way to stop sleepwalking? Sometimes. It depends on the cause of the problem. Sometimes some basic lifestyle changes can help, such as learning to deal with stress; limiting alcohol consumption in the evening; avoiding becoming sleep deprived. If a particular medication is suspected, you could speak with your doctor about changing to a different drug. Many sleepwalkers have been helped through biofeedback therapy, or self-hypnosis. Other options also exist that are beneficial to us midnight wanderers.