About 2.5% of the world’s population has symptoms of sleepwalking. If sleepwalking occurs regularly, examination and observation by a psychiatrist, neurologist, somnologist is required . In medicine, sleepwalking in adults belongs to the group of parasomnias – sleep behavior disorders.
Somnambulism is the name of a pathology, formed from two Latin words somnus – “sleep” and ambulo – “I move”, literally translated – sleepwalking. In everyday life, another term is often used – sleepwalking. In the old days, it was believed that the problem is directly related to the activity of the moon. Today it is scientifically proven that the phases of the moon do not affect a person so much as to provoke a similar phenomenon.
Causes of somnambulism
It has not yet been precisely established what are the causes of sleepwalking in adults. Most often, inappropriate sleep behavior is associated with dysfunctions of the nervous system.
Many studies have been carried out, the results of which have allowed to determine some patterns. In most cases, a certain age group is susceptible to sleepwalking as a disease – children from 4 to 10 years old, since the children’s nervous system is not fully formed and is more susceptible to the effects of negative external factors. It was also found that sleepwalking in children is often associated with a change in sleep patterns (for example, moving to a different time zone).
Walking while sleeping is also noted among adolescents during puberty (from 10-12 to 18 years old), when the body is emotionally unstable. By the age of 20, the reproductive system is finally formed, and most boys and girls forget about their “night adventures”.
Consider what causes sleepwalking most often:
- Constant lack of sleep. Continuous sound sleep is vital for the body. Due to increased exertion, frequent lack of sleep, snapshots of sleep during the day without proper rest at night, the nervous system is exhausted from overstrain.
- Diseases of the brain (tumors, both benign and cancerous). The neoplasm presses on a specific area of the brain, interfering with its normal functioning. This can provoke sleep disturbances, alternating with memory lapses, which is why sleepwalking occurs in adults.
- Neurological disorders. The group of these pathologies is very extensive, but any of them can provoke sleepwalking. For example, an obsessive state, when one single thought firmly settles in the head, an endless cycle of thinking over its solution causes psychosis, sleep disturbance.
- Diseases of the psyche in a chronic form – epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease.
- Pathologies of various organs, autonomic disorders. Aneurysms, disorders of the heart muscle, diabetes mellitus, asthma can provoke somnambulism in adults.
- Mechanical damage to the head – traumatic brain injury, brain contusions can disrupt the functioning of the brain, cause sleep disorders.
- A difficult pregnancy is sometimes a circumstance that leads to sleepwalking.
- Violation of the regime and diet. Studies have confirmed that a hearty meal right before bedtime has an extremely negative effect on night rest – this is more likely to cause nightmares, due to which a person can start walking in a dream. Rigid diets lacking beneficial micronutrients (magnesium) also lead to sleep disturbances.
- Excessive emotionality and extreme impressionability of some people associated with a personality psychotype can cause sleepwalking.
- Forced somnambulism. The use of alcoholic beverages, drugs, overdose of medications cause hallucinations that lead to sleepwalking.
Prolonged stressful conditions can also be the cause. In the modern world, a person is constantly faced with minor troubles and worries, but stress as a chronic phenomenon significantly affects sleep. Due to increased anxiety, nightmares or dreams may occur in which a person is looking for a solution to a problem, from this he may begin to walk in a dream, perform certain manipulations.
Important! During somnambulistic sleep, a person’s pain threshold is turned off, he does not feel fear, his movements are slow, speech is sometimes inhibited, incoherent, eyes are open, pupils are dilated.
How sleepwalking manifests itself
The symptomatology of somnambulism is pronounced; it is impossible to confuse it with other sleep disorders. The signs of sleepwalking are varied, but those living in the same house with a sleepwalker simply cannot fail to notice them.
Typical symptoms of sleepwalking are:
- Sleep anxiety , expressed in trembling limbs, smacking, swallowing saliva, clattering the tongue.
- Conversations in a dream – a patient with somnambulism sometimes does not just mutter something under his breath, he can scream or engage in polemics with an opponent, while his eyes are open, but his gaze is “glassy” and is focused on one point. This symptomatology is typical for choleric people with an irascible character.
- Teeth grinding is also sometimes a manifestation of somnambulism.
- Sleepwalking is the most obvious sign of sleepwalking. Sometimes the patient can just sit in bed, but often the sleepwalker begins to wander around the house and perform the usual everyday activities (turn on the kettle, get dressed, open the refrigerator or window). If the front door is not closed, the somnambulist may even go outside.
In the morning, the sleepwalker will not remember an attack of sleepwalking, no matter what arguments and facts were given to him. Pathology manifests itself and proceeds in different ways. An attack can happen only once or be an extremely rare condition against the background of specific circumstances (severe stress, taking medications), while in others, sleepwalking is a frequent phenomenon that occurs up to several times in one night.
When an attack occurs
Attacks of somnambulism always occur in the deep sleep phase – two hours after a person completely falls asleep. At this stage, sleep proceeds without dreams, or they are dim. When conducting studies, electroencephalograms showed that with a short attack, the patient always stays in the phase of deep sleep, without leaving it. With a prolonged episode, there were periods when the patient was awake or when he entered a state of drowsiness.
The duration and symptoms of seizures vary. In the most loyal form, a person simply takes a sitting position, begins to mutter something unintelligible, then go to bed and fall asleep deeply again. With prolonged seizures, walking in a dream often happens, the sleepwalker makes any movements with open eyes, a glazed look, a face that does not express anything.
Trying to wake up a somnambulist during an attack is strictly prohibited. A person who suddenly wakes up outside of their bed can become very scared, hysterical, or get trauma. It may be unsafe for others as well – there is the concept of “aggressive sleepwalking”, expressed in an attack of anger by a sleepwalker towards those who will be next to him at the moment of an unnatural exit from the state.
How is the attack going
Being in a state of somnambulism, the patient is perfectly oriented in the familiar environment. Moreover, he sees all the objects around him, bypasses obstacles without bumping into them. The sleepwalker hears everything and can even quite easily answer a simple question.
Obviously, during an attack, the brain perceives and partially analyzes incoming external signals, extracts from memory information about surrounding objects, manipulations that need to be performed with them – press the switch button to turn on the light, pull the handle to open the window, press the lever to flush the toilet.
Sometimes the attack ends as suddenly as it began. After an episode of somnambulism, the patient immediately goes to bed, this does not always happen in the usual place (in the bathroom, hallway), and in the morning the sleepwalker cannot understand how he got there. A person may vaguely remember his sleepwalking, but more often than not he does not remember anything. Remorse and anguish do not occur, since the patient did not give an account of his actions.
In a somnambulistic dream, a person is capable of committing rather serious from a moral point of view, misconduct. The most striking example is the case when a girl at the time of an attack of sleepwalking shot her father from a revolver that came to hand. The case occurred in the United States in 1961, is considered unique and is included in the parasomnia handbooks .
Sleepwalking in adults is treatable with frequent and pronounced episodes, it consists in eliminating the causes of stress as the main factor of pathology. Treatment of sleepwalking in adults is impossible without examination by a psychiatrist. It is the psychiatrist who prescribes special medications according to indications – sedatives, antidepressants, tranquilizers.
Important! The selection of drugs is purely individual, self-medication is strictly prohibited.
After a course of drugs, further patient management is transferred to a psychotherapist. The doctor conducts sessions in which he determines the causes of sleepwalking, gives a certain psychological setting aimed at eliminating the deep causes of stress, sometimes hypnosis sessions are recommended.
People have been asking how to treat sleepwalking for a long time. In ancient times, healers tried to treat sleepwalkers with decoctions of herbs, other folk methods, such therapy did not give positive results.
Today, with a single manifestation of sleepwalking, you should not panic, it is enough to establish the reason, it is often obvious, without outside interference to attract loved ones so that they can observe the nighttime behavior of the sleepwalker. With frequent episodes of sleepwalking, persistent attempts by the somnambulist to leave the house on the street, the help of medical specialists is required.
There is no specific technique, but it is possible and necessary to deal with frequent bouts of sleepwalking.
Basic methods on how to get rid of sleepwalking:
- exclusion of factors traumatizing the psyche, stressful situations, nervous tension;
- tracking, normalization of sleep patterns – insomnia, irregular, bursting sleep cause disruptions in the body, leading to walking in a dream;
- supervision by a neuropathologist, psychiatrist, psychotherapist, somnologist ;
- spa treatment in sanatoriums dealing with sleep pathologies;
- taking medications as prescribed by the attending physician.
As a disease, sleepwalking is inherently not dangerous for the psyche or the functioning of vital organs. The danger is represented by the actions that the lunatic performs at the time of the attack – an attempt to start the car, turn the valve on the gas stove, but not set fire to the gas – such actions can injure and even cripple both the lunatic and the people around him.
How to deal with sleepwalking and protect the sleepwalker
What if someone in the household suffers from sleepwalking? Here are some simple guidelines:
- Put a wet rag on the floor next to the bed. Standing on it with bare feet, the sleepwalker will immediately wake up and go back to bed.
- Set an alarm before bed every two hours. By turning off the alarm and, accordingly, waking up, you can monitor your sleep cycles.
- Install bars on the windows to prevent the sleepwalker from falling out with frequent episodes of illness.
- Before going to bed, turn off all electrical appliances from the sockets, make the gas stove valve removable, and remove it at night.
- Close the front door with all locks (install a lock with opening with a key on both sides, hide the key at night).
- Do not watch horror films, TV shows with a negative broadcast format (description of tragic events and sad news) before going to bed.
- Avoid playing sports and eating any food late before bedtime.
Important! You can’t wake up a sleepwalker. You need to silently take his hand and take him back to bed.
Walking in a dream is a common phenomenon, it does not always require medical intervention, sometimes it is enough to observe a person and establish the reasons for his inadequate sleep behavior. If there are no aggravating factors in the form of stress and concomitant mental pathologies, the disease goes away.