Sleepwalking is one of the parasomnic sleep disorders and describes an unconscious state of wakefulness during sleep. Find out here what lies behind the myth of sleepwalking and how it happens that we wake up from sleep without consciousness or memory and walk through the night.
Table of Contents
- What does sleepwalking mean?
- This is what happens when you sleepwalk
- Causes and triggers of sleepwalking
- Is sleepwalking harmful?
- Avoid sleepwalking
What does sleepwalking mean?
Sleepwalking, also known as "somnambulism" in science, is a sleep or waking disorder that is one of the so-called parasomnias (sleep interruptions). The myth is more common in children, but up to 7% of adults also occasionally walk around in their sleep, according to doctors. The extraordinary state in which we get up without really waking up from sleep, wander through the apartment and the next day have no memory of the nocturnal excursion lasts in most cases only a few seconds to minutes and usually takes place mainly in the bedroom . Why we wander around at night can have different reasons and, depending on the severity, can also entail serious dangers.
This is what happens when you sleepwalk
Sleepwalking awakens and activates some areas of the brain while another part stays asleep. Those affected are thus placed in a state between being awake and asleep and are said to have "woken up incompletely". Various studies from sleep research show that during sleepwalking, the brain areas that control our movement and motor skills are as active as when we are awake, while other important areas, such as the brain areas responsible for memory formation and interaction with the environment, are not activity typical for sleep.
Our brain continues to sleep, which is why we are in a trance while walking around and have little or no important nerve and brain functions such as orientation, pain perception and our general ability to interact and react. So it happens that sleepwalkers get up, walk around or even eat a meal, but are not responsive and have no memory of the waking phase the next day.
Causes and triggers of sleepwalking
The causes of the unusual phenomenon are not yet fully known. Sleepwalking occurs exclusively in the deep sleep phases or in the transition from deep sleep to waking up. It therefore has nothing to do with dreaming, even though it is often assumed, and it cannot take place in a dream sleep phase (REM sleep), because here the so-called sleep paralysis usually protects us from uncontrolled movements .
Scientists suspect that deep sleep in sleepwalkers is generally more prone to disruption and less stable. During sleep, they react more sensitively to external (sounds, light or touch) or the body's own stimuli (urge to urinate, stress, pain), which then trigger incomplete awakening. And the degree of maturity of the central nervous system could also play a crucial role in the stimulus response during sleep and influence whether someone sleepwalks or not. This would also explain why children are affected more often than adults. At the young age of 4 to 8 years, the brain is still developing and the central nervous system is immature.
By the way: According to researchers, there is a 60% risk for the children of sleepwalkers to become sleepwalkers themselves, since a tendency to sleepwalk could also be genetic and related to the inherited maturation of the central nervous system
An overview of other possible triggers for sleepwalking:
Is sleepwalking harmful?In most cases, those affected cannot remember the nightly excursions the next morning and only find out that they are sleepwalking when another person is present. Basically, sleepwalking is a rather harmless sleep disorder, which in any case is rather rare, especially in adults. Nevertheless, the "half-awake" state also harbors dangers due to the uncontrolled activity, for example when sleepwalkers unconsciously leave the house or handle dangerous objects such as scissors, knives, etc. In these moments, those affected are not fully conscious, cannot assess risks or react adequately to dangers. If you or a family member suffers from occasional sleepwalking, it is therefore advisable to secure the sleeping area and, for example, close doors and windows at night or remove potentially dangerous objects from the bedroom.
How can I avoid sleepwalking?
Illness, stress or a lack of relaxation can put a strain on the nervous system and increase sensitivity to stimuli during sleep. A quiet and undisturbed sleep is therefore a good prerequisite for avoiding being startled or waking up from deep sleep and for not making sleepwalking possible in the first place. Unless there is a serious medical condition behind a tendency to sleepwalk, it may help to specifically slow down before sleep and support both physical and mental relaxation to promote sleep overall and avoid nocturnal awakenings.
Watch out! Surely you've heard that sleepwalkers shouldn't be woken up - and with good reason! The sudden awakening from deep sleep can not only be extremely surprising, it can also have a confusing effect on the person concerned or even lead to panicked, aggressive or unpredictable behavior. It is better to gently guide sleepwalkers back to the bed, where they can usually settle down quickly and continue sleeping.
Sleepwalking describes the unconscious mixed state of being awake and asleep, in which the body is active but the mind continues to sleep.
Sleepwalkers wake up incompletely from deep sleep and usually cannot remember when they were awake.
Possible causes of sleepwalking are a low degree of maturity of the nervous system and a low sensitivity to stimuli during deep sleep, for example due to stress, mental stress or illness.
Sleepwalking is basically not harmful, but can lead to dangerous and risky situations.
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