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last updated:
Tue, 12/04/2012 1:57 PM

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the prevalence of sleepwalking in the general population is estimated to be between 1% and 15%. While the onset or persistence of sleepwalking in adulthood is common, the prevalence of sleepwalking is much higher in children between the ages of three and seven, and occurs more often in children with obstructive sleep apnea. Sleepwalking is more likely to occur if a person is sleep deprived. Additional triggers may include sedative agents (including alcohol), febrile illnesses, and certain medications.

Sleepwalking, formally known as somnambulism, is a behavior disorder that originates during deep sleep and results in walking or performing other complex behaviors while asleep. According to the US National Library of Medicine, the episode can be very brief (a few seconds or minutes) or it can last for 30 minutes or longer, but most episodes last for less than 10 minutes. Because a sleepwalker typically remains in deep sleep throughout the episode, he or she may be difficult to awaken and will probably not remember the sleepwalking incident.

Symptoms of sleepwalking disorder range from simply sitting up in bed and looking around, to walking around the room or house, to leaving the house and even driving long distances. It is a common misconception that a sleepwalker should not be awakened. In fact, it can be quite dangerous not to wake a sleepwalker.

So how do you know if you or your loved one is sleepwalking? You may think this has an obvious answer, but the sleepwalker may exhibit these additional symptoms:

  • Sleeptalking
  • Little or no memory of the event
  • Difficulty arousing the sleepwalker during an episode
  • Inappropriate behavior such as urinating in closets (more common in children)
  • Screaming (when sleepwalking occurs in conjunction with sleep terrors)
  • Violent attacks on the person trying to awaken the sleepwalker

While there is no specific treatment for sleepwalking, simply improving sleep hygiene may eliminate the problem. If you are experiencing symptoms, you should talk to your doctor or a sleep specialist about ways to prevent injury during the episodes and about the possibility of underlying illness.

If you believe you or your loved one may be experiencing sleepwalking, consult your physician or contact the Methodist Sleep Disorders Center directly by calling 901-683-0044 to determine you best treatment option.

This information is provided by Methodist Healthcare and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

National Sleep Foundation
US National Library of Medicine


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Methodist Healthcare is an integrated health care delivery system, dedicated to the art of healing through our faith-based commitment to minister to the whole person. 1211 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee 38104 • (901) 516-7000