Sleep issues: what causes sleepwalking and how can you prevent it?

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Sleepwalking, also know as somnambulism, is a disorder characterised by walking or doing other activities while seemingly still asleep.

Despite being the subject of plenty of comedy sketches, sleepwalking is a serious issue.

TEMPUR looks at the causes and cures for this widely known but misunderstood condition…

What are the symptoms of sleepwalking?

Sleepwalking is a parasomnia, which involves undesired events that come along with sleep.

Sleepwalkers can experience a series of complex actions. Their eyes are usually open and they have a confused, glassy look on their faces.

Someone who is sleepwalking may:

• Leave their bed and walk around
• Sit up in bed with their eyes open
• Do daily routines that are not normally done at night
• Be difficult to wake up
• Seem confused
• Experience sleep terrors
• Have no recollection of what happened
• Quickly return to sleep.

In rare cases, sleepwalkers may perform actions that are dangerous to themselves or others, such as:

• Becoming violet
• Leaving the house
• Driving a car
• Injuring themselves

A sleepwalker won’t respond during the event and usually won’t remember it.

What are the causes of sleepwalking?

There’s no one clear-cut reason why people sleepwalk, however, there are several factors that can influence its occurrence:

Genetics: like other disorders, sleepwalking can run in the family. If you have a family member who sleepwalks, you’re 10 times more likely to do so than someone from a family with no sleepwalkers.

• Environmental: not getting enough sleep is a common trigger for sleepwalking. An inconsistent sleep schedule as well as alcohol and stress can increase your risk of sleepwalking. Perfecting your bedtime routine can make a big difference to the quality of your sleep.

• Medical conditions: many disorders can make you more susceptible to sleepwalking, such as sleep apnea, irregular heartbeats, post-traumatic stress, asthma and nighttime seizures.

Sleepwalking is also linked to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. If you have recently started wondering about in your sleep, you should consult your doctor as soon as possible.

Can you prevent sleepwalking with medication?

If sleepwalking is caused by an underlying medical problem, then medical treatment may be required.

Some of these conditions that require medication include:

• Sleep apnea
• Gastroesophageal reflux
• Seizures
• Restless legs syndrome
• Periodic leg movements

If one of the above is the cause of sleepwalking, episodes should stop once the underlying medical condition is treated.

How else can you prevent sleepwalking?

Although there is no known way to completely avoid sleepwalking, certain actions can be taken to minimise the risk. This includes:

• Getting enough sleep
• Maintaining stress levels (meditation and relaxation exercises)
• Avoiding auditory or visual stimulation before bedtime
• Anticipatory awakenings (waking a sleepwalker 15-20 minutes before the usual time an episode occurs)

If symptoms persist, it’s recommended that you visit a sleep disorders specialist who will be able to offer expert advice for your unique situation .

Are you a sleepwalker? Do you have any tips or advice for others? Let us know in the comments below…

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