What causes sleepwalking?

Although the act of sleepwalking usually lasts for less than 10 minutes at a time, it can be a disruptive activity that can have negative impacts on a persons’ health and/or safety. It is therefore interesting and important to look at why certain individuals come to carry out such behaviour and what can be done to prevent it happening in the future?

Person holding a sign that says sleep-walking

What is sleepwalking?

In it’s most simple definition, sleepwalking is when an individual either walks or carries out a task whilst not being fully awake. The tasks carried out can range from sitting up in bed to actually leaving the house and travelling to a new destination. It is a behavioural disorder that tends to occur when someone is in a deep sleep, usually within a few hours of actually falling asleep. During sleepwalking, the ‘walker’s’ eyes are typically open and they can be carrying out normal tasks such as opening cupboards or even getting dressed.

How common is sleepwalking?

According to the National Sleep Foundation “The prevalence of sleepwalking in the general population is estimated to be between 1% and 15%.” Sleepwalking is generally more common in children and it is said that at least 20% of all children will sleep walk at some point or another in their childhood lives. Children do, however, tend to grow out of sleepwalking once they reach their teenage years and into adulthood.

What are the main causes of sleepwalking?

The actual cause of sleepwalking is relatively unknown, however, it is more common in those families that have a history of it happening. There are, however, certain triggers that can heighten the chance of it occurring, which include:

  • Being overly stressed or anxious
  • Having an illness, particularly a high temperature or fever
  • An intake of alcohol or medication
  • Sudden loud noises occurring during the night

Woman laying in bed suffering from insomnia

Are there any cures/preventatives?

There is not a single definitive cure to prevent sleepwalking but a good place to start is by looking at ways to counteract the triggers that could bring on an episode. Simple recommendations would be to:

  • Ensure you get an adequate amount of quality sleep each day (The average adult needs between 7 – 9 hours of sleep per day)
  • Ensure your bedroom is dark, relaxing and you have a comfortable mattress
  • Limit your caffeine/alcohol intake before going to bed
  • Make sure you go to bed relaxed, so read your favourite book or take a long hot bath before you head off to sleep
  • If you live in a house that is prone to noise, try using earplugs or draft excluders to avoid to disturbances

Safety precautions

If your child is prone to sleepwalking or movement during the night then ensure you choose the right bed for them for maximum safety i.e. a double bed would be preferable to minimise the chance of them falling out during the night. Safety bars are also available to buy, which attach easily to most beds. Also, it is important you keep the areas of the house where an individual is more likely to sleepwalk free of any breakable or harmful objects and keep any windows and doors locked at night.

If none of these recommendations appear to be working or if you are concerned about the fact that you or your children are regularly sleepwalking, then it is advised you visit your GP for further advice.

Follow this handy guide on how to get your beauty sleep for a few more tips on a better nights sleep!