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Sleepwalking (somnambulism)

There are more than 3 million cases of sleepwalking or somnambulism in America each year. This disorder isn’t referring to a one-and-done episode of sleepwalking or someone who has an occurrence every few years. Those that suffer from somnambulism are involved in complex, recurrent, and frequent behaviors during sleep that interfere with their lives and the lives of others around them.

You may have seen an episode on TV or a scene in a movie of someone stumbling around at night, going to the fridge to make a sandwich while talking to themselves — then they wake up confused. While these portrayals of sleepwalking are semi-accurate, there is much more that goes into somnambulism than getting a quick midnight snack or sending a random email.

The behaviors exhibited in real life are much more consequential and harmful and can affect all aspects of one’s life, leading to other disorders and health issues.

If you or someone close to you suspect chronic sleepwalking occurs at night, seek help from a sleep specialist as soon as possible. Disregarding the issue can be detrimental.

Sleepwalking symptoms and behaviors

According to medical experts, “Somnambulism is an arousal parasomnia consisting of a series of complex behaviors that result in large movements in bed or walking during sleep.”

Somnambulism is more common in children and teens and typically decreases as they age. However, some young adults and adults are also diagnosed with chronic sleepwalking. People with somnambulism who are adults are more likely to have coexisting sleep disorders and other health conditions that perpetuate these behaviors.

For some people, sleepwalking is more than just a harmless nuisance. Read this list of potential symptoms (behaviors) and see just how serious this condition is.

  • Sit up in bed and open their eyes
  • Get out of bed and walk around
  • No response when others communicate with them
  • Have a glazed, glassy-eyed expression
  • Be difficult to wake up during an episode
  • Be disoriented or confused for a short time after being awakened
  • Fail to remember the episode in the morning
  • Have problems functioning during the day because of disturbed sleep
  • Have sleep terrors in addition to sleepwalking
  • Do routine activities, such as getting dressed, talking, or eating
  • Leave the house
  • Drive a car
  • Engage in unusual behavior, such as urinating in a closet
  • Engage in sexual activity without awareness
  • Get injured from clumsiness or an accident
  • Become violent during the period of brief confusion immediately after waking or, occasionally, during sleepwalking

Some of these symptoms seem simple and innocent, such as sitting up in bed with eyes open or not reacting to conversation. But leaving the house, or even the bedroom, can lead to catastrophe. Imagine being completely blacked out while carrying on activities, even worse, doing so while out in public.

Many of these behaviors are downright scary and risk injury to self and others.

Who is more at risk for chronic sleepwalking?

As stated above, more commonly, sleepwalking occurs in children more often compared to adults. But that doesn’t mean somnambulism steers clear of those 18 and older. The main difference is that it is more natural for children to sleepwalk, and when an adult does it, sleep specialists look at the issue more closely to figure out the underlying reason. This is especially true if an adult has an onset of sleepwalking behaviors yet has never experienced the symptoms before in their lifetime.

People with somnambulism who are adults are more likely to have coexisting sleep disorders and other health conditions that perpetuate these behaviors. A few examples of underlying conditions or factors that may trigger sleepwalking are obstructive sleep apnea, brain injury, alcohol consumption, certain medications, and fever.

In addition, researchers state somnambulism sometimes has a genetic component and “has been identified at chromosome 20 q12-q13.12.

With this knowledge, it’s easy to see that sleepwalking, especially in adults, is a multifaceted sleep disorder with no single solution to the problem.

Treatment for sleepwalking

Individuals who experience chronic sleepwalking must seek help for their disorder.

There are a few available treatment options sleepwalkers can choose from to not only get to the root of the problem but stop somnambulism altogether.

Treatment options that are typical for a sleepwalking disorder are:

  • Medication therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Hypnotherapy –– for those who want to go a holistic route

It is not recommended a person struggling with symptoms and behaviors related to sleepwalking begin a “treatment method” on their own. If you’re in this situation, please contact a licensed sleep specialist who can conduct a sleep study and further guide you toward a medical treatment plan.


Somnambulism, or chronic sleepwalking, may seem like nothing to worry about, but it can cause serious injuries and health problems and even be fatal. If you or someone you know experiences chronic sleepwalking, get treatment as soon as possible. An underlying cause can often be addressed and resolved with treatment. Don’t risk your life or the lives of others by ignoring this condition. The specialists at Gwinnett Sleep are the experts to reach out to regarding sleepwalking –– get help today!