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Sleepwalking

Also called: Sleepwalking Disorder, Somnabulism

- Summary
- About sleepwalking
- Potential causes
- Signs and symptoms
- Diagnosis methods
- Treatment and prevention
- Questions for your doctor

Reviewed By:
Steven A. King, M.D.

Summary

Sleepwalking, or somnambulism, is a disorder marked by walking during sleep. Patients may also engage in other activities, such as talking or eating, during sleep. Sleepwalking typically occurs during deep sleep. 

Sleepwalking can occur at any age, but it is more common in children. Most children outgrow sleepwalking by the time they reach adolescence.

Some possible causes of sleepwalking are environmental factors (e.g., sleep deprivation and stress), overuse of alcohol, medications, medical conditions (e.g., fever, asthma) and psychiatric conditions (e.g., post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder). Sleepwalking also appears to be associated with migraine headaches.

Signs and symptoms include walking while asleep, having a blank stare and having no recollection of the episode after waking.

Sleepwalking can usually be diagnosed when a physician listens to a description of the events during a physical examination. In some cases, patients may be asked to participate in a sleep study or be referred to a mental health professional for further evaluation, especially if sleepwalking is chronic, causes daytime sleepiness, or is believed to result from a mental disorder.

Sleepwalking may be treated in a variety of ways, depending upon the age of the patient and its cause. Most children do not require treatment. Some patients only need reassurance and support. Others may be treated with medications (e.g., benzodiazepines) or therapy (e.g., relaxation therapy). Some techniques for ensuring that an environment is safe for people who sleepwalk  include locking doors and windows, blocking stairways and removing objects that may cause trips and falls.

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Review Date: 03-15-2007
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