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Alternative namesSleep walking is a disorder characterized by walking or other activity while seemingly still asleep.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
The normal sleep cycle involves distinct stages from light drowsiness to deep sleep. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is a different type of sleep, in which the eyes move rapidly and vivid dreaming is most common.
During a night, there will be several cycles of non-REM and REM sleep. Sleep walking (somnambulism) most often occurs during deep non-REM sleep (stage 3 or stage 4 sleep) early in the night. It can occur during REM sleep near morning.
Signs and testsUsually, no further examination and testing is necessary. If sleep walking is frequent or persistent, examination to rule out other disorders (such as partial complex seizures) may be appropriate. It may also be appropriate to undergo a psychologic evaluation to determine causes such as excessive anxiety or stress, or medical evaluation to rule out other causes.
TreatmentUsually no specific treatment for sleep walking is needed.
Safety measures may be necessary to prevent injury. This may include modifying the environment by moving objects such as electrical cords or furniture to reduce tripping and falling. Stairways may need to be blocked off with a gate.
In some cases, short-acting tranquilizers have been helpful in reducing the incidence of sleep walking.
Expectations (prognosis)Sleep walking may or may not reduce with age. It usually does not indicate a serious disorder, although it can be a symptom of other disorders.
ComplicationsA complication is injury sustained during sleep activities.
Calling your health care providerSleep walking usually does not require a visit to your health care provider. However, the condition should be discussed with your health care provider if:
Update Date: 10/23/2003Elaine T. Kiriakopoulos, M.D., M.Sc., Department of Neurology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard University, Boston, MA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT