Sleepwalking: Why is it Happening to You?
What happened when you were asleep?
If you've ever sleepwalked, then unlike many others you understand the feeling of embarrassment you encounter when you spend the night at someone's house and upon waking up, you are told a story of your strange behavior during sleep. You are asked if you remember it and of course, you probably don't. This is followed by a round of twenty questions because frankly, it's a fascinating subject that not many people understand.
I myself am a sleepwalker, so I'm aware of its greatly unsettling effects. When told I have been sleepwalking I usually become a little afraid, because I don't know the full extent of whatever strange things I had done. Usually for me though, it isn't all that bad. The worst I've done in my sleep is get up and take a bath, or get up and make my room a bit messy by searching for something that wasn't there. I'm grateful that I've never done anything dangerous, as such cases like that exist out there. During somnambulism (As sleepwalking is technically called) people are prone to talking "Nonsense" in their sleep with glassy or glazed over eyes, getting up and walking about, or doing more dangerous maneuvers such as going outside and taking walks. There have also been accounts of people driving while asleep. These more serious accounts of sleepwalking aren't very common at all, but the fact that they're even existent might make you wonder what can cause our minds to go into "auto-pilot" to such an odd extent, while we're asleep and unaware. I'm going to write this article in order to help others and myself get to the bottom of this strange anomaly of the mind.
What exactly is sleepwalking?
Sleepwalking is in the category of Parasomnia, which is any type of sleep disorder that will encompass unnatural movements, behavior, emotions, or dreams during sleep. These affected characteristics can occur when someone is falling asleep, between sleep stages, or even upon waking from sleep. The undesired behavior that can come over the somnambulist is quite eerie to see, because most of the time the person looks confused and their speech or actions may be entirely out of place. I would also like to include that it's indeed safe to wake up someone who is sleepwalking, quite contrary to the myth that has circulated in which if you startle or bring a sleepwalker out of their sleep, it can be extremely hazardous to their health. I've been woken up many times, and it did nothing but scare me a little and then make me wonder what I was doing wherever I was. One intriguing thing about sleepwalking is that there seems to be no limitation to the activities reported by the people who've experienced it. The legitimacy of many of the stories however, have been questioned by scientists on the more violent and complex versions.
Sleepwalking has a lot of scientific background to it, it must be noted. The most important bit of information that has been discovered in studying the topic, is that there are five stages of sleep. Stages 1-4 are categorized as "Non Rapid Eye Movement" or NREM sleep, while stage five is "Rapid Eye Movement" sleep, or REM. These are named as such because the eyes will actually move faster or slower, depending on the depth of sleep that is fallen into. It is in stage 4 --which is called the "Delta Sleep" stage-- that sleepwalking occurs. In stage 4, the constantly emitted brainwaves are slowed down a considerable amount. Researchers have procured evidence that shows that sleepwalkers have an abnormality in the production of their slow-wave sleep pattern regulation. The sleep-cycle of the somnambulist in general is fragmented and disturbed, compared to that of people without related sleep disorders. Such variances in the sleep-cycle is most common in children, which is why scientists suspect that sleepwalking could partly or mainly be caused by an immaturity in the central nervous system. There must be of course, other reasons as to why it occurs.
Some causes that relate to somnambulism
As mentioned before, sleepwalking is most common in children because the nervous system is not fully developed. Children usually outgrow it by their early teen years, but that leads us to the minority of us who don't outgrow it. What if we do not have any problems or abnormalities in our nervous system? What if it's just something minor and adjustable? Well, there are still a variety of extra reasons for people to sleepwalk, that are a little bit more relevant to our lifestyles.
One common contribution to sleepwalking is sleep deprivation. It is important to get enough sleep in order for the brain to sustain its healthy stages of the sleep cycle. Other factors as well as sleep deprivation include: anxiety, migraines, the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, uneven hormone distribution, stress, swelling of the brain, intoxication, or certain medications. Another cause could in fact, be genetics. It is possible to inherit sleepwalking from a family member. Depending on how many blood relatives have the somnambulism gene, your chances of being affected by it can increase doubly or triply.
Every case of sleepwalking can be different. Therefor, it's hard to discern what is causing it in whom. You can't just determine why you're experiencing it by reading this list, even though I wish that were possible. It takes a while of observing the behavior, and patterns of somnambulism in a person to determine why it's happening to them, or if it's even worth worrying about. Most of the time it's not a major health risk, it's just odd.
How, when and why: Figuring out what to do
Even though it's difficult to figure out why someone is sleepwalking, it's very easy to figure out when they're doing it. If you very often wake up from a dream and find yourself in any place other than your bed, then you've probably been walking about in your sleep. If you find things have moved around and aren't where you put them the night before you went to bed, then you've might've been rearranging things in your sleep. (I once took my cell-phone and hid it somewhere I would never have put it if I was awake, and then had to make an extraordinarily irritated effort to find it the next day) The most obvious way to discover you've been sleepwalking is to be woken up by somebody who has seen you in the act. Though If you're still not positive, then one other option is to talk to a doctor about your possible sleeping disorder. Though it can take weeks, there are specific tests that can be run in order to measure your slow-wave brain patterns in an effort discover whether or not you're a somnambulist.
If you dislike going to the doctor, then there are some natural advancements you can resort to in order to try to prevent sleepwalking, or at least make yourself feel like you're in less danger of harming yourself during your sleep-filled adventures. I'll list some that I've come across.
- Get an adequate amount of sleep. As I've said before, this may be what's causing the disorder to begin with.
- Try meditating, or doing relaxation techniques, as your sleepwalking may be caused by stress or anxiety
- Remove items in your room that you think may be harmful to you or others, in case of a bout of sleepwalking.
- Sleep as close to the ground as you see possible, if you're afraid of falling and getting hurt.
- Get rid of anything you could possibly trip over, and try keeping your floor as clear as you can of any items.
- Hide important items that you don't want to get lost in another room. You never know when your sleeping alter-ego will decide to put it somewhere else.
- Lock yourself inside the room where you sleep, so that you won't go wandering throughout the house and cause mischief.
- Try not to listen to any sort of stimulative media such as music or television before going to bed, as that can increase the chance of disturbing sleep patterns.
If these tips don't seem to help you and sleepwalking disturbs your life in a dangerous manner, then please go and seek medical advice. While it is true that most cases are relatively harmless and entertaining, the fact that there are cases that are so severe that people are in jeopardy, can't be overlooked. There are many options to be treated, and also to take control of this weird and sometimes outrageous sleeping disorder.
I think this article was definitely one of the most fun and interesting that I've brought myself to write. There's still a lot of questions about the brain and its intricate cycles of sleep that are being further researched. Sleepwalking is just one of the mysterious products of our shifting mind that goes to many different places while we're not entirely aware. I'm happy that I thought to write about this topic, but I'm more happy that you took the time to read it;
I thank you! :)