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Sleepwalking in Adults: Stories, Tips and Tricks

Updated on January 24, 2012
If only I looked this good while sleepwalking....
If only I looked this good while sleepwalking.... | Source

According to various online sources, sleepwalking in adults occurs in about four percent of the population. For children, the number is larger, at about ten percent. Despite the constant stories from friends about their nighttime escapades, sleepwalking is factually not as common as you may think it is. In the same vein of thought it is also not as funny as the stories I’ll share may make them seem.

While most sleepwalkers are not even minutely cognizant of their surroundings while sleepwalking, there are small amounts that are quite aware, and yet not at liberty to end the sleepwalking episode- me being one of them. I have routinely babbled in my sleep, left my bed and gotten into inordinate amounts of trouble since I was a child, and it has actually gotten worse the older I’ve gotten. I’ve googled sleepwalking in adults many times and uncovered the same basic information that can be disheartening when one is truly looking for some sort of solution to disrupted sleep and frustrating episodes.

Some sleepwalkers can easily pinpoint their sleepwalking predisposition on genetics. While genetic evidence for sleepwalking is not rock solid or completely understood, sleepwalking in adults forms recognizable clusters in family groups; as in my case, when a father sleepwalks, there is a possibility that one or more of his children may also have the same predisposition. Other outside factors that can trigger sleepwalking include illness, alcohol and caffeine, stress and sleep deprivation.

Sleepwalking in adults can be physically exhausting when it interrupts your normal sleep patterns. It can be frustrating and stressful and in some cases, dangerous. Living alone can be frightening when you suffer from episodes that have you mobilized around your house and even outside. I am commonly asked whether I have ever left my house/apartment/tent during sleepwalking, the answer being yes. At camps over the summer, in remote parts of Michigan, I have woken up physically, but my brain remains in its dream state. Disoriented and struggling to match up what my eyes were processing to what my brain was creating, I found I couldn’t untie the tight knots we’d used to keep our tent flaps shut. In my growing muddled fear, I ended up ripping the tent stakes out of the ground, collapsing my half of the tent and slipping out barefoot in my pajamas.

After walking for several minutes, I became vaguely aware that I was supposed to be in bed, not wandering the moonless woods at this ungodly hour. Somehow (and I have absolutely no memory of this) I made it back to my tent and woke up with dirty feet and tent in my face. It was frightening to know I hadn’t been able to control it. There was no promise that I was going to be able to return safely. Chances were more likely that I was going to wake up utterly lost and barefoot and seriously freak out.

Besides new places triggering sleepwalking in adults, stress is also a common cause for triggering episodes that relive or rehash daily events that the sleeper found stressful. When I started working at Jimmy John’s the summer after graduating high school, I worked drive thru by myself. The restaurant was ridiculously busy, and I was expected to take all orders, take care of register, fill drink orders and send the customer on their way as fast as humanly possible. While this is old hat to many fast food guru’s, it was a whole new level of stress and it interrupted my sleeping habits for three weeks straight.

I was never aware of when the episode would start, but I would become faintly aware that I was sitting up in bed, staring at the opposite wall, reliving the events of the day. I would search frantically in my covers, uprooting my sleeping cat as I searched for bread, sliced meats and rubber gloves because I needed to make a sandwich. The customer was waiting! This was compounded by waves of “Omigosh, I’m in my pajamas. I’m barefoot!! What kind of a person goes barefoot to work? Where are my shoes? How can I get dressed in my uniform and put my shoes on without them noticing?” ‘Them’ was usually the distorted shadows of my coworkers, hovering on the edge of my vision, moving sinuously along my walls and furniture, unresponsive and yet demanding.

The height of these episodes occurred near the third week when I woke and actually made it out of bed, tearing apart my room as I searched for the elusive box of rubber gloves. In frustration I screamed “WHERE ARE THE RUBBERS?!” And then dissolved into manic giggling as I realized what I’d said. I can only imagine how unsettling it must have been for my father, who came galloping down the hallway at the sound of his eldest daughter yelling for condoms in the middle of the night, only to find her on the floor of her previously clean room, laughing shrilly and babbling about how she was going to get fired. I started taking melatonin after that at my father’s tired request.

These sorts of events occurred after lacrosse games, dances and exams and because of their frequency, started to be debilitating. I never went to a sleep clinic for treatment during the height of my episodes, but I realize I should have. A solution would have been invaluable and could have helped tremendously. Indeed, it’s recommended for adult sleepwalking, as it can uncover possible illnesses, like Parkinson’s. Instead, I took matters into my own hands.

I started with notes, which in the darkness of my bedroom were probably not well thought out, but helped anyway. I left them wrapped around my cellphone and covering my clock—both of which I always ended up glancing at during sleepwalking episodes. Generally they helped me convince myself I was sleeping and allowed me to go back to bed once I could wrap my mind around the fact that it was three in the morning, and Jimmy John’s was closed. The notes were scrawled with angry words like “You idiot! You’re sleeping. Go back to bed.” Or “Nobody is there. You’re in bed, stupid.” I hoped that if I had occasion to reach for either timepiece, I would discover the message, and somehow read it in the dark and comprehend it. I never actually uncovered these notes during my episodes, but they helped in some sort of psychological way, because when I used them, I never slept walk.

On the nights when I wasn’t aware of my sleepwalking and was dead to the world, I generally left my bedroom. To prevent this, I began leaving my bedroom door shut, with staples taped to the knob, turning it into some sort of metallic porcupine. The sharp pricks to my palm as I tried to open the door were often enough to jerk me awake. When I moved to college, I made sure to inform my roommates about my tendencies and assured them I was not violent and had never even touched anybody during my episodes. This can occur in some sleepwalking cases, and those who suffer from such episodes should immediately visit a sleep clinic for diagnosis and treatment.

I instructed my roommates to wake me up if I began to wander. I told them to speak to me and ask me questions or even touch me if necessary. This didn’t quite work out because my roommate confessed she ‘doesn’t like touching sleeping people’, but the odds of having a roommate with such a fear are slim. Instead, she wakes me up by talking to me and asking me if I’m okay. She, like most others, recognizes a sleepwalker by the glassy eyes and somewhat mumbled speech, as I exhibited on one excursion to the bathroom where I fumbled in the sink for no apparent reason. Upon my disheartened return to bed she asked if I was okay, and I responded sadly that I had been searching for something, and unable to find it; by then the glassiness was fading from my eyes and I went back to sleep without further interruption.

Sometimes sleepwalkers can interact with other people without realizing it. A week ago, I very nearly attacked my roommate in the middle of the night because I had mistaken her for an overloaded tray of spaghetti. You see, I thought I was at work again. My roommate would have been sorely displeased and I was utterly bewildered. It can be a shock when a tray of spaghetti suddenly turns into a screaming person at two in the morning.

Sleepwalking in adults, as evidenced, can be exhausting, confusing, and even dangerous, especially if it happens as the root of an underlying cause. If you are an adult who suffers from sleepwalking, I would suggest you spend a couple of nights in a sleep clinic or see your doctor for treatment and diagnosis. A good night’s sleep is worth it.

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    • KeithTax profile image

      Keith Schroeder 5 years ago from Wisconsin

      I find sleepwalking a fascinating subject. It is easy to laugh off sleepwalking in adults, aka, comedy in movies or on TV. But it is no laughing matter to those that suffer from sleepwalking as your experience shows.

    • Shanna11 profile image
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      Shanna 5 years ago from Utah

      Keith- I find it fascinating as well, especially since my experiences sleepwalking tend to be a mix of being awake and dreaming. It can be fun to tell the stories later on, but when it happens, it can be scary and absolutely frustrating when half my brain is telling me to go back to bed and the other half is convinced I'm in public and that there are people there. It would be interesting to go to a sleep clinic and get checked out. Thanks for the fan mail!

    • Brainy Bunny profile image

      Brainy Bunny 5 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      My husband used to suffer from night terrors, which I think are related to sleepwalking. He used to suddenly sit up in bed and start screaming and flailing around. TOTALLY freaked me out the first time that happened, let me tell you. The weirdest thing was that it always took a really long time to wake him up, and then after shrieking at the top of his lungs for ten minutes or however long, with his eyes wide open, he'd finally come to and wonder why I was yelling at him! Then he'd lay down and immediately go back to sleep! Meanwhile, I'd lay there in a puddle of adrenaline for hours, wondering when he'd have another attack. I'd rather have him to try to make me a sandwich in his sleep!

    • Shanna11 profile image
      Author

      Shanna 5 years ago from Utah

      Brainy- Oh wow, that is crazy! He didn't remember his night terrors? I would think if you could remember them, they'd be worse than sleepwalking! People are funny when they sleep...

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      Katammy 5 years ago

      This happens to me I get up part of me knows it is a dream but I have to go and look for something or feed an animal and I get very distressed when I cannot find them sometimes I write what it is I am looking for this helps me go back to bed. Even with this large amount of nocturnal activity I usually feel fine during the day not tired at all. I believe my father used to act out and moved cupboards around though most of his adult life he slept well ...I think that was due to his large alcohol intake. It was good to read your story as I was getting a little worried ...maybe I should see a doctor -we have dodgy hearts in the family could this the underlying course?

    • Shanna11 profile image
      Author

      Shanna 5 years ago from Utah

      Hmm, your story is very similar to mine! My family all have healthy hearts. I personally think it's related to genetics and the way we personally handle stress. But I'm not a doctor, so I honestly have no idea!

    • profile image

      Katammy 5 years ago

      My daughter tells me when she was little and in bed she felt like there was a chainsaw vibrating the bed but she couldn't move she couldn't get out of bed to tell me. We discussed this with the doctor one time and was told that it probably was a altered state of consciousness - I still don't know about that. I tried to do some research but the only thing I came up with was that there is a chemcial released by the brain during sleep that paralyses the body so we do not act out our dreams in some people this is strong and when they wake they often find that they cannot move for a little while -some may fear a pharanormal activity at work. I have often wondered if in some cases (genetic sleepwalkers) this is the opposite there is a lack of this chemical so we take of. Just the other week I ran out of my bedroom and outside there I stood realising that I should not be outside - I actually don't remember why I ran outside so it was easy to go back to bed. One time I changed our bed in my mind I could see perfectly but as I struggled with the last sheet I started to wake and realised that actually I could NOT see as it was nighttime and the reason I was having such trouble with the last sheet was that my husband was sleeping on it still snoring ...so then I had to make the bed and in the dark this took ages..sometimes I get a little frustrated

    • Little Grandmommy profile image

      Gail 4 years ago from Small Town Tennessee

      This is a really good read. I was a sleepwalker when I was a very young child. We lived up on a hill above where my parents' landlord's house was. About three times a week I would get up, let myself out and go to their house and ring the doorbell. I don't guess we ever knew why. Thumbs up!

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