What Causes Sleepwalking?

Sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism, is a sleep disorder that causes individuals to engage in complex behaviors, such as walking, while they are in a state of partial arousal from deep sleep. The exact cause of sleepwalking is not fully understood, but several factors may contribute to its occurrence:

  • Genetics: There is evidence to suggest a genetic component to sleepwalking. If a family member has a history of sleepwalking, there may be an increased risk of developing the condition.
  • Sleep Deprivation: Lack of sufficient sleep or poor sleep quality can increase the likelihood of sleepwalking. Sleepwalking is more common in individuals who are fatigued or sleep-deprived.
  • Stress and Anxiety: High levels of stress, anxiety, or emotional disturbances can trigger sleepwalking episodes in some people.
  • Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), can disrupt sleep patterns and increase the risk of sleepwalking.
  • Fever or Illness: In some cases, children may experience sleepwalking during a fever or illness, although this is typically temporary.
  • Medications: Some medications, particularly sedative-hypnotic drugs and medications that affect the central nervous system, can increase the likelihood of sleepwalking.
  • Alcohol and Substance Abuse: The use of alcohol, recreational drugs, and certain medications can disrupt normal sleep cycles and contribute to sleepwalking.
  • Sleep Environment: An unfamiliar or noisy sleep environment, changes in routine, or a sleep environment that encourages waking (such as a very bright or noisy room) can increase the likelihood of sleepwalking.
  • Age: Sleepwalking is more common in children, especially between the ages of 3 and 7, but it can persist into adulthood or start in adulthood.
  • Heredity: A family history of sleepwalking may increase an individual’s risk of experiencing it.

It’s important to note that sleepwalking is more common in children and often decreases as they age. Most children eventually outgrow sleepwalking without any specific treatment. In adults, the condition may persist and could require evaluation by a healthcare professional, especially if it poses safety risks.

If sleepwalking becomes problematic or poses a risk to the individual’s safety, consultation with a healthcare provider, sleep specialist, or a sleep clinic may be necessary. Treatment may include addressing underlying factors, such as improving sleep hygiene, managing stress, and treating any coexisting medical conditions. In some cases, medication or cognitive-behavioral therapy may be recommended to manage sleepwalking episodes.