Definition: Sleepwalking also known as somnambulism usually involves getting up and walking around while asleep. 

Most common in children between the ages of 4 and 8, sleepwalking often is a random event that doesn't signal any serious problems or require treatment. 

However, sleepwalking can occur at any age and may involve unusual, even dangerous behaviors, such as climbing out a window or urinating in closets or trash cans.

If anyone in your household sleepwalks, it's important to protect him or her from sleepwalking injuries.


Sleepwalking is classified as a parasomnia an undesirable behavior or experience during sleep. 

Sleepwalking is a parasomnia of arousal, meaning it occurs during deep, dreamless (non-rapid eye movement) sleep.

Someone who is sleepwalking may: 

     - Sit up in bed and open his or her eyes 

     - Have a glazed, glassy-eyed expression 

     - Roam around the house, perhaps opening and closing doors or turning lights on and off 

     - Do routine activities, such as getting dressed or making a snack ...even driving a car 

     - Speak or move in a clumsy manner 

     - Scream, especially if also experiencing night terrors, another parasomnia in which you are likely to sit up, scream, talk, thrash and kick 

     - Be difficult to wake up during an episode

Sleepwalking usually occurs during deep sleep, early in the night  , often one to two hours after falling asleep. 

Sleepwalking is unlikely to occur during naps. The sleepwalker won't remember the episode in the morning. 

Sleepwalking episodes can occur rarely or often, including multiple times a night for a few consecutive nights. 

Sleepwalking is common in children, who typically outgrow the behavior by their teens, as the amount of deep sleep they get decreases.

*When to see a doctor*

Occasional episodes of sleepwalking aren't usually a cause for concern. 

You can simply mention the sleepwalking at a routine physical or well-child exam. 

However, consult your doctor if the sleepwalking episodes: 

     - Become more frequent 

     - Lead to dangerous behavior or injury 

     - Are accompanied by other signs or symptoms 

     - Continue into your child's teens


 Many factors can contribute to sleepwalking, including: 

     - Sleep deprivation 

     - Fatigue 

     - Stress 

     - Anxiety 

     - Fever 

     - Sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings 

     - Some medications

Sleepwalking is sometimes associated with underlying conditions that affect sleep, such as: 

     - Sleep-disordered breathing a group of disorders characterized by abnormal breathing patterns during sleep, the most common of which is obstructive sleep apnea 

     - Migraines 

     - Head injuries 

In other cases, use of alcohol, illegal drugs or certain medication.... including some, antihistamines, sedatives and sleeping pills can trigger sleepwalking episodes.

*Risk factors*

Sleepwalking appears to run in families. It's more common if you have one parent who has a history of sleepwalking, and much more common if both parents have a history of the disorder.


Sleepwalking itself isn't necessarily a concern, but sleepwalkers can easily hurt themselves... especially if they wander outdoors or drive a car during a sleepwalking episode.

Prolonged sleep disruption can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness and possible school or behavior issues. Also, sleepwalkers usually disturb others' sleep.

*Lifestyle and home remedies*

If sleepwalking is a problem for you or your child, here are some things to try:


     - Make the environment safe for sleepwalking. To help prevent injury, close and lock all windows and exterior doors at night. You might even lock interior doors or place alarms or bells on the doors. Block doorways or stairways with a gate, and move electrical cords or other objects that pose a tripping hazard. If your child sleepwalks, don't let him or her sleep in a bunk bed. Place any sharp or fragile objects out of reach.

     - Get more sleep. Fatigue can contribute to sleepwalking. Try an earlier bedtime or a more regular sleep schedule. 


  - Establish a regular, relaxing routine before bedtime. Do quiet, calming activities and mdash; such as reading books, doing puzzles or soaking in a warm bath  before bed. Meditation or relaxation exercises may help, too.

     - Put stress in its place. Identify the things that stress you out, and brainstorm possible ways to handle the stress. If your child seems anxious or stressed, talk about what's bothering him or her. 

     - Look for a pattern. If your child is sleepwalking, keep a sleep diary. For several nights, note how many minutes after bedtime a sleepwalking episode occurs. 

If the timing is fairly consistent, wake your child about 15 minutes before you expect a sleepwalking episode. 

Keep your child awake for five minutes, and then let him or her fall asleep again.

Above all, be positive. However disruptive, sleepwalking usually isn't a serious condition  and it usually goes away on its own.

If you are taking sleeping pills, it's important to only use them with your doctor's orders and according to instructions. If you take them too often, they can actually make your sleep problems worse.

*Nyasha Kawanzaruwa is a nurse at Matizha Clinic in Gutu, Masvingo Province.


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