Sleepwalking

  • Medical Author:
    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    Dr. Mersch received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, and prior to entering the University Of Southern California School Of Medicine, was a graduate student (attaining PhD candidate status) in Experimental Pathology at USC. He attended internship and residency at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Causes of Fatigue Slideshow Pictures

Sleepwalking Causes: Fatigue

Tiredness is not a symptom that defines any one particular disease. Rather, tiredness can be a symptom of many different diseases and conditions. Causes of tiredness range from lack of sleep and over exercise to medical and surgical treatments. The lack of energy associated with tiredness can sometimes cause difficulty with normal daily activities, leading to problems with attentiveness and concentration.

Fatigue, in medical terminology, refers to the state of reduced capacity for work or accomplishment following a period of mental or physical activity. For example, muscles fatigue if the are called upon to repetitively work for an extended period. Most of the causes of tiredness are also associated with fatigue.

Quick GuideSleep Disorders Pictures Slideshow: A Visual Guide to Sleeping Disorders

Sleep Disorders Pictures Slideshow: A Visual Guide to Sleeping Disorders

Sleepwalking facts

  • Sleepwalking is not a serious disorder, although people can be injured during sleepwalking.
  • Although disruptive and frightening for parents in the short-term, sleepwalking is not associated with long-term complications.
  • Prolonged disturbed sleep may be associated with school and behavioral issues.
  • The outlook for resolution of the disorder is excellent.

What is sleepwalking?

Sleepwalking is a disorder characterized by walking or other activities while seemingly still asleep.

What causes sleepwalking?

Sleepwalking has been described in medical literature dating before Hippocrates (460 BC-370 BC). In Shakespeare's tragic play, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth's famous sleepwalking scene ("out, damned spot") is ascribed to her guilt and resulting insanity as a consequence of her involvement in the murder of her father-in-law.

Sleepwalking is characterized by a complex behavior (walking) occurring while asleep. Occasionally nonsensical talking may occur. The person's eyes are commonly open, but have a characteristic glassy "look right through you" character. This activity most commonly occurs during middle childhood and young adolescence. Approximately 15% of children between 4 to 12 years of age will experience sleepwalking. Generally sleepwalking behaviors wane by late adolescence. However, approximately 10% of all sleepwalkers begin their behavior as teens. It appears that persons with certain inherited genes have an increased tendency toward developing sleepwalking behaviors.

There are 4 stages of sleep. Stages 1, 2, 3 and 4 are characterized as non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is the sleep cycle associated with dreaming. Stage 3 sleep is known for surges of important hormones essential for proper growth and metabolism. Each sleep cycle (stages N1, N2, N3, and REM) last about 90 to 100 minutes and repeats throughout the night. The average person experiences four to five complete sleep cycles per night. Sleepwalking characteristically occurs during the first or second sleep cycles, during stages 3, otherwise known as deep sleep. Due the short time frame involved, sleepwalking tends not to occur during naps. Upon waking, the sleepwalker has no memory of his or her behaviors.

The sleepwalking activity may include simply sitting up and appearing awake while remaining asleep, getting up and walking around, or complex activities such as moving furniture, going to the bathroom, dressing and undressing, and similar activities. Some people even drive a car while actually asleep. The episode can be very brief (a few seconds or minutes) or can last for 30 minutes or longer.

One common misconception is that a person sleepwalking should not be awakened. It is not dangerous to awaken a sleepwalker, although it is common for the person to be confused or disoriented for a short time on awakening. Another misconception is that a person cannot be injured when sleepwalking; however, injuries caused by such events as tripping and loss of balance are common for sleepwalkers.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/2/2016

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