How To Stop Sleepwalking In Its Tracks
What is sleepwalking?
Sleepwalking is part of a group of sleep disorders known as parasomnias, which cover any abnormal sleep behaviour, emotion or dream that happens at night, and is more likely to occur in the first third of the night, when we transition from one sleep stage – such as deep sleep – to another.
Dr Guy Meadows of The Sleep School explains that typical signs of sleepwalkers include people sitting up in bed or walking round, doing basic tasks:
“The person’s eyes will be open, but they are in fact asleep (a dazed or unfocused look on their face will give this away). While it’s not unusual for sleepwalkers to talk to themselves or even reply to questions, their responses won’t make much sense. Sufferers normally return back to their beds after about 10 minutes and tend not to remember anything the next day.”
What causes sleepwalking?
Sleepwalking is most common in childhood. According to Dr Guy, up to 20% of us will sleepwalk at this stage in life. Most children who sleepwalk grow out of it as their sleep matures, so it’s not usually a cause for worry. Sleepwalking in adults does happen, but only for less than 4% of the population and is often linked to a family history of the problem.
Other factors that can increase your chances of sleepwalking as an adult are sleep deprivation, fever, stress and drinking too much alcohol or taking certain drugs.
How can I stop sleepwalking?
There is no permanent cure or treatment for sleepwalking, but you can help prevent episodes with Dr Guy’s top tips…
1. Get enough rest
Excessive tiredness increases how much time we spend in deep sleep, which is when we’re more prone to sleepwalk. Keep well-rested and stick to a regular sleep pattern to promote good quality sleep. And rule out other sleep disorders – like sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome – which can also disturb sleep and make you more tired.
2. Manage stress
Anxiety or stress can increase the frequency of sleepwalking in both children and adults. Teach yourself healthy coping strategies – like practicing mindfulness – to help you relax and deal with stressful situations you may face throughout the day. Talk problems through with a family member, friend or psychotherapist, rather than keep things bottled up.
3. Avoid alcohol and medications
Alcohol affects the quality of your sleep and disrupts your natural sleep cycles, so can make sleepwalking more frequent. Limit or avoid alcohol and check prescription medications with your doctor to make sure your nocturnal activity is not a result of something you’re taking.
Why shouldn’t you wake a sleepwalker?
You’ve probably heard that it can be dangerous to wake a sleepwalker. “If someone wakes, either naturally or they’re woken, in a sleepwalk, they can become confused or even frightened” explains Dy Guy. “The best thing you can do is slowly guide them back to bed.”
If returning the sleepwalker to their bed doesn’t work, and you must wake them, do so with loud, sharp noises from a safe distance. This will still startle the sleepwalker, but it’s a better approach than shaking them awake up close (which could end up in them hurting you or themselves in confusion). Once the sleepwalker is awake, be gentle – they’ll be very disorientated. Let them know they’ve been sleepwalking and help them get back to sleep if needed.
If you’re worried about your child’s sleep walking, or your own night-time activity is causing you concern, talk to your doctor.
Suffering from insomnia? Read our expert advice on how to take back control of your sleep.