What causes a person to sleepwalk, and how are they able to perform complex functions while being asleep?
I was scrolling through Instagram the other day and stumbled across a video of a woman who recorded herself sleepwalking. While the video was hilarious, I started to wonder how she was able to sleepwalk so naturally that it looked like she was awake. She was walking around her house without running into furniture, picking up and moving objects (albeit random objects), walking up & down stairs, filling a cup with water, and even leaving her house and coming back inside.
I used to be a sleepwalker myself when I was a child, but my parents said I would just get out of bed and briefly walk around the room before getting back in bed. Research suggests that roughly 1 in 5 children will sleepwalk at least once in their life, and most of them will outgrow it during puberty. Those who don’t outgrow it, like the woman in the video I watched, experience episodes well into adulthood.
Sleepwalking typically occurs during the slow-wave cycle, which is during the first third of the sleep cycle. While the exact cause of sleepwalking is unknown, researchers have shown that it can be caused by different triggers, like anxiety, sleep deprivation, or the use of drugs and/or alcohol. Those who have sleepwalking family members may also be at a higher risk of experiencing it themselves.
How does sleepwalking actually work? What is the connection between a person’s brain and the rest of their body that allows them to walk around and perform various complex functions while being completely asleep? What are ways a person can protect themselves and others from any potential accident during an episode?
For the record, this woman’s name is Celina Spooky Boo. On her Tik Tok and Youtube accounts she posts compilations of her sleepwalking videos. They are HILARIOUS and I highly recommend that you check them out!
There May Be Genetics Behind Sleepwalking
The genetic code: Scientists believe they have discovered, from studying four generations of a sleepwalking family, and abnormality in their chromosomes that may explain this behavior. They found an error on chromosome 20 in each of the family members, possibly explaining this specific family’s sleepwalking habits. They also found that an individual who possessed this “sleepwalking gene” had a 50% chance of passing it to their offspring. While this error on the chromosome is most likely not the case for all sleepwalkers it could be a good sign for doctors to better understand their patient’s health. However, experts understand that sleepwalking generally runs in families.
Other triggers of sleepwalking: There are many other factors that could play into why an individual is sleepwalking. One main factor could be their stress level. Other factors include: fatigue, interrupted sleep, illness, fever, certain medications, going to bed with a full bladder, noises, migraines, or head injuries. Ways this is treated can include hypnosis, therapy, establishing routine sleep patterns, cutting back on liquids before bed, avoiding caffeine before bed, and sleeping in a quiet environment. The route of treatment chosen depends on the severity of the sleepwalking.
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