Sleepwalking is a disorder characterized by complicated actions that result in walking during sleep. Sleepwalking behavior can range from simply getting out of bed and walking around the room to driving a car.
Sleepwalking usually occurs during the slow-wave stages of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep (stages of sleep in which eye movement does not take place; for details of stages of sleep see Sleep: Understanding the Basics). Persons affected with this disorder usually have their eyes wide open in a stare.
Most people don’t need any specific Treatment for sleepwalking. Safety measures may be needed to prevent injury. This may include changing the area by moving objects such as electrical cords or furniture to reduce the chances of tripping and falling. You may need to block off stairways with a gate. In some cases, short-acting tranquilizers have been helpful in reducing sleepwalking episodes. Treatment for sleepwalking is often unnecessary, especially if episodes are infrequent and uncomplicated. Safety issues are of prime importance to someone who sleepwalks and to others who are involved with managing the condition.
The following measures are usually recommended:
• Locate the bedroom on the main floor, if possible.
• Place an alarm or a bell on the door of the bedroom.
• Lock the windows and cover them with large, heavy drapes.
• Keep the floor clear of harmful objects.
• Remove any hazardous materials and sharp objects from the room and secure them in the house.
• Stay on the first floor when visiting others and when sleeping at a hotel.
• Following a regular sleep schedule to prevent sleep deprivation
• Treating other sleep disorders
• Reducing noise or light in the sleep environment
• Avoiding certain medications and alcohol
• Avoiding stress
• Avoiding fever
• Anticipatory awakenings – The sleeper is awakened about 15 minutes before he or she usually sleepwalks, and then kept awake through the duration of a typical episode. After 1-4 weeks of these awakenings, episodes usually become less frequent or even disappear.
• Hypnosis – A psychologist in the sleep center initially performs the hypnosis and then teaches the patient to self-apply the technique (self-hypnosis).
• Medication – Sometimes drugs such as antidepressants or benzodiazepines may be prescribed to prevent episodes.
If sleepwalking is caused by underlying medical conditions, for example, gastroesophageal reflux, obstructive sleep apnea, periodic leg movements (restless leg syndrome), or seizures, the underlying medical condition should be treated. Medications needed to obtain Treatment for sleepwalking disorder may be necessary in the following situations:
• The possibility of injury is real.
• Continued behaviors are causing significant family disruption or excessive daytime sleepiness.
• Other measures have proven to be inadequate.
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