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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Science of Sleepwalking: Causes & Prevention

Dr. Aaron Stowell NMD from the Arizona Naturopathic Medical Association (AZNMA) has a breakdown on sleepwalking causes and prevention.

Ever experienced sleepwalking? Well if you haven’t (or at least aren’t aware of the habit to your knowledge) you’ve at least probably seen it—like on Tik Tok or Instagram when Celina Myers (@celinaspookyboo) recently went viral for her hilariously odd sleepwalking videos.

While it certainly isn’t a new phenomenon, most people are probably pretty unclear on what exactly the science of this strange habit is—what is sleepwalking? Why does it happen? Is it dangerous? Dr. Aaron Stowell NMD from the Arizona Naturopathic Medical Association (AZNMA) breaks down sleepwalking causes and prevention.

According to Dr. Stowell, sleepwalking is commonly triggered by things that disrupt our usual sleep pattern.

“Sleep walking is considered a sleep disorder and is mostly prevalent in children 2 to 13 years of age. It is initiated during non-REM sleep stage 3,” says Dr. Stowell. He also listed culprits such as drinking alcohol or caffeine before bed, eating lots of sweets or having a high calorie dinner, or even over exercising the day before as potential aggravators that can inspire such behavior.

Anything that could disrupt one’s usual sleep pattern can ultimately trigger sleepwalking to occur. Dr. Stowell also noted that sleepwalking is often genetically linked from parents to children.

According to the Sleep Foundation, studies have shown that about “22% of children whose parents have no history of sleepwalking will experience this condition. In contrast, 47% of children sleepwalk if one parent has a history of it, and 61% of children sleepwalk if both parents do.”

We may not know we sleepwalk unless a friend or family member tells us, but what should we do if we catch someone sleepwalking?

Well first, we shouldn’t startle or wake them up—a sleepwalker is, of course, sleeping, and is often dreaming and acting out that dream while they are sleepwalking. If the dream includes violence, stress, or action, involving yourself in their dream could result in conflict or even unintended violence.

Second, by abruptly waking someone up, it is possible to cause trauma or make them disoriented. The best thing to do is to gently guide them back to their bed. When they wake up in the morning, you can help them track the previous day’s events to see if there were any potential causes. 

Dr. Stowell explained that the best way to treat sleepwalking is to learn and identify the underlying causes. Is the patient eating too much before bed? Are they drinking lots of alcohol or caffeine? By identifying possible triggers, a patient can tackle their sleepwalking problem and possibly keep it from occurring as often.

When asked if certain medications can be taken to improve sleepwalking, Dr. Stowell also explained that some medications may actually make the condition worse. Many of us take Benadryl or other antihistamines to help us fall asleep. In reality, this causes a lower quality of sleep that tends to leave us fatigued the next day.

“Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (or SSRI’s) can also cause patients to have up to a 2.5-time higher risk of having sleepwalking episodes,” says Dr. Stowell. The best way to treat sleepwalking is to identify the triggers and make necessary changes in one’s life to eliminate the habit.

If you or a loved one sleepwalks, you can take some precautions around the house to keep everyone safe. Place guards on staircases so that sleepwalkers don’t fall down the stairs. Keep windows and doors locked. In rare cases, a sleepwalker could even open a front door and make it outside in the middle of the night. Keep them safe by making sure your doors and windows are locked at night.

And lastly, if you find someone sleepwalking, don’t startle them. Just gently guide them back to bed and help them identify possible triggers from the day before when they wake up in the morning.

Although sleepwalking videos can be hilarious (albeit weird) sources of entertainment to watch on Tik Tok or Instagram, it’s important to understand the science behind the sleep disorder, why it happens, and what we can do to prevent it in ourselves or our loved ones. 

Keep up with all of Green Living’s original content online and on social media.

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