Translate
Translate this website into the following languages:



Close Tab
UC San Diego Health
menu iconMenu
search iconSearch
Health Library Explorer
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A-Z Listings Contact Us
Neuroscience

Parasomnias: Sleepwalking

What is sleepwalking?

Sleepwalking refers to a type of sleep disorder that involves walking while in a deep sleep. But despite the name, sleepwalking can actually refer to more than that.

The term can also be used for performing other activities while deep in sleep, such as sitting up in bed, opening the refrigerator, preparing food, or even driving while asleep. But walking around the house while in deep sleep is one of the most common activities performed.

Sleepwalking can be dangerous not only to the person performing the sleepwalking, but to others in the home. Because the person is in deep sleep throughout the episode, he or she usually will not have any memory of the activity.

What causes sleepwalking?

Sleepwalking is much more common in children than in adults. A recent survey found that around 1% of preschool children and 2% of school-aged children sleepwalk at least a few nights each week.

But it can happen to adults, as well. Common triggers for sleepwalking include the use of sedative agents like alcohol and some medications. Also, people who are sleep deprived may sometimes sleepwalk.

Sleepwalking can differ slightly depending on when it occurs at night. There are several types of sleepwalking:

  • Deep sleep sleepwalking. This is the most common type of sleepwalking and occurs while you are engaged in deep sleep. It happens later in the evening or in the early morning. People usually have no memory of this type of sleepwalking.
  • Light sleep sleepwalking. In rare instances, people sleepwalk in the lighter sleep stages. This happens within a few hours of falling asleep. They may be partially awake during the episode.

What are the symptoms of sleepwalking?

The symptoms of sleepwalking go beyond just walking while in deep sleep. These are other common symptoms:

  • Talking in sleep
  • Screaming during sleep
  • Unusual behavior, such as urinating in closets or doorways; this is more common in children
  • Little to no memory of the event
  • Difficulty arousing the person from the episode, or even violent reactions from the person when aroused

How is sleepwalking diagnosed?

If you or a loved one is a sleepwalker, it is generally easy to diagnose. Because sleep deprivation is often the source of sleepwalking, your doctor may perform tests or a physical exam to determine reasons that you might be sleep deprived. Your doctor may ask you about stress, medications you are taking, or other things that might contribute to your sleepwalking.

How is sleepwalking treated?

Sometimes, steps as simple as improving sleep hygiene can help. This can include going to bed at a consistent time every night, creating a relaxing routine before bedtime, and getting your room at a comfortable temperature that’s neither too cold nor too hot.

In some cases, hypnosis therapy has helped people stop sleepwalking. Other times, medicines, such as sedative-hypnotics or antidepressants can help. You’ll want to talk with your doctor about the right strategy for you.

Can sleepwalking be prevented?

The best way to prevent sleepwalking is to get a better night’s sleep. In some cases, stress or certain medications can contribute to sleepwalking. You can try steps to manage your stress, like reading a book or taking a warm bath before bedtime. Regular exercise can also help you sleep better, but it’s best done at least 5 to 6 hours before bedtime.

Living with sleepwalking

Sleepwalking can be dangerous to the sleepwalker. One important step that you can take to make the situation safer for the sleepwalker is to remove any sharp or dangerous objects from the room, such as glass vases or tables with sharp corners. This will help prevent injury.

For children who sleepwalk, it’s a good idea to avoid using bunk beds. Locking doors and windows is also a strategy to promote safety. It also might be wise to install gates at the top of staircases to prevent dangerous falls.

Alcohol use can sometimes trigger sleepwalking episodes. Avoiding alcohol might help to prevent sleepwalking in some people. Instead, create a relaxing bedtime routine that doesn’t include alcohol.

Key points

Sleepwalking refers to a type of sleep disorder that involves walking while in a deep sleep. Sleepwalking can be dangerous not only to the person performing the sleepwalking, but to others in the home.

  • Sleepwalking is much more common in children than in adults.
  • Sleep deprivation is often the source of sleepwalking.
  • The best way to prevent sleepwalking is to get a better night’s sleep.
  • One important step that you can take to make the situation safer for the sleepwalker is to remove any sharp or dangerous objects from the room.
  • For children who sleepwalk, it’s a good idea to avoid using bunk beds.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you.
  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.
Online Medical Reviewer: Berry, Judith, PhD, APRN
Online Medical Reviewer: Fetterman, Anne, RN, BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 2/6/2014
© 2000-2016 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
Contact Our Health Professionals
Follow Us