You have probably been frightened by a sleepwalking family member at some point in your life. Even though seeing someone walking in their sleep can give you what you feel is a mini heart attack, waking a sleepwalker will not cause them to have a heart attack or cause other serious trauma like this medical myth suggests.
Dr. Raghu Reddy, UAMS Pulmonologist and Sleep Medicine Specialist, says that “sleepwalking itself does not cause any health problems. It can cause problems indirectly mainly due to safety concerns — walking out of the house, jumping out of the window, using lighters and kitchen knives, bumping into sharp objects, etc.”
So what is the best way to handle a sleepwalker? Dr. Reddy suggests simply guiding them back to their bed.
“There is no consensus on what is the best approach when one encounters a sleepwalking patient. It is not dangerous to wake up a patient form sleepwalking, but experts who discourage it quote it is unsuccessful and leads to patient disorientation,” he says. “Try to ease them back to bed without making forceful attempts. If unsuccessful, just watch closely to assure their safety and try again after some time has passed.”
Sleepwalking rarely occurs among adults and is thought to be genetic, says Dr. Reddy. It usually begins around the age of 4 and peaks around 8 years and declines into the adolescent years. Children who have one or both parents with a history of sleepwalking also have a much higher chance of sleepwalking. In fact, 40 to 60 percent of children with one or both parents with a history of sleepwalking also sleepwalk.
It has been found that there are certain genes associated with sleepwalking. Other factors can cause sleepwalking such as sleep apnea and periodic limb movement disorders.
Is there a cure for this disorder? There is no cure, but don’t worry — most people outgrow it by the adolescent years. Those with more serious cases can be given a trial of medications such as benzodiazepines.
Dr. Reddy specializes in the treatment of sleep disorders and asthma along with a wide range of lung conditions, including COPD and cystic fibrosis.
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