Sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism, is a sleep disorder belonging to the parasomnia family. Episodes of sleepwalking typically occur when a person is in the deep stages of sleep. These activities can be as benign as sitting up in bed, walking to the bathroom, and cleaning, or as hazardous as cooking, driving, extremely violent gestures, grabbing at hallucinated objects, or even homicide.

Several different factors may be involved in the development of sleepwalking. Sleepwalking seems to be associated with inherited genes, environmental, physiologic, and medical factors. Other precipitating factors to sleepwalking are those factors which increase the slow wave sleep stage. These most commonly include sleep deprivation, fever, and excessive tiredness. The use of some neuroleptics or hypnotics can also cause sleepwalking to occur.

Episodes of sleepwalking can range from quiet walking about the room to agitated running or attempts to “escape.” Typically, the eyes are open with a glassy, staring appearance as the person quietly roams the house. On questioning, responses are slow or absent. If the person is returned to bed without awakening, the person usually does not remember the event.

There are some drugs that can be prescribed for sleepwalkers such as a low dose benzodiazepine, tricyclic antidepressants, and clonazepam. However, for most sleepwalkers, many experts advise putting away dangerous items and locking doors and windows before sleep to reduce risks of harmful activity. Good sleep hygiene and avoiding sleep deprivation is also recommended.

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