Somnambulism - The Myth of Sleepwalking

Sleepwalking is one of the parasomnic sleep disorders and describes an unconscious state of wakefulness during sleep. Find out here what lies behind the myth of sleepwalking and how it happens that we wake up from sleep without consciousness and memory and walk through the night.

Table of Contents

      1. What does sleepwalking mean?
      2. This is what happens when you sleepwalk
      3. Causes and triggers of sleepwalking
      4. Is sleepwalking harmful?
      5. Avoid sleepwalking
      6. Conclusion

      1. What does sleepwalking mean?

      Sleepwalking, also known as "somnambulism" in science, is a sleep or waking disorder, which is one of the so-called parasomnias (sleep interruptions). The myth is more common in children, but up to 7% of adults also occasionally walk around in their sleep, according to doctors. The extraordinary state in which we get up without properly waking up from sleep, wander through the apartment and the next day have no memory of the nocturnal excursion lasts in most cases only a few seconds to minutes and usually takes place mainly in the bedroom . Why we wander around at night can have different reasons and, depending on the severity, can also entail serious dangers.

      2. This is what happens when you sleepwalk

      Sleepwalking awakens and activates some areas of the brain while another part stays asleep. Those affected are thus placed in a state between being awake and asleep and are said to have "woken up incompletely". Various studies from sleep research show that during sleepwalking, the brain areas that control our movement and motor skills are as active as when we are awake, while other important areas, such as the brain areas responsible for memory formation and interaction with the environment, are not activity typical for sleep.

      Our brain continues to sleep, which is why we are in a trance while walking around and have little or no important nerve and brain functions such as orientation, pain perception and our general ability to interact and react. So it happens that sleepwalkers get up, walk around or even eat a meal, but are not responsive and have no memory of the waking phase the next day.

      3. Causes and triggers of sleepwalking

      The causes of the unusual phenomenon are not yet fully known. Sleepwalking occurs exclusively in the deep sleep phases or in the transition from deep sleep to waking up. It therefore has nothing to do with dreaming, even though it is often assumed, and it cannot take place in a dream sleep phase (REM sleep), because here the so-called sleep paralysis usually protects us from uncontrolled movements .

      Scientists suspect that deep sleep in sleepwalkers is generally more prone to disruption and less stable. During sleep, they react more sensitively to external (sounds, light or touch) or the body's own stimuli (urge to urinate, stress, pain), which then trigger incomplete awakening. And the degree of maturity of the central nervous system could also play a crucial role in the stimulus response during sleep and influence whether someone sleepwalks or not. This would also explain why children are affected more often than adults. At the young age of 4 to 8 years, the brain is still developing and the central nervous system is immature.

      By the way: According to researchers, there is a 60% risk for the children of sleepwalkers to become sleepwalkers themselves, since a tendency to sleepwalk could also be genetic and related to the inherited maturation of the central nervous system.

      An overview of other possible triggers for sleepwalking:
      • Psychological strain and stress
      • Lack of sleep
      • Intake & consumption of certain medications, alcohol or drugs
      • Internal & endogenous stimuli such as pain
      • External stimuli such as light, noise, touch

      4. Is sleepwalking harmful?Schlafwandeln: Keine Erinnerung am Morgen an die Aktivität in der Nacht

      In most cases, those affected cannot remember the nightly excursions the next morning and only find out that they are sleepwalking when another person is present. Basically, sleepwalking is a rather harmless sleep disorder, which in any case is rather rare, especially in adults. Nevertheless, the "half-awake" state also harbors dangers due to the uncontrolled activity, for example when sleepwalkers leave the house unconsciously or with dangerous objects such as scissors, knives, etc. handle. In these moments, those affected are not fully conscious, cannot assess risks or react adequately to dangers. If you or a family member suffers from occasional sleepwalking, it is therefore advisable to secure the sleeping area and, for example, close doors and windows at night or remove potentially dangerous objects from the bedroom

      5. How can I avoid sleepwalking?

      Illness, stress or a lack of relaxation can put a strain on the nervous system and increase sensitivity to stimuli during sleep. A quiet and undisturbed sleep is therefore a good prerequisite for avoiding being startled or waking up from deep sleep and for not making sleepwalking possible in the first place. Unless there is a serious medical condition behind a tendency to sleepwalk, it may help to specifically slow down before sleep and support both physical and mental relaxation to promote overall sleep and avoid nocturnal awakenings.

      Here you will find our relaxation tips and in this article you will find out which calming and natural extracts can help you to relax before sleep.

      Watch out! Surely you've heard that sleepwalkers shouldn't be woken up - and with good reason! The sudden awakening from deep sleep can not only be extremely surprising, it can also have a confusing effect on the person concerned or even lead to panicked, aggressive or unpredictable behavior. It is better to gently lead sleepwalkers back to the bed, where they can usually calm down quickly and continue sleeping.

      6. Conclusion

      • Sleepwalking describes the unconscious mixed state of being awake and asleep, in which the body is active but the mind continues to sleep.

      • Sleepwalkers awaken incompletely from deep sleep and usually have no memory of being awake.
      • Possible causes of sleepwalking are a low degree of maturity of the nervous system and a low sensitivity to stimuli during deep sleep, for example due to stress, psychological stress or illness.
      • Sleepwalking is basically not harmful, but it can lead to dangerous and risky situations.

      Greetings and see you soon!

      1 Comment

      Es ist erschreckend, das man kein Schmerzempfinden hat. Ich muss mich sehr gestossen haben, ohne es zu merken. Morgens hatte ich riesige blaue Flecken an der rechten Körperhälfe, wovon ich nichts gemerkt hatte.
      Ich mache Sachen, die mir erzählt werden, wovon ich aber absolut nichts weiß.

      Barbara 02. November 2022

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