Wednesday, September 18, 2013

While You Were Sleeping ...

While you were sleeping ...
Sleepwalking - it may be as simple as sitting up in bed and mumbling, but some people have been known to get up and go for a run - or even drive a car!
What is it?
Also known as somnabulism, sleepwalking is a series of complex behaviours initiated during slow-wave sleep that result in walking while asleep. Most sleepwalking episodes are harmless, but some extreme instances have included loading shotguns, turning on the stove, or mistaking a bed partner for an intruder and attacking them.
Sleepwalkers have a degree of awareness of their environment and during sleepwalking, parts of the brain are asleep but parts are awake: this is why sleepwalkers can wash, open or close doors, negotiate their way around furniture, or go down stairs. Their eyes are usually open and they may even recognise people, but they don't seem to be focused on anything in particular, and their reactions to things can be nonsensical. Sleepwalking is usually , but not always, associated with complete amnesia - if the person wakes up and finds they are in the garden, they have no idea how they got there. Adults are more likely to remember what they did in their sleepwalking episodes than children are. A significant number of the ones who do remember will also recall why they did what they did.
Sleepwalking is very common and occurs in up to 40 percent of children, especially at around 11 to 12 years of age; in about a quarter of these cases, the sleepwalking will continue into adulthood. One theory is that children have more deep sleep than adults. Only about 1.5 percent of adults sleepwalk, although some experts put the figure much higher. No one reason for sleepwalking has been identified, but there are several triggers: sleep deprivation, fever, stress, and drugs, prescription or otherwise. Ironically, as about 45 percent of sleepwalkers are then very fatigued and drowsy during the day, it can be a self-perpetuating problem. When given the opportunity to nap, they drop off significantly faster than people who do not sleepwalk. Episodes generally occur during slow-wave sleep in the first third of the night, and can last minutes or hours. The tendency is also thought to be genetically determined - just as species-specific sleep patterns have been documented in animals, humans also seem to have genetic qualities in their sleeping patterns. And it runs in families: if either of your parents did it, there's a 70 percent chance you will, too.
How is it treated?
If the sleepwalking is treated by sleep deprivfation, improving the patterns of the sleep-wake cycle by going to bed at the same time every night will help. If a full bladder is a trigger, fluids should be restricted at bedtime. Counselling can help resolve any emotional conflicts or burders, Taking short naps during the day may help by 'lightening' the sleep at night, therefore shortening the stage of sleep when sleepwalking is likely to occur. Most cases resolve spontaneously and become less frequent with age.
Is it serious? This depends on the frequency of the episodes and whether the person comes to any harm, or tries to harm others. There is one variation of convenational sleepwalking which can be dangerous in itself, called sleep-related eating disorder. In this, people who don't have eating disorders while they are awake actually manifest them when they are asleep. People with this disorder complain of unsual weight gain or loss, and may choke on food while eating when asleep, or even start a fire or burn themselves when cooking while they are asleep.
Oh, and the old saying that you should never wake a sleepwalker is, in fact, true. The best thing to do is just to guide them gently back to bed. If they are woken, they can become confused and upset.

Source : Nature and Health


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