Sleepwalking: Why It Happens

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation


Learn the reasons why you might roam the house while sound asleep.

It used to be that people thought sleepwalkers were either acting out their dreams or their secret desires. But, in fact, sleepwalking (also called somnambulism) is a disorder of arousal, where the brain is triggered to rouse the body while in a deep sleep.

Sleepwalking Basics

Simply put, the disorder causes people to get out of bed and move around while they’re still asleep. They might quietly creep about the house, run through the home urgently, or even climb out a window, or walk out a door. Their eyes are open and glassy, and if you ask them questions, they may respond very slowly or not at all.

Interestingly, sleepwalking typically occurs in the first third of the night when you’re in the deepest stages of slumber, called NREM sleep. In this part of the sleep cycle, your brainwaves are slow and your gray matter is quiet and inactive. But your body is quite active—this time of night is when you toss and turn the most.

Children between the ages of four and eight are the most likely to sleepwalk, and they’re more at risk if they suffered from night terrors when they were babies. Kids typically outgrow the disorder by the age of 12. Sleepwalking isn’t just a disorder for the young, however—nearly four percent of adults in the United States do it, too.

Sleepwalking Causes

There’s no one clear-cut reason why people sleepwalk, but several factors can influence its occurrence:

• Genetics: Like most other disorders and diseases, sleepwalking can run in families. Identical twins frequently sleepwalk, and you’re ten times more likely to do it if a first-degree relative also does.

• Environmental Triggers: Insufficient sleep is a common catalyst for sleepwalking. But an inconsistent sleep schedule can boost your risk, as can stress and alcohol. These are just more reasons to practice good sleep hygiene!

• Medical Conditions: Many ailments can make you more prone to sleepwalking, including irregular heartbeats, reflux, sleep apnea, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, and asthma.

Sleepwalking can also be linked to Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, as well as seizure disorders. If you have recently started ambling about while you snooze, it’s wise to consult your doctor.