Sleep Walking or talking in your sleep involves the sleeper appearing to be awake when they are actually asleep and performing functions that would normally happen when awake. The sleeper will usually have little or no memory of doing any of it. Sleep walking and sleep talking can be minor but there are always extremes when patients can be a danger to themselves or their sleep partner or simply terrify their sleep partner with confusing behavior that makes the sleeper appear as if they are possessed.
There has been a fascination with sleepwalking from Lady Macbeth to Sigmund Freud. Sleepwalking is thought to occur in 1-15% of the population although it is quite common and normal in children of both sexes and they usually grow out of it.
One of the things that is understood about sleep walking, is that there seems to be a genetic predisposition for it, sometimes it even runs in families. It is a myth that you shouldn’t wake them up – you probably should so they don’t do anything dangerous.
Usually sleepwalkers just get out of bed and walk around, sit up in bed and open their eyes or appear to be confused and glassy eyed. Sometimes they will do routine daily activities and in extreme cases they may leave the house, get into a car and drive or become violent and get injured. A patient may wake up with a screwdriver in hand only to find he or she had unscrewed the hinges on the windows. Or wake wake up in the hallway of their apartment building in the middle of the night and not know how they got there.
People who get up from a deep sleep usually do so because something has aroused them, whether it is noise, a change in temperature or light or acid reflux. Reflux creates severe brain arousals and if you have reflux it can wake you up or cause you to sleep walk. Some medications, like lithium, can cause it as well as some medical issues like hyperthyroidism. Alcohol abuse can cause it in adults and fevers can cause it in children.
There is no standard effective treatment although hypnosis has been known to work. The key is to create a safe environment around the sleepwalker –put gates on stairs, locks on doors and windows, make sure there are no sharp objects around and, if a child, don’t let them sleep in the top bunk!