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What Causes Sleepwalking?

Sleepwalking, a mysterious nocturnal behavior, stems from a complex interplay of genetic, environmental, and neurological factors. It often occurs during deep sleep when the brain experiences a glitch in the sleep-wake cycle. Intriguingly, stress and sleep deprivation can also trigger these nighttime wanderings. Want to uncover more about the enigmatic world of sleepwalking? Join us as we unravel its secrets.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

There may be a variety of causes for sleepwalking, ranging from age to genetic factors. Some causes are entirely out of control of the sleepwalker. For example, young children are prone to sleepwalking, and most of them grow out of it eventually. Other factors can be controlled, and when walking in sleep is identified as a problem, many doctors focus on potential causes which can be identified and eliminated to help their patients sleep better. Sometimes, patients may be asked to stay in a sleep clinic so that doctors can learn more about their specific symptoms.

The term “sleepwalking” is a bit of misnomer, because it doesn't just involve walking. Patients may engage in a variety of activities which are more generally associated with the waking state, ranging from cooking to driving, and they are usually partially conscious, rather than fully unconscious. Sleepwalking can be quite dangerous in some cases, which is why identifying the cause is important.

Fever can be one cause of sleepwalking.
Fever can be one cause of sleepwalking.

Causes of this condition can be classified as genetic factors, environmental causes, and physical causes. People with relatives who suffer from somnambulism are much more likely to start sleepwalking themselves, as are people with a more general family history of sleep disorders. Environmental factors include sleep deprivation, poor sleeping conditions, and stress. Sometimes the presence of loud noises and strong smells can interfere with sleep, for example.

Good sleep hygience might help prevent sleepwalking.
Good sleep hygience might help prevent sleepwalking.

The physical causes of this condition can include: magnesium deficiency, the use of sedatives to sleep, alcohol intoxication, fever, post traumatic stress disorder, pregnancy, antihistamines, stimulants, and some illnesses. Conditions which cause a variety of sleep problems can sometimes lead to somnambulism, and sleepwalkers may also experience acid reflux and heart problems, which are linked to this condition, although they do not necessarily cause it. Some medications can also a person to walk in his or her sleep, in which case the labels will usually include a warning to alert patients to the risk.

Some antihistamines may cause sleepwalking.
Some antihistamines may cause sleepwalking.

As can be seen from the examples above, it is not always possible to eliminate a cause of sleepwalking from one's life. Practicing good sleep hygiene can significantly decrease the risk, however, by promoting a healthy night's rest. It's a good idea to keep bedrooms cool and adequately stocked with blankets, sheets, and pillows, and to reserve the bedroom for sleeping, rather than using it as a multi-purpose room. This can reduce other sleep-related disorders as well as general stress and exhaustion levels.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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    • Fever can be one cause of sleepwalking.
      By: evgenyatamanenko
      Fever can be one cause of sleepwalking.
    • Good sleep hygience might help prevent sleepwalking.
      By: Karramba Production
      Good sleep hygience might help prevent sleepwalking.
    • Some antihistamines may cause sleepwalking.
      By: Wellford Tiller
      Some antihistamines may cause sleepwalking.
    • There are a number of causes for sleepwalking, ranging from genetics to stress.
      By: paultarasenko
      There are a number of causes for sleepwalking, ranging from genetics to stress.
    • Sleep deprivation is a potential cause of sleepwalking.
      By: bramgino
      Sleep deprivation is a potential cause of sleepwalking.