Nearly 18% of the population worldwide is prone to sleepwalking, and most people have sleepwalked on at least one occasion. Sleepwalking or somnambulism is most common with children and usually decreases as they get older. Although less common, adults can also be afflicted and it is estimated that between 4-10% of adults sleepwalk. A young child is likely to outgrow a pattern of sleepwalking, but children who don’t begin to sleepwalk until the age of eight or nine are apt to continue into adulthood.
Sleepwalking symptoms are very recognizable and may include open eyes and a blank expression, sitting up or walking. When spoken to, the somnambulist might be unresponsive, slow to answer or will perhaps mutter incoherently. A sleepwalker may appear clumsy or dazed, but can still be capable of performing detailed activities while sleeping such as dressing themselves or driving a car. In some circumstances a sleepwalker will display agitated or violent behavior. If sleepwalkers are awakened, most will be confused, disoriented and retain no memory of what they did while asleep.
There is no single cause for sleepwalking, but typically its causes will fall into one of three general categories.
- Genetics. Sleepwalking is linked to genetics because children are far more apt to be sleepwalkers if their parents were somnambulistic. Identical twins display greater tendencies toward sleepwalking, and males are more likely to experience sleepwalking disorders than females.
- Medical conditions. Arrhythmia, asthma, fever and sleep apnea can contribute to sleepwalking. Panic attacks and other psychological conditions can also cause sleepwalking episodes.
- Environmental conditions. Stress, alcohol intoxication, sleep deprivation, irregular sleep schedules and some prescription medications or over-the-counter drugs can cause sleepwalking in adults.