John Mersch, MD, FAAP
Dr. Mersch received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, and prior to entering the University Of Southern California School Of Medicine, was a graduate student (attaining PhD candidate status) in Experimental Pathology at USC. He attended internship and residency at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.
William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
- Sleepwalking facts
- What is sleepwalking?
- What are the causes, incidence, and risk factors of sleepwalking?
- What are associated factors to consider?
- What are symptoms of sleepwalking?
- What are the signs and tests for sleepwalking?
- What other conditions will my doctor consider before diagnosing sleepwalking?
- What is the treatment for sleepwalking?
- What is the prognosis of sleepwalking?
- What are the complications of sleepwalking?
- When should you call your health care practitioner about sleepwalking?
- How can I prevent sleepwalking?
- Find a local Sleep Specialist in your town
- Sleepwalking is not a serious disorder, although children can be injured by objects during sleepwalking.
- Although disruptive and frightening for parents in the short-term, sleepwalking is not associated with long-term complications.
- Prolonged disturbed sleep may be associated with school and behavioral issues.
- The outlook for resolution of the disorder is excellent.
What is sleepwalking?
Sleepwalking is a disorder characterized by walking or other activities while seemingly still asleep.
What are the causes, incidence, and risk factors of sleepwalking?
Sleepwalking has been described in medical literature dating before Hippocrates (460 BC-370 BC). In Shakespeare's tragic play, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth's famous sleepwalking scene ("out, damned spot") is ascribed to her guilt and resulting insanity as a consequence of her involvement in the murder of her father-in-law.
Sleepwalking is characterized by a complex behavior (walking) occurring while asleep. Occasionally nonsensical talking may occur. The person's eyes are commonly open, but have a characteristic glassy "look right through you" character. This activity most commonly occurs during middle childhood and young adolescence. Approximately 15% of children between 4-12 years of age will experience sleepwalking. Generally sleepwalking behaviors wane by late adolescence. However, approximately 10% of all sleepwalkers begin their behavior as teens. It appears that persons with certain inherited genes have an increased tendency toward developing sleepwalking behaviors.
There are five stages of sleep. Stages 1, 2, 3 and 4 are characterized as non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is the sleep cycle associated with dreaming as well as surges of important hormones essential for proper growth and metabolism. Each sleep cycle (stages 1,2,3,4 and REM) last about 90-100 minutes and repeats throughout the night. The average person experiences four to five complete sleep cycles per night. Sleepwalking characteristically occurs during the first or second sleep cycles, during stages 3 and 4. Due the short time frame involved, sleepwalking tends not to occur during naps. Upon waking the sleepwalker has no memory of his or her behaviors.
The sleepwalking activity may include simply sitting up and appearing awake while actually asleep, getting up and walking around, or complex activities such as moving furniture, going to the bathroom, dressing and undressing, and similar activities. Some people even drive a car while actually asleep. The episode can be very brief (a few seconds or minutes) or can last for 30 minutes or longer.
One common misconception is that a person sleepwalking should not be awakened. It is not dangerous to awaken a sleepwalker, although it is common for the person to be confused or disoriented for a short time on awakening. Another misconception is that a person cannot be injured when sleepwalking; however, injuries caused by such events as tripping and loss of balance are common for sleepwalkers.
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