Updated April 15, 1998

SLEEPWALKING (Somnambulism)

What is Sleepwalking (Somnambulism)?

Sleepwalking (Somnambulism) is a series of complex behaviors that are initiated during slow wave sleep and result in walking during sleep.

What are the symptoms of Sleepwalking (Somnambulism)?

Ambulation (walking or moving about) that occurs during sleep. The onset typically occurs in prepubertal children.

Associated features include:

How serious is Sleepwalking?

For some, the episodes of sleepwalking occur less than once per month and do not result in harm to the patient or others. Others experince episodes more than once per month, but not nightly, and do not result in harm to the patient or others. In its most severe form, the episodes occur almost nightly or are associated with physical injury. If the sleepwalker exits the house, or is having frequent episodes and injuries are occurring -- seek professional help from a sleep disorder center in your area.

The child may feel embarrassment, shame, guilt, anxiety and confusion when they are told about their sleepwalking behavior. It is important to handle the child's feelings about sleepwalking with care.

How Common is Sleepwalking?

Medical reports show that about 18% of the population are prone to sleepwalking. It is more common in children than in adolescents and adults. Boys are more likely to sleepwalk than girls. The highest prevelance of sleepwalking was 16.7% at age 11 to 12 years of age.  Sleepwalking can have a genetic tendency.

Sleepwalking Facts

Sleepwalking that starts at an early age, generally disappears as the child gets older. If the child outgrows the sleepwalking the age that it ended was approximately 13.8 years old. If the child begins to sleepwalk at the age of 9 or older, it often lasts into adulthood. 

What can be done about Sleepwalking?

The majority of children who experience sleepwalking only have a mild display and frequency of the disorder. Therefore, most parents are relieved to know that most children will outgrow sleepwalking with time.

For more severe forms of sleepwalking, the late Dr. Nino-Murcia suggests:

Diagnostic Classification Steering Committee, Thorpy MJ, Chairman. International Classification of Sleep Disorders: Diagnostic and Coding Manual. Rochester, Minnesota: American Sleep Disorders Association, 1990.

Kryger, Meir H., Roth, Thomas, Dement, William C. Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine, 2nd Edition. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: W.B. Saunders Company, 1994.

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