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Sleep walking

Last reviewed dd mmm yyyy. Last edited dd mmm yyyy

Authoring team

Sleep walking is a parasomniac phenomenon, occurring in deep sleep. As such a sleep walker has no recollection of the episode, and there is little point in waking them during an episode - this will just result in confusion and distress.

  • is a non - Rapid Eye Movement (REM) parasomnia
  • sleepwalking alone has a 15–20% lifetime prevalence
  • main symptom is of automatic behaviour at night with the sufferer unresponsive to surroundings and other people
    • behaviour is most commonly walking around, but can include other behaviours which are highly familiar to the subject such as dressing, washing, making tea, arranging objects in the house
    • some cases of sleepwalking seem related to use of certain drugs e.g. alcohol and hypnotics, especially zolpidem and triazolam, opiates (possibly related to sleep-disordered breathing) or other sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea
    • rare for affected individuals to present for treatment, except if they have injured themselves or a partner, have put themselves into potential danger, or have excessive daytime fatigue because of night time disturbance
      • another reason for presentation is anxiety and disruption of sleep of partner, family or housemates

The popular belief that sleepwalkers come to no harm is untrue - the risk of accidental injury is high and it's prevention is an important part of the management of this condtion. The walker may be gently steered away from harm; better still preventative measures may be taken.

Consult expert advice:

  • if the sleep walking has a very regular pattern it may be prevented in the same way as the management of night terrors - that is the waking of the walker 15 minutes before the expected episode
  • as a last resort sedative medication (e.g. sedative antihistamine or a benzodiazepine) may be used


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