You go to sleep in your bed, but sometime during the night, you wake up elsewhere, disoriented, wondering how you got there. Or perhaps one night you’re awoken to your roommate or a family member wandering down the hallway from their bedroom, muttering something to themselves as they bump into walls, seemingly unaffected.
Somnambulism, or sleepwalking, is a parasomnia — a sleep disorder involving undesired, complex behaviors during the slow-wave, deepest state of sleep. Though relatively common, sleepwalking myths abound. Let’s debunk some of the most persistent ones.
Myth #1: Sleepwalking is Painless
One of the most common misconceptions about sleepwalking is that a sleepwalker can’t get hurt or feel pain during an episode. The majority of sleepwalking episodes are relatively harmless, with many sleepwalkers simply getting up and walking around their homes for a few minutes before returning to bed without any incident. However, that doesn’t mean they lose their senses, and they can still get hurt from hitting something or falling with enough force. Remember to take care when directing them back to bed.
Myth #2: Sleepwalking is Rare
Sleepwalking is much more common than many people realize. The condition is most common in children, but it can also occur in adults. It’s estimated that sleepwalking affects approximately 2.5 percent of adults and 2 to 14 percent of children (including teenagers and young adults) at some point in their lives.
Myth #3: Sleepwalking Can Be Cured by Drinking Warm Milk
There’s a long-standing belief that drinking warm milk before bed can cure sleepwalking. However, there’s no scientific evidence to support this claim. While warm milk can help promote relaxation and promote sleep, it’s not a cure for sleepwalking. The best way to manage sleepwalking is to identify and treat the underlying cause.
Myth #4: Sleepwalkers Are Conscious and in Control
Another somnambulistic misnomer is that sleepwalkers are conscious and in control of their actions while they are sleepwalking. This isn’t entirely true. Sleepwalkers are actually in a state of semi-consciousness and aren’t fully aware of their surroundings or what they are doing — they’re sort of stuck in a dimension between waking and sleeping.
Myth #5: Sleepwalkers’ Eyes Are Always Closed
This myth follows on from the last one, in that since sleepwalkers aren’t fully conscious, they must always have their eyes closed, adding to the creepy, horror-movie-like, zombie vibe we come to associate with sleepwalking. But this also isn’t true; one’s eyes need to be open to venture down halls, go up and down stairs, or open doors to walk outside. This is what makes sleepwalking such a fascinating contradiction of parasomnia: one’s eyes are open while simultaneously being in deep sleep.
Myth #6: Sleepwalking Is a Nightly Occurrence
One of the more pervasive sleepwalking myths, it assumes that the somnambulist is up and about each night while they sleep. This simply isn’t true. Sleepwalking tends to take place when a person is experiencing high levels of stress, sleep deprivation or medication side effects — all of which can manifest themselves through sleepwalking episodes.
Walk Away from Sleepwalking
Sleepwalking is just one of many treatable parasomnias. Left untreated, sleep disorders can lead to increased risk for heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and motor vehicle accidents.
If you suspect you or a loved one may be struggling or suffering from the effects of sleepwalking, schedule a visit today to be evaluated at Whitney Sleep Center.