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How Sleepwalking Works

https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/sleepwalking.htm

science.howstuffworks.com

How Sleepwalking Works
Sleepwalking is an abnormal behavior that occurs while someone is sleeping. Learn more about sleepwalking and find out how sleepwalking is treated.

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Defining Sleepwalking

Defining Sleepwalking

Sleepwalking is known as somnambulism. It's classified as an abnormal behavior during sleep that's disruptive.

The handbook for mental health professionals, the DSM-IV, defines sleepwalking by the following criteria:

  • You leave your bed while sleeping.
  • Others find it difficult to wake you during an episode of sleepwalking.
  • You can't remember what happened while you were sleepwalking.
  • When you do wake up from an episode, you're confused.
  • You don't suffer from dementia or another physical disorder.
  • It impairs your work or social life.

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When Sleepwalking Happens

During the first third of sleep, your body is in non-REM - your deepest stage of sleep. Your brain quiets down and you aren't dreaming. Your body is active, and you tend to toss and turn.

People usually sleepwalk during the first third of their sleep pattern. Sleepwalking episodes can last from a few seconds to half an hour. Sleepwalkers can perform many activities, from walking around to driving a car or playing an instrument.

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Why People Sleepwalk

People used to think that sleepwalkers acted out their dreams. However, sleepwalking occurs during the deepest stages of sleep when you are not dreaming.

  • Mental health professionals state that sleepwalking is an arousal disorder, meaning that something triggers the brain, so the person is in a transition state between sleeping and waking.
  • Most sleepwalkers are children. It could be because their brains outpace others in development or that a child's brain is too immature to understand waking and sleeping cycles.
  • Children tend to sleepwalk more when they are overly tired or stressed. The same factors affect adult sleepwalkers, as well as medicines, alcohol, and fever illnesses.
  • Sleepwalking has been linked to seizures, REM sleep disorders, and brain disorders like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

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Sleepwalking and the Arts

In the arts, sleepwalking is linked to blood, danger, the occult, and loss of control.

  • Shakespeare used a sleepwalking scene in Macbeth to reveal a key element in Lady Macbeth's character development. She plots a murder but doesn't want to pull it off. In a sleepwalking episode, she confesses her sins.
  • In Bellini's opera "La Sonnambula," a sleepwalking woman is accused of being unfaithful to her husband when she innocently wakes up in another man's room.
  • The plot of "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" centers on the idea of a murderer sleepwalker controlled by an evil doctor.
  • In "Dracula," the vampire sinks his teeth into Lucy during a bout of sleepwalking.

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Other Parasomnias, Besides Sleepwalking

Sleepwalking isn't the only parasomnia.

  • There is sleep sex - sexual behavior during sleep.
  • Sleep-eating is associated with the sleep aid Ambien, where people eat anything, from tubs of margarine, eating cigarettes and raw meat.
  • Bruxism is where some people clench or grind their teeth while they sleep. It can damage the teeth, give you headaches, and make your jaw hurt.
  • Sleeptalking, also named somniloquy, is where the person could just make noises, or could have a long one-sided conversation.
  • Sleep enuresis, or bed-wetting.

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A cure for sleepwalking

There isn’t a cure. 

People who sleepwalk usually are advised to keep their room safe by locking windows and doors, and to maintain what’s called good sleep hygiene: keep to a regular sleep routine, turn mobile phones off, avoid stimulants, and so on. Sleepwalking can often occur as a result of poor or disrupted sleep.

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The lifestyle imbalance

Thomas Edison said that sleep is "a bad habit." Like Edison, we seem to think of sleep as an adversary and try to fight it at every turn. The average American sleeps less than the recommended seven hours per night, mostly due to electric lights, television, computers, and smartphones. 

However, we are ignoring the intricate journey we're designed to take when we sleep.

Stage One Sleep

When we fall asleep, the nearly 86 billion neurons in our brain starts to fire evenly and rhythmically. Our sensory receptors become muffled at the same time.

The first stage of shallow sleep lasts for about 5 minutes.