By Peter Livesey
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An Embarrassing Night’s Sleep
I open my eyes and find myself staring at my hotel room door. This at first does not strike me as strange, so I reach for the door handle—of course, it is locked. Around this point, I realize that I am only wearing my boxers and the last thing I remember, I was closing my eyes and falling asleep in my standard queen-sized hotel bed. Not having my magnetic keycard to open the door, I start knocking, loud enough to wake my friends (but hopefully not our neighbors given my embarrassing predicament). It was to no avail though, and I ended up wandering the hotel hallways until a security guard found me and asked, “What the hell are you doing?”
To the best of my knowledge, I do not sleepwalk often or regularly but I have sleepwalked a couple of times since this particular instance. I have also been known to talk, walk around and even go to the bathroom (or try) whilst asleep. I have never had a violent or endangering episode though and I usually just end up with another amusing story to tell. My strange behavior has sparked and interest into the phenomenon of sleepwalking and I was surprised where my research led me.
What is sleepwalking?
Sleepwalking, also known as “somnambulism”, is a parasomnia. A parasomnia is any undesirable events that occur during sleep. Other parasomnias include sleep terrors, nightmares, and confusion arousals.
Sleepwalking is characterized by a person getting out of bed and walking around though he is still asleep. Sometimes the sleepwalker will get up calmly, though sometimes they will bolt out of bed trying to escape some imagined threat. Sleepwalkers may talk or shout and often go about daily routines that are not often performed at night.
Usually, a sleepwalker’s eyes are open though they often have a glassy or confused look. It is clearly that sensory information is being collected and processed since people do not simply walk into walls and can actually hold conversations. In rare cases, people have been known to drive their car while asleep. This perception is limited though as sleepwalkers (such as myself) will often engage in strange behaviors. This could include urinating in a closet, drinking olive oil, or even violence going as far as suicide or homicide (Sleep Education).
What Causes One to Sleepwalk?
Sleepwalking is much more common in children than adults with about 17% of children that sleepwalk compared to only 4% of adults. It is also thought to be genetic so if your parents sleepwalk, it is much more likely you will too. Other common causes include:
• Sleep deprivation
• Migraine headaches
• Head injury
• The premenstrual period
• Bloated stomach
• Physical or emotional stress or events
• Sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings
• Some medications
• Alcohol use and abuse
• Noise or light
• Fevers in children
Sleepwalking and the Law
Because sleepwalking has been known to cause homicide, it has been used in murder defense. According to the BBC, there have been 68 known cases of "homicidal somnambulism”. It is a complex situation since when a sleepwalker awakens from his sleep (either mid-sleepwalk or after returning to normal sleep), they will have no recollection of their actions whilst sleepwalking. The jury also finds it hard to determine when people are lying. If it is determined that they are telling the truth, they are sometimes released totally free and are sometimes determined insane and sent to a mental asylum (Martin).
Should I be worried?
Sleepwalking among children is normal and you should not be worried. Parents should keep a close eye on their children, make sure there are no sharp objects near where they sleep and should not allow their children to bunk.
Among adults, sleepwalking is more commonly will cause embarrassment, disruption to a partner’s sleep or injury to the sleepwalker or others. If you experience any of these consequences, talk to your doctor about treatment.
To limit your sleepwalking on your own you can:
• Avoid sleep deprivation
• Avoid stress
• Avoid alcohol intake
(Sleepwalking Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment)
Martin, Lawrence. "Can sleepwalking be a murder defense?" Lakesidepress. 18 Feb. 2009 <http://www.lakesidepress.com/pulmonary/Sleep/sleep-murder.htm>.
Sleep Education. American Academy of Sleep Education. 18 Feb. 2009 <Sleep Education>.
"Sleepwalking Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment." EMedicineHealth. 18 Feb. 2009 <http://www.emedicinehealth.com/sleepwalking/article_em.htm>.
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