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You won’t believe what triggered my sleepwalking…

Thursday 13 July 2017

Image of person sleeping while a cockroach is falling from the sky towards their face
Sleepwalking, is a disorder of moving around whilst asleep.

Sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism, is a disorder of moving around whilst asleep.  The exact cause of sleepwalking is unknown, and while it’s more common in children, around four in 1000 adults still sleepwalk.

21-year-old Brisbane resident Genevieve Noon is one of those adults and says she has always walked and talked during sleep.

“Interestingly, my brother and I inherited the disorder from our mum, who is also a sleepwalker and talker,” she said.

“There was a period during my teenage years when I didn’t sleep walk or talk, but have recently started sleep walking regularly again.

“I had a traumatic experience earlier this year, where a large cockroach fell on my face as I was trying to fall asleep.

“After that incident, I started sleepwalking again and I haven’t been able to stop since.”

Sleep Specialist at the Princess Alexander Hospital Sleep Disorders Centre, Dr Claire Ellender, said it is unknown why people continue to sleepwalk.

“Medical conditions, such as obstructive sleep apnoea, seizure disorders and states of stress or trauma can contribute to sleepwalking worsening,” Dr Ellender said.

“Sleepwalking can run in families and we do know that in predisposed people, sleepwalking is often worse during periods of stress, poor medical health and poor mental health.”

Genevieve said her sleepwalking episodes can result in using her mobile phone to text and call, watching television and engaging in conversations with family members.

“It’s a strange experience, as I can sometimes recall my sleepwalking episode when I wake up the next morning,” she said.

“I’m unaware of how often I do actually sleepwalk, I’m only aware of the occasions when someone has seen or spoken to me and the ones that I recall the next day.

“There could be many more instances that I just don’t know of.”

Dr Ellender said that sleepwalking, sleep-talking, sleep-eating and even sleep-sex, all belong to a group of sleep disorders called parasomnias.

“It is thought that parasomnias are due to an incomplete dissociation of sleep and wakefulness, meaning the brain is halfway between being awake and being asleep at night,” she said.

“Sleepwalking and other parasomnias tend to wax and wane over time, so focusing on total body health, stress management and increasing total sleep time usually helps settle things down.

“In general, avoiding triggers for sleepwalking such as alcohol, caffeine and stimulants before bed are helpful to reduce the frequency of sleepwalking.

“I usually recommend that if people sleepwalk regularly, that before they go to sleep, they ensure their bedroom environment is safe and as free from trip hazards as possible.

“If sleepwalking is causing harm or sleep is non-restorative, then seeing a sleep specialist could be helpful.

Dr Ellender said that family members or bed partners can gently direct sleepwalkers back to bed during the night.

“Most of the time, the sleepwalker will be easily directed and get back to sleep without incident,” she said.

For more information, visit the Sleep Foundation Australia website.

Last updated: 13 July 2017