Sleepwalking occurs when someone is asleep but performing activities such as driving, eating, or having intimate relations. Many people mistakenly believe that sleepwalking happens to children who have “night terrors” or adults who took a sleeping medication such as Ambien. About 58 percent of adults who engage in sleepwalking for any reason become violent, according to a study recently issued by Dr. Yves Dauvilliers, director of the sleep lab at Gui-de-Chauliac Hospital in France.
Alcohol and sleeping medications can indeed cause or worsen sleepwalking. But, there are other potential causes including excessive physical activity too close to bedtime, psychological trauma, and a genetic history of sleeping disorders. Most adults who engage in sleepwalking started the behavior as children, according to Dr. Dauvilliers’ study. Out of the 100 subjects studied, 17 percent had injured themselves or someone else while sleepwalking. An estimated 24 percent of adult sleepwalkers experience the symptoms nightly and about 44 percent experience the symptoms once a week.
About 4 percent of adults engage in sleepwalking, according to Dr. Maurice Ohayon, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University who has published numerous studies about this medical problem. Prescription sedatives, bells on doorknobs, extra locks on doors and windows, and burglar alarms have helped some people greatly reduce or even eliminate their sleepwalking. People who sleepwalk should sleep on the ground floor of their residences.
Besides violence to others or self-injury, sleepwalking can cause or worsen depression and daytime sleepiness. Daytime sleepiness can cause problems at work, school, or even lead to serious motor vehicle accidents.