Q. Why do people go sleepwalking?
A. Sleepwalking is a disturbance in non-REM sleep—stages of sleep in which there’s little or no eye movement and muscles are not immobilized, as they are during REM sleep. It typically occurs during the first third of the night.
Sleepwalkers may just sit up in bed or amble about, or may carry out more complex activities, such as getting dressed, raiding the fridge or even driving a car, without awareness.
They usually have their eyes open with a glassy stare; they may mumble and, on occasion, may harm themselves. Most sleepwalkers do not recall the event.
Almost 30 percent of Americans report having had at least one episode of sleepwalking in their lives, according to a recent paper in Neurology. It’s most common in childhood and adolescence and tends to decrease with age.
Sleepwalking can be triggered by other sleep disorders, such as apnea; stress, fever, alcohol abuse or certain drugs, notably some sleeping pills (such as Ambien) and antidepressants.
It’s also associated with some medical conditions, such as hyperthyroidism and restless legs syndrome. People who have major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder or some other psychiatric disorders are more susceptible.
See your doctor or a sleep specialist if you sleepwalk. Treating an underlying condition or changing medication may resolve it. Relaxation training and/or hypnosis may help.