Sleepwalking: a particular sleep disorder

Sleepwalking usually arouses a lot of interest for the strange and disturbing characteristics of the behavior of the people who exhibit it.

It is treated in a sleep disorder characterized by partial awakening of the person. The essential feature of sleepwalking is the existence of repeated episodes of complex motor behaviors that begin during deep sleep.

The sleepwalker usually does things or talks while sleeping, such as rubbing your eyes, pacing around the room, or even leaving the house.

Also, a sleepwalker He has the ability to avoid objects, but his mind and reasoning ability are greatly impaired. It can be said that the person acts and speaks but is unaware of anything that is happening.

The prevalence of sleepwalking in the general population is estimated to be between 1% and 15%. The onset or persistence of this disorder in adults is common, although it is much higher in children. It is usually not associated with any psychiatric or psychological problems.

Sleepwalking is the first stage of non-REM sleep

Sleepwalking and REM sleep
To understand sleepwalking it is important to know that sleep is a complex phenomenon and is divided into several stages.

This sleep disorder occurs during the first stage of non-REM sleep. To understand it better, we will explain the different stages of sleep in a simple way.

Not all rest and sleep is created equal once we hit bed. Sleep is divided into cycles of approximately 90 minutes. that repeat themselves during the hours in which we sleep.

Within these cycles, different stages of two types of sleep follow each other: slow sleep and paradoxical sleep. Let’s see, below, the different stages classified into REM sleep and non-REM sleep.

non-REM sleep

The following phases occur during non-REM sleep:

  • Phase I or phase of numbness: Includes approximately the first 10 minutes of sleep. It is a transition phase, from when we are awake until we fall asleep.
  • Stage II or light sleep stage: It occupies about 50% of our sleep cycles. Both breathing and heart rate slow down. It is during this stage that people have the typical dream of falling off a cliff and waking up suddenly.
  • Phase II or transitional phase: It is a short phase, just two or three minutes in which we approach deep sleep.
  • Stage IV or deep sleep stage: this phase occupies about 20% of the total sleep cycle. It is the most important in determining the quality of rest. It’s very difficult to wake up. It is in this phase that the sleepwalker “wakes up”.

REM sleep or paradoxical sleep phase

It covers about 25% of the sleep cycle and lasts between 15 and 30 minutes. During this stage, we have constant movement of the eyeballs under the lids.

It is characterized by high brain activity, much like when we are awake, even though our muscles are locked up. It is the stage where we dream and receive information from the outside.

Causes of sleepwalking

Sleepwalking and alcohol consumption
Certain behavioral factors such as alcohol consumption can influence the onset of sleepwalking.

As we said at the beginning of the article, sleepwalking has a prevalence higher in children than in adults. The reason is that adults have a shorter duration of deep non-REM sleep as they age.

This disorder tends to run in families.. Also, fatigue, lack of sleep, and anxiety are associated with the problem. On the other hand, other factors that favor its development are:

  • alcohol, sedatives and other drugs.
  • Conditions such as seizures.
  • Mental disorders.

If you ever come across a person who sleepwalks, The first thing to do is not be afraid and keep calm. Subsequently, it is recommended to guide the person to bed by speaking to him in a low tone, in short and clear sentences.


In many cases, simply improving sleep hygiene can eliminate the problem. If it does not improve with these measures, it is advisable to speak to a professional to discuss the possible factors causing the problem.

Some patients have claimed to have been cured with techniques such as hypnotism. Furthermore, there is also a drug treatment to try to improve it.

However, sleepwalking usually decreases over the years because, as we have said, the deep sleep phase is less with age and there is less chance of waking up sleepwalking.

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