When To See A Doctor About Your Sleepwalking

Referred to medically as somnambulism, approximately 18% of people experience sleepwalking within their lifetime, according to Cleveland Clinic experts. More often seen in children than adults, individuals who sleepwalk will get out of bed and move about as if they were awake. Often occurring within a couple hours after having fallen asleep, the person usually has no memory of the event the following day.

Common sleepwalking behaviors may include sleep talking, sitting up while in bed, and responding either illogically or with silence when spoken to. When sleepwalking, a person may also appear dazed, move about in an uncoordinated manner, or be hard to wake. Sleepwalking may occur for a number of different reasons. Illness, stress, fatigue, or even changes in one's sleep routine could all potentially prompt a person to sleepwalk. Sleepwalking may also occur as a side effect of certain medications, in response to sound, or if a person has a genetic predisposition to the condition. 

For children, sleepwalking often subsides over time. However, if a child or adult is moving about in a way that puts them or another person at risk of physical injury, it's best to see a doctor.

Talk to your doctor if sleepwalking is putting you at risk for injury

A person who is sleepwalking isn't fully asleep, but isn't entirely awake either. Describing sleepwalking as a state of "dissociated consciousness," researchers from a 2016 study published in The Western Journal of Emergency Medicine looked at emergency department admissions data from a hospital in Switzerland over a 15-year period. During that time, they found records of 11 patients with sleepwalking-related injuries who had required medical attention. Trauma ranged from a minor head injury and fractured collarbone to rib contusions, cerebral concussions, skull injuries, a fractured femur, and more. The patients varied in age from 16 to 77. Falls were found to be the leading cause of injury, specifically from the bed, stairs, or windows.

To prevent such accidents from occurring, Cleveland Clinic experts advise that individuals and family members keep the environment clear of potential hazards. This includes sharp objects or items that could be easily tripped over, like toys or wires. Keep weapons and car keys safely secured, and lock all doors and windows before bedtime to prevent the individual from potentially leaving the home.

Other signs that it's time to call your doctor about sleepwalking

In addition to ensuring the safety of the person sleepwalking, it's also important to keep the safety of others in mind as well. Although rare, forcibly grabbing, obstructing, or maneuvering a person who is sleepwalking can pose the risk of a physical altercation (via Cleveland Clinic). Although sleepwalking-related violence is uncommon and in need of further research, a loved one may be perceived as a threat when the sleepwalking person is in this state of dissociated consciousness. Without being fully conscious, activity may be reduced in certain brain regions that would normally inhibit impulsive or aggressive behavior in response to emotional stimuli, according to 2017 research published in the British Journal of Psychiatry Open. For this reason, experts advise slowly leading a sleepwalking person back to the bedroom.

In addition to the potential for injury, you should also reach out to your doctor if sleepwalking persists beyond adolescence, interferes with one's ability to stay awake during the day, in the event that the individual leaves the house while sleepwalking, or if you suspect that an underlying health condition could be a contributing factor.