Sleep Walking


Sleep Walking Essay, Research Paper


Have you ever known anyone who has sleepwalked? If you have ever lived

with young children, then you have probably witnessed the act of sleepwalking.

“Sleepwalking, or somnambulism, is a sleep disorder characterized by walking or

other activity while seemingly still asleep” (Sleep Walking 1999). Personally, I

sleepwalk. Also, my ten-year-old brother sleep walks. Children usually start to

sleep walk, when they are ten-years-old (”Children and Sleepwalking 1998). My

brother and I fit right into that pattern.

Sleepwalking occurs during the late stages of sleep. REM, rapid eye

movement, sleep occurs throughout the night. During this stage, eyes move

rapidly and vivid dreams occur. Sleep walking usually occurs during a deep, non-

REM stage of sleep early in the night (Sleep Walking 1999). Sleepwalking is also

considered to be a disorder of arousal. More commonly called, “partial arousals.”

Because sleep walking occurs during deep sleep, the brain is not functioning fully.

It can be “confused and befuddled if awakened” (Caldwell 125).

Why do people sleep walk? Children sleep walk because of fatigue, prior

sleep loss, or anxiety (”Sleepwalking” 1999). A full bladder may also trigger

sleepwalking (”Children and Sleep Walking” 1998). In adults, sleepwalking can

be associated with a disorder of the mind. It may also be caused by reactions to

medication, drugs or alcohol. Medical conditions may also cause sleepwalking

(”Sleepwalking” 1999) A partial complex seizure is “a brief, temporary alteration

in brain function caused by abnormal electrical activity in the nerve cells of a

discrete area of the brain, characterized by change in alertness or awareness with

behavioral or emotional symptoms and temporary loss of memory” (”Partial

Complex Seizure” 1999). A partial complex seizure is another cause of


Sleepwalkers exhibit a common expression. They may have a blank facial

expression, sit up and appear awake during sleep and have no recollection of the

event upon awakening (Sleepwalking 1999). Waking a sleepwalker would not be

a good idea, but is not harmful to the sleepwalker’s health, as some myths state.

An awakened sleepwalker may become frightened and disoriented and may flail

out violently, putting the person who woke them in danger. It is suggested that the

sleepwalker be led back to bed (Epstein). Sleepwalking episodes can last up to a

matter of seconds or longer than thirty minutes (”Sleepwalking” 1999).

Sleepwalkers do not seem to be under any distress. It may seem as

though they are looking for something, but are in no hurry to find it and do not cry

out. Normally, the sleepwalker rises from bed and begins to wander slowly around

the room. Their actions are very deliberate, but slow and methodical. The

sleepwalker looks straight ahead and “seems to be on some kind of auto pilot,

there is a sense of purpose in the activity, some goal for the journey.” A

sleepwalkers articulation is poor. Words are often incomprehensible and out of

order. Sleepwalkers do not usually speak, unless spoken to (Caldwell 124).

It seems that in sleepwalking, the body wakes before the mind. This is why

it is called partial arousals. The body is able to walk around, using only

memorization. If anything is put into the sleepwalkers way, that wasn’t originally

there, he’ll trip and fall (Caldwell 125).

Sleepwalkers lack judgment. They may be able to avoid bumping into

walls, and tripping over furniture, they do not know right from wrong. There have

been reports of sleepwalkers driving cars, climbing trees and just walking down

the road in the middle of the night. Even though fewer then one percent of

sleepwalkers injure themselves, everything should be done to stop injury.

Sleepwalkers are instructed to take many precautions against injury. They

are told to lock all doors and windows, locate their bedroom on the ground floor,

move all sharp objects from the path they might wander, close off areas where

there are toxic chemicals, lock away firearms, and do not sleep on a top bunk


So how serious is sleepwalking? Most people do not take it very serious.

Many do not even mention it during physical examinations. This is because most

episodes of sleep walking occur less then once per month. Others experience

sleepwalking more then once per month, but do not result in harm to themselves or

others. In its most severe case, episodes occur almost nightly and/or have serious

injuries. One of the biggest issues is the embarrassment, guilt, anxiety and shame

when the sleepwalker is awakened or told about his experience (”Children and

Sleepwalking” 1998).

The majority of the population that do have sleepwalking episodes are

children. Thirty percent of children between the ages of five and twelve have had

at least one episode of sleepwalking. Persistent sleepwalking effects one percent

to six percent of children (Epstein). Boys are more likely to sleep walk then girls.

Sleepwalking starts at an early age, and is usually outgrown by the time the child

reaches 13.8 years old. If the child started sleepwalking at the age of ten, or older,

then the sleepwalking episodes will often continue into adulthood (”Children and

Sleepwalking” 1998).

Studies have shown that children are ten times more likely to become a

sleepwalker, if their parents or siblings sleepwalk. Also, stress and tension are a

significant reason people sleepwalk (Zammit 191). Once the stress subsides,

then the sleepwalking episodes will also subside (Lavie 212). Seventy-Five

percent of adult sleepwalkers have a form of a personality disorder. These people

who suffer from a personality disorder, show a tendency to explosive or impulsive

antisocial feelings or action (Caldwell 126).

Sleepwalking is not in a group by itself. It has many sleep disorder

relatives. Although, sleepwalking is the most drastic form of automatism. Other

forms are: talking, making rhythmic movements, enuresis (bedwetting), teeth

grinding (bruxism), and night terrors. All these disorders fall into a category that

sleep researchers call parasomnias (Lavie 211). Parasomnias, a term that

means, “around or about sleep,” are abnormal behaviors during sleep.

Sleepwalking has even entered the judicial arena. It was used as a

successful defense in a murder case in 1987. Mr. Parks was accused of driving

to his parents-in-law’s house, taking a knife from their kitchen and stabbing them

while they slept. He then drove to the police department and stated, “Oh my God,

I’ve just killed two people with my own hands. I stabbed and beat them to death.

It’s all my fault!”

Mr. Parks pleaded automatism, stating that when he stabbed his parents-

in-law he was sleepwalking. Experts testified that he was, in fact, sleepwalking

and automatism is not a disorder of the mind. “They also ruled that a

sleepwalkers ability to voluntarily control his behavior is “severely limited or not

available” (Caldwell 127).

Sleep walking is genetic in my family. My father sleepwalks, although he

didn’t start until after the age of ten, which may predict that he would sleepwalk into

adulthood. I also sleepwalk. According to my parents, I started around the age of

eight or nine. I, also, have a greater chance of sleepwalking when I am an adult. I

have a ten-year-old brother. He, recently, just started to sleepwalk. His episodes

could be considered severe, because he sleepwalks almost every night. As a

result of my father’s heredity, and that my brother and I started to sleepwalk around

the age of ten, we will both be certain to sleepwalk when we are adults.

Works Cited

Caldwell, J. Paul. Sleep: The Complete Guide to Sleep Disorders and Better

Night’s Sleep. New York: Firefly Books Ltd, 1997.

“Children and Sleepwalking.” April 15, 1998.

Epstein, Bruce A. “Sleepwalking in Children.”

Lavie, Peretz. The Enchanted World of Sleep. Virginia: R.R. Donnelley & Sons,


“Sleep Walking.”


Zammit, Gary. Good Nights. Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel, 1997.

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