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Nearly 1 in 3 have sleepwalked, study finds
May 14th, 2012
04:00 PM ET

Nearly 1 in 3 have sleepwalked, study finds

Sleepwalking isn't just a quirk of Homer Simpson and other cartoon characters who go on unconscious adventures. New research suggests it's even more common than you may think.

Researchers published a study in the journal Neurology involving more than 19,000 American adults, and found that nearly 30% had sleepwalked at some point in their lives. Far fewer said they experienced sleepwalking within the last year - only about 4% did. One percent had two or more episodes per month.

Dr. Maurice Ohayon of Stanford University and lead author of the study says sleepwalking can be risky business; some people can harm themselves or others while wandering about.

Sleepwalking is far more likely to occur in childhood than adulthood; previous research suggests that as many as 30% of children have been affected.

Prior to this study, there was no good estimate of how many Americans sleepwalk generally, the researchers wrote. A study 10 years ago in Europe found a prevalence of 2%. And 30 years ago, a study in Los Angeles found about 2.5% of about 1,000 people experienced sleepwalking.

There wasn't a significant difference in sleepwalking in men vs. women, but the behavior did decrease with age, with the exception of those who reported it more than once per week.

Family history and genetics may play a role: 11.4% of people who reported sleepwalking said at least one sibling had episodes, compared to 7.8% of the rest of the participants. Individuals who said they sleepwalked in the previous year were more likely than others to have had a family history of sleepwalking.

The study authors also took into account participants' usage of medications for sleep, anxiety, depression and other purposes. They found that people who take a kind of antidepressant for anxiety called SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) had a higher likelihood of sleepwalking at least once per year. Those who took over-the-counter sleeping pills and tricyclic antidepressants were more likely to experience sleepwalking at least twice per month.

Although previous studies have suggested that psychotropic medications are associated with sleepwalking, this one suggests that pills don't cause nighttime wandering per se; however, they may trigger these behaviors in people already predisposed, study authors wrote.

But keep in mind that the results are based on people's own recollections and knowledge of their sleepwalking behaviors; the researchers did not independently confirm the participants' sleepwalking accounts. Furthermore, some people, particularly those who live alone, may engage in sleepwalking without being aware of it. So the researchers may have underestimated sleepwalking behaviors.

Dr. Lisa Shives, founder of Northshore Sleep Medicine in Evanston, Illinois, said the study's estimate of 30% of people with at least one sleepwalking episode in their lives sounds about right. People do tend to outgrow sleepwalking after their teenage years, but there remains a minority who continue to have recurrent episodes.

There have been some bizarre incidents recorded of people's behavior while sleeping. One woman was reported to have sex with strangers during sleepwalking episodes. Sleepwalking has also been used as a legal defense, sometimes successfully, for people who have allegedly committed crimes while sleeping.

"You really need a strong documented history that somebody has been doing this for a while" for sleepwalking to be a believable defense in court, Shives said.

The precise causes are still mysterious, partly because sleepwalking is so hard to study. Shives has had patients who are chronic sleepwalkers normally, but don't exhibit the behavior in the laboratory.

It's important to focus on safety measures for people prone to sleepwalking, Shives said. Lock doors and windows at night. Kitchen knives and other sharp objects may even need to be put away at night. You may need an alarm system for exits.

Some lifestyle modifications may help, such as having a regular sleep schedule, reducing noise or light in the place where you sleep, and avoiding stress and fever. Hypnosis may help get rid of their sleepwalking behaviors. Another treatment that may help is called "anticipatory awakenings," where the person is awakened about 15 minutes before they would normally sleepwalk and stay awake during that period. Benzodiazepine medications have also been prescribed.

How can I stop my son's sleepwalking?

And take note: It's a myth that waking a sleepwalker would result in brain shock or death; the person may be startled or disoriented, but waking him or her up could save the person from doing serious harm. Still, some experts recommend gently guiding the sleepwalker back to bed if possible.


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soundoff (62 Responses)
  1. Mke

    So the estimate of the number of children who sleep walk–30%–correlates almost exactly with the number of adults who have experienced sleepwalking at some point in their lives? Makes sense to me!

    May 14, 2012 at 17:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Deanna

      I wonder if it's the same 30% – just all grown up?!?!

      May 15, 2012 at 20:56 | Report abuse |
    • Rebecca

      I definatley can relate to this article. I have had trouble with sleep walking since I was a little girl, from about age 6 to age 18 I would wake up in the middle of the night and eat in my sleep making bowls of cereal, sandwiches, and so forth. As soon as I hit my adult years the sleep walking subsided and I began to have night terrors and grind my teeth in my sleep. I have brought my problem up with several doctors and they tell me there is nothing they can prescribe unless I try to get into my car and drive or something along those lines. Its very horrible and it makes it very difficult to get by from day to day as a working, mother, wife, and student. I feel like I'm missing all the chances of being a normal person. Does anyone have any advise for me?

      June 14, 2012 at 15:40 | Report abuse |
  2. Concerned in Cleveland

    This is what I tell all the ladies.

    May 14, 2012 at 19:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. BHB

    Most kids sleepwalk because they need to get up during the night to pee. Simple, but true. The media: they need to fill space here daily.

    May 14, 2012 at 20:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Daisy

      I assume your scientific study has been published somewhere?

      May 15, 2012 at 23:19 | Report abuse |
    • Hugh Jass

      How big was your control group? Did you monitor their brainwaves continuously? What was the oversight? Sorry, but you have to back your opinion up with facts. Not 'true' at all.

      May 16, 2012 at 11:15 | Report abuse |
    • Fuzi

      I hear you on this whole sleep thing. We've only got one right now, but with one on the way, we trying to recdue the three times a night soothing routine. I love the nest idea. However, we just got her a toddler bed so she can climb in and out at will and come into our room (directly across the hall) if she needs some snuggles. Right now, she just sits up and yells and I go get her, but maybe eventually! It's tiring, that's for sure, but very rewarding too!

      September 13, 2012 at 23:16 | Report abuse |
  4. danny

    CNN shows a man sleep sitting lol.

    May 14, 2012 at 21:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. lizng

    Apparently I go stand in the bathroom and shuffle things on the counter around loudly enough to wake up my husband. Good stuff, I tell ya. This is not the 1% I'd like to belong to.

    May 14, 2012 at 22:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. caroline

    Sleep walking can be associated with bad sleep apnea. In my case I was a chronic sleepwalker since childhood. When I was finally studied in a sleep lab, they said I had no REM sleep at all. During REM sleep the muscles are frozen and dreams occur harmlessly. Without REM sleep, the person may act out their dreams, as I did. When I got a dental device and began side sleeping, my sleepwalking also stopped. I had the good fortune to own a house 500 feet from the road. I never sleep walked further than halfway. It is a frightening thing, another reason why sleep disorders should be diagnosed and treated.

    May 14, 2012 at 22:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • rick

      i have sleep apnea. family has reported that, as a child, i would sleep walk to the kitchen, make a few sandwiches and woof them down before i shuffled off to bed. i was always wondering why i was so fat....

      May 15, 2012 at 14:05 | Report abuse |
  7. Ted Ward

    Sleepwalking...hmm...isn't that what Clinton did for eight years while al qaeda prepared for nine eleven?

    May 14, 2012 at 23:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • rick

      Wow, some folks can make anything political.

      May 15, 2012 at 14:05 | Report abuse |
    • Daisy

      How timely and humorless.

      May 15, 2012 at 23:25 | Report abuse |
    • Hugh Jass

      You seem to have dropped your sense of humor and half your brain somewhere. Why don't you go look for it?

      May 16, 2012 at 09:11 | Report abuse |
  8. eroteme

    one in three sleepwalk?

    One in three sleepwalk? Ridiculous! I suggest Obayon and his 'researchers' drop this 'study' and fabricate another that might be more believable. What a silly group!

    May 15, 2012 at 00:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Michael

      When reading this aticrle on sleep problems in children I starting wondering if my kids are having enough sleep if lack of sleep is really so important I think I am going to check on the amount they sleep more carefully

      September 11, 2012 at 06:26 | Report abuse |
  9. AZ

    Author says...One woman was reported to have sex with strangers during sleepwalking episodes... lol , sleep walking might be an excuse.

    May 15, 2012 at 00:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • FiveLiters

      I've heard of falling asleep 'afterwards',but 'during'? lol

      May 15, 2012 at 11:00 | Report abuse |
    • Victor

      That was defintely the best part of this artilce...imagine if you the "stranger" she kept walking into the room with...actaully I'm imagining ti right now...I know...TMI

      May 15, 2012 at 11:39 | Report abuse |
    • AZ

      Lol . Victor you are already imagining her to be with you.. Further imagine, now she is awake and eyes wide open... Lol she might slap ya now.. ;)

      May 15, 2012 at 22:25 | Report abuse |
  10. Kit

    I have been a frequent sleepwalker since childhood... progressively less over time but even now (I'm 28) I often wake up nowhere near where I went to bed. I rarely take sleep-aids because they do increase my likelihood to sleepwalk. Oddly enough I most often sleepwalk in new places, if staying over at a friends house for the weekend I've never been to before or if I crash somewhere for a night. I've even walked downstairs while a party was still going, had full conversations with multiple people and then back up to bed, none the wiser until the morning. I don't know about the reliability of this study though, due to it being based on individual memory recollection alone... however I hope they do more research and I would love to eventually participate in a sleep study, to learn more about my own behaviors.

    May 15, 2012 at 02:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. matt

    Incidentally, a similar study released right now found that 1 in 5 trees do make a sound when falling in the woods while.......

    May 15, 2012 at 03:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Dana

    caroline – you cannot "dream" unless you are in REM. You stated that without REM sleep, one may act out their dreams. Not so. You are in REM if you are dreaming. You may not have had REM during your sleep study, which can be common given having the wires and electrodes on and being all hooked up, but you definitley do have REM if you dream. ALmost all sleepwalking occurs in stage 3 sleep.

    May 15, 2012 at 04:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Daisy

      It is not true that people can only dream during REM sleep. We can also have non-REM dreams.

      May 15, 2012 at 23:22 | Report abuse |
  13. Epidi

    My younger sister used to sleepwalk when she was small. Eerie it was to watch her. I'm told I tallk in my sleep once in a while while dreaming.

    May 15, 2012 at 04:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. jj

    I slept walked as a child. My bedroom was on the second floor of our house and my mother found me walking toward the stairs in the classic sleepwalking position with my arms out in front of me. I don't seem to do it as an adult.

    May 15, 2012 at 12:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Dave

    When I was taking yellow jackets back in the day I did it. I went to sleep on a couch and woke laying at the end of a bed in the next room like a dog would sleep. It's always common for me to hear and sometimes see what's going on around me while I sleep and I can wake myself up if I want to because I realize I'm asleep.

    May 15, 2012 at 12:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • mahdeealoo

      Witness of sleep is correlated to enlightenment; at least, the first phases. Nice.

      May 15, 2012 at 12:22 | Report abuse |
    • Melodykari78

      I can wake myself up during bad dreams. That is the only time I am aware I am sleeping.

      May 15, 2012 at 13:29 | Report abuse |
  16. mahdeealoo

    I used to sleep walk and 2 of my children do as well. Each different. One carries on whole conversations with eyes open and the other just walks about. There was only trouble once. The three year old going potty with the lid down. The sound of liquid hitting the floor woke her up as I walked into the bathroom. I cleaned her and the floor up, put her back into bed and in the morning, she remembered nothing.

    May 15, 2012 at 12:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Leah

    I used to sleep walk pretty regularly when I was a kid. From about two or three years old until puberty. In the toddler years it seemed more related to having to pee. I would get inside of cabinets or sit down on a closed toilet lid and whiz away, then wake up and start crying from the mess I had made. When I got older, I would wake up in strange places, without under ware or my nightgown. Occasionally I would wander out of doors. Mostly though, I would rummage around in the kitchen, in the cabinets, which woke my mother. She knew I was sleeping, but would ask me what I was looking for. I would say, "I'm looking for that STUFF, I can't find STUFF!" The episodes either seemed like dreams later, or I wouldn't recall them at all. Now, close to thirty, I talk and yell frequently in my sleep, when I'm not fighting my insomnia, and I do wake up in the spare bedroom now and then without remembering going there. Although this seems to be connected to my sub-conscience annoyance with my boyfriends loud snoring.

    May 15, 2012 at 12:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Melodykari78

      I was similar as a kid. I would wake up under my bed freaked out. Pee in corners. Go downstairs in the kitchen and cause a ruckus.

      May 15, 2012 at 13:27 | Report abuse |
    • Spenser Amadeas

      When my husband walks in his sleep, he's always looking for something,too. He keeps saying, "I can't find it anywhere. I can't find it anywhere." I learned early on just to open a closet door or desk drawer, shout "Here it is, honey! Let's go back to bed." I slam the door or drawer shut and off to bed we go.

      May 15, 2012 at 14:25 | Report abuse |
    • Becky C.

      I guess I should be glad my daughter only got up and peed in the bathtub. I watched her....she went into the bathroom, took down her pants, squatted over the edge of the bathtub and peed. Got done and went back to bed. Another time I was talking with my mom rather late and she came out and said, "I want to go home". I said, "Ok" and lead her right back to bed and she kept right on sleeping. :o} I used to worry when I sent her to Girl Scout camp. All went well but I'd always tell them to keep a darn good eye on her since she sleepwalks and I didn't want her lost in the woods.

      May 16, 2012 at 03:04 | Report abuse |
  18. Hugh Jass

    This explains Rick Perry perfectly.

    May 15, 2012 at 12:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ariany

      Oh, and I also meant to say: how devastating such gpunowder would be to the cause of war, because how many could see infinity within themselves and continue to take up weapons against others?Of course, again, I don't know the context of the rest of the story.OK, I m really going away now.

      September 11, 2012 at 20:46 | Report abuse |
  19. jim

    Looks like someone was really desperate to publish a paper.

    May 15, 2012 at 13:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Melodykari78

    I am a sleep walker and a kind of frightening one too. One morning I woke up in the teenage son's bed very confused and he was on the couch. I had come in, kicked and punched him to move and then laid down and went to sleep. One night I got up, took a shower, went to blow dry my hair, left the dryer on and went back to bed. I punched my boyfriend in the face. I tried to have sex with him. Then I have just woken up on the couch or floor many times. I hate it. I feel like I have no control over it.

    May 15, 2012 at 13:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Sarah

    I used to sleep walk A LOT. I don't as much anymore, but I still do sometimes - I even have sleep paralysis (and the rare astral-projection every now and then), and I'm almost 19. I've had these problems since I was ... idk, 10 maybe? I can't exactly remember that far back, but my mother did everything she could to keep me safe. There has been times where I could've seriously injured myself, and she guided me safely back to bed. She's even taught my fiancee how to do this as well. I never remember waking from it, but it's not just because a child has to go pee. I'm not even sure what causes it; I sleep just fine. Go to bed at a good time (10-11), and wake up at 7-8-ish. I excersise and eat well as well. I'm not sure what causes it, but I've had it for a long long time. For these people that say sleep walking isn't that serious, read my story, eh? If it weren't for my mother, I'd been dead countless times before.

    May 15, 2012 at 13:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. SokrMom

    This finding is totally unbelievable, and this research should be carefully checked and not relief upon until the finding can be replicated by other researchers. I personally know of only one person among my acquaintance who has ever engaged in sleep-walking. I'm willing to believe that perhaps my family is unusual–but not on the basis of one study.

    May 15, 2012 at 13:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nug

      Yes, I've had one of those days.. (but minus half the effects of your drugs, hehe..)hang in there! =)what i did the last time was sleep in til late, catruins shut to not remind self it is saytime, made sure my fave foods are accesible (i.e. bought and in fridge).But if i were you, i'd so visit Granpa and sleep there. Good luck w that!ps: how was the insane trip?

      September 11, 2012 at 21:05 | Report abuse |
  23. Paul

    Hugh Jass! I see what you did with your name.

    May 15, 2012 at 14:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Hugh Jass

      Ain't I the dickens . . . .but there are people here who are much hugher jasses than I am.

      May 16, 2012 at 09:08 | Report abuse |
  24. Dan

    I once climbed up on my second-story window (sleep-climbing?). The only thing that stopped me was when my hand went through the cactus on the nearby bookcase. I barely felt the cactus, but it woke me up enough (not fully) and went back to bed. No drugs involved. True story.

    May 15, 2012 at 14:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. JT

    In college I woke up in my roommates room lying on top of the bed but sideways, fully dressed. Freaked me out. Probably freaked him out more, but neither one of us ever mentioned it.

    I talk in my sleep all the time. My mom told me that I would carry out conversations (gibberish) with my brother when we were younger.

    May 15, 2012 at 15:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Paul

    I am 57 and still sleep walk at least twice a month. I do not take sleep aids. I dream constantly and can recall what the dreams were about. But, sleep walking – I have gone outside and walked around the porch, moved from the bed to the sofa, gotten dressed for work and then returned to bed, walked around the bed and pulled the covers off my wife, I have even eaten a bowl of cereal, while remembering to put the milk away. I have gone into the closet and moved shoes around or what my wife says is the creapiest, I will just sit up straight in bed and not move for a while and then lay back down. I am a triathlete and marathoner, so I get plenty of exercise. We eat well, avoiding fast food. The important thing to remember is to wear gym shorts to bed when sleeping in a hotel so you aren't wandering around in your underwear.

    May 15, 2012 at 15:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. sugar

    I've always sleep walked to some degree. My mother used to threaten to tie a bell to me. As an adult I sleep walk, eat in my sleep, sit up and have small conversations during which, apparently, I am very congenial and quite sweet. Something I'm generally not when I am awake. The sleep eating I think is the most annoying habit. I used to wake up and be kind of mad. "someone broke into my house, ate all my cupcakes and got my hands all sticky!"

    May 15, 2012 at 21:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. SAC

    I've awaken standing in the middle of the living room and wondering how I got there. The scariest for my mom was when I was twelve and I walked out on our terrace on the 18th floor in New York. She was afraid to wake me but afraid of what I would do. She said I just stood out there enjoying the view then turned around, came back into the house, closed the door, walked past her without any recognition and went back to bed.

    May 15, 2012 at 22:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. eroteme

    One in three of us have sleepwalked! What a great 'study'! Reminds me of a 'study' of a few years ago. A gifted 'researcher' advised that one in four of us is mentally disturbed. I was in a group of four when I read this amazing, great, 'study'. I said to the other three, "OK, which one of you is mentally disturbed? I cannot believe it is me!" But they said they were ok, so it had to be me. I thought of seeking medical help but decided not to, just to suffer with my mental disturbance unassisted which I continue to do.

    May 16, 2012 at 00:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Hugh Jass

      That's an old joke: one in three people is mentally disturbed. Take a look at the people on either side of you; if they look ok, it's you.

      May 16, 2012 at 09:04 | Report abuse |
  30. eroteme

    Someone, who was not a 'researcher' once told me that one out of three bears poops in the woods. I had no reason not to believe him, it certainly sounded likely, I did not ask him how he knew or about the other two.

    May 16, 2012 at 00:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Hugh Jass

      Is it 'science' you don't believe in, or sleepwalking?

      May 16, 2012 at 09:06 | Report abuse |
  31. amboyd

    I was a sleep walker chronically as a child. As an adult, the only time I slept-walked was when I was very over worked during the day. Don't we need a study on something more crucial?

    May 16, 2012 at 05:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Hugh Jass

      "Don't we need a study on something more crucial?" Are you going to pay for it? Send Stanford University a big check and they'll study NASCAR for you, or whatever you think is more 'crucial' than sleep.

      May 16, 2012 at 09:07 | Report abuse |
  32. Hugh Jass

    Wait, did I post this in my sleep? Snore . . .

    May 16, 2012 at 08:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Hugh Jass

    I don't get enough sleep to waste it walking around.

    May 16, 2012 at 09:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. EdL

    1 in 3 sleepwalk! Today I learn tht 1 in 3 homeless are obese! I can hardly wait to learn what the next 1 in 3 are doing. We should all be grateful for these 'studies'.

    May 27, 2012 at 15:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Kevin

    SleepPhones are the perfect source to end your sleeping troubles. SleepPhones are headphones that you can sleep in. They come in a comfortable headband with built in headphones that play music. http://www.sleepphones.com

    June 25, 2012 at 11:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Sanjeev

    Cat's love their owners. [but can also be idnapendent at times] He sleeps on the dirty towels because they have your scent on them. If you don't want him sleeping on them, put them higher up. =D Haha. ^-^ And also, he probably sleeps by the kitchen window because there is sunlight. Cat's LOVE sunlight, and try to find the warmest place they can. my two kitties always sleep by the window. ^-^

    September 13, 2012 at 23:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. draganakislovski

    There is a lack of consensus on the causes of sleepwalking. Anxiety, fatigue, stress, worry and sleep deprivation are some of the causes that modern sciences have come up with. There are no known cures for sleep walking however, it can be treated with psychotropic drugs and clinical hypnotherapy has also proven to be successful on a short-term basis. Actually, spiritual factors are the main root cause of sleepwalking. This is one of the reasons why modern science has not been able to come up with a cure for sleepwalking. http://www.spiritualresearchfoundation.org/articles/id/spiritualresearch/spiritualscience/sleep-walking

    March 26, 2013 at 11:12 | Report abuse | Reply

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