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.

« Previous entry
soundoff (87 Responses)
  1. Jose Eshom


    January 21, 2021 at 04:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Micheal Laquerre

    I have been absent for a while, but now I remember why I used to love this web site. Thanks, I will try and check back more frequently. How frequently you update your web site?


    January 21, 2021 at 07:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Dwayne Goldfarb


    January 21, 2021 at 08:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Strojenie Pianin

    Hi, this an astonishing post man. Thnkx Unfortunately I am having problem with the rss feed. Unable to subscribe. So anyone having similar rss feed trouble? Anybody who knows kindly reply. TQ http://www.m106.com


    February 5, 2021 at 21:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. zortilo nrel

    Would you be interested by exchanging hyperlinks?


    February 7, 2021 at 04:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Pianino Tematy

    There are some attention-grabbing deadlines on this article but I don't know if I see all of them middle to heart. There may be some validity however Ill take hold opinion till I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we would like extra! Added to FeedBurner as nicely


    February 7, 2021 at 07:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. https://europa-road.eu/hu/temperalt-szallitas.php

    Good day! Do you use Twitter? I'd like to follow you if that would be okay. I'm definitely enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.


    February 9, 2021 at 04:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. agen sbobet

    27295 764313Fantastic assist from this blog! Thanks alot for the information I needed 741183

    February 11, 2021 at 20:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Norwegia


    February 16, 2021 at 02:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Filozofia

    Hi, this an astonishing post man. Thnkx Unfortunately I am having problem with the rss feed. Unable to subscribe. So anyone having similar rss feed trouble? Anybody who knows kindly reply. TQ http://www.m106.com


    February 19, 2021 at 15:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Kultura USA

    Thanks for blogging this, it was unbelieveably informative and helped me tons


    February 22, 2021 at 22:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Cukrzyca

    I had this website saved some time previously but my laptop crashed. I have since gotten a new one and it took me a while to locate this! I also in fact like the theme though.


    March 1, 2021 at 04:43 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

« Previous entry
About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.