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Sleepwalking

Sleepwalking Overview

Sleepwalking has been described in medical literature dating before Hippocrates (460 BC-370 BC). In Shakespeare's tragic play, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth's famous sleepwalking scene ("out, damned spot") is ascribed to her guilt and resulting insanity as a consequence of her involvement in the murder of her father-in-law.

Sleepwalking is characterized by complex behavior (walking) accomplished while asleep. Occasionally nonsensical talking may occur while sleepwalking. The person's eyes are commonly open but have a characteristic glassy "look right through you" character. This activity most commonly occurs during middle childhood and young adolescence. Approximately 15% of children between 4-12 years of age will experience sleepwalking. Generally sleepwalking behaviors are resolved by late adolescence; however, approximately 10% of all sleepwalkers begin their behavior as teens. A genetic tendency has been noted.

There are five stages of sleep. Stages 1, 2, 3, and 4 are characterized as non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is the sleep cycle associated with dreaming as well as surges of important hormones essential for proper growth and metabolism. Each sleep cycle (stages 1,2,3,4, and REM) lasts about 90-100 minutes and repeats throughout the night. Thus the average person experiences 4-5 complete sleep cycles per night. Sleepwalking characteristically occurs during the first or second sleep cycle during stages 3 and 4. Due to the short time frame involved, sleepwalking tends not to occur during naps. Upon waking, the sleepwalker has no memory of his behaviors.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/11/2014

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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Somnambulism (Sleep Walking) »

Somnambulism (ie, sleepwalking) is a disorder of arousal that falls under the parasomnia group.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


Medical Dictionary