A recent study found that approximately 40 percent of Auckland University students had sleep problems. The causes of sleep problems included anxiety, depression, alcoholism, sleep-talking, sleepwalking and teeth-grinding (bruxism).
Sleepwalking or somnambulism is for real. It’s a sleep disorder that happens when people walk or do other activities while they’re still asleep. It usually happens between 1 to 2 hours after you fall asleep. On average, it can last as long as 15 minutes. It can occur in both adults and children (most commonly 5 to 12 years old).
The Causes of Sleepwalking
The causes of sleepwalking among children are unknown at this point. Unlike in kids, the causes in adults could either be one or a mixture of the following:
Symptoms of Sleepwalking
A person may seem disoriented or confused upon waking up.
Combative or aggressive behaviour when woken up by someone else.
A person may open his or her eyes during sleep.
A person may carry out a detailed activity while asleep.
The person can have a blank stare upon waking up.
Saying things that don’t make any sense while asleep.
The sleepwalker doesn’t remember anything when he wakes up.
And of course… walking during sleep.
Sleep Terrors (Night Terrors)
Sleep or night terrors are episodes of intense fear, flailing and screaming while a person is still asleep. More often than not, sleep terrors often happen while sleepwalking. Both sleepwalking and night terrors are types of sleep disorders. They occur in both children and adults. Sleep terrors can last from a few seconds to several minutes.
Night terrors are more common among children (4 to 12 years old) and a small percentage of the adult population. Compared to sleepwalking, they’re quite rare. Children more often than not outgrow night terrors when they reach their teenage years.
Night terrors differ from nightmares. You wake up from a nightmare and may even remember some details. On the other hand, a person or child who experiences a sleep terror remains asleep all throughout the episode. Sleep terrors tend to occur earlier in the night compared to nightmares.
What causes sleep terrors?
Sleep terrors can be caused by stress, fever, drugs that have an effect on your brain or central nervous system, and inadequate sleep (sleep deprivation).
How to Deal with Sleep Terrors and Sleepwalking
Make sure you get enough sleep. Make it a habit to sleep at around the same time every night. You need sleep to survive. Refer to the infographic below which will guide you on the number of sleep hours your body requires for your age.
Learn to relax before you go to sleep. This can range from a warm bath, drinking herbal teas like chamomile, having a massage and relaxation exercises. A simple relaxation exercise will redirect your undivided attention to your breathing. Focus all your attention on feeling your body breathing.
If you’re a parent, may be your son or daughter is under a lot of stress? This is a cause for both sleepwalking and night terrors. Deal with it by talking to your child. It’s important for your child to air out what he or she is feeling and any anxiety they may have about school or other aspects of their life. Take some time to listen.
Adults avoid watching horror movies, especially before bedtime. Obviously children won’t be watching these, but this applies to any movies which might be remotely scary for a child.
Don’t forget to lock your windows and doors to keep safe while sleepwalking.
Boost melatonin secretion at night-time. Turn off all your electronic devices before you go to sleep. Doing so will reduce stimulation on your brain cells. This includes that iPad or Smart Phone you’re holding.
Invest in a comfortable and relaxing bed and pillow to promote healthy sleep.
Keep the temperature inside your bedroom around 180C (or 650F). Too hot or too cold and it can negatively affect your sleep.
You may notice that most of the tips given here are also tips to help anyone sleep better. The better the quality of your sleep, the less likely it is for someone to experience sleepwalking or sleep terrors.
If all else fails, we recommend you visit a sleep doctor (yes, there is such a thing) for more support around this issue.