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Sleepwalking Disorder

A person experiencing sleep walking disorder will get out of bed and walk around during the night. Many times, the person will not communicate and will have a blank stare on their face. Once awakened, the person seldom remembers the details of the sleep walking episode. During the sleep walking, some people may negotiate stairs, go out of doors, or eat a snack. Children who experience sleep walking usually outgrow it. However, sleep walking in adults can be chronic and last for many years. Main criteria involves:

On numerous occasions, the patient arises and walks about, usually during the first third of sleep.

During sleepwalking, the patient stares blankly, can be awakened only with difficulty and responds poorly to others' attempts at communication.

Although there may be a brief period of confusion upon first awakening, within a few minutes the patient's behavior and mental activity are normal and unimpaired.

After the episode or the next morning, the patient has no memory of the sleep walking activity.

The symptoms cause clinically important distress or impair work, social or personal functioning.

Not directly caused by a general medical condition or substance use, including medications a
nd drugs of abuse.

Associated Features:

Other characteristics that can occur with sleep disorders include depression, decreased concentration, fatigue, anxiety, and irritability. People with chronic sleep problems tend to have other illnesses such as stomach problems, muscle aches, and headaches.

Differential Diagnosis:

Some disorders have similar or even the same symptoms. The clinician, therefore, in his/her diagnostic attempt has to differentiate against the following disorders which need to be ruled out to establish a precise diagnosis.

Partial Complex Seizures - Occurring during sleep
REM Behavior Disorder
Night Terrors
Malingering
Dissociative Phenomena
Medication Effects

Cause:

Sleep problems frequently occur around periods of stress. As an example, it is not at all uncommon for a person's sleep to be disrupted following the death of a loved one or around the time of a major medical problem. Therefore, many sleep problems resolve once the stress is resolved or the medical condition subsides. However, some sleep disorders can begin with an acute problem and become a chronic sleep problem. This usually does not indicate a serious disorder, although it can be a symptom of other disorders.

In general, sleep disorders can occur at any age. However, sleep problems do increase with increasing age. These problems are very common in our culture. More than twenty percent (20%) of adults will complain of sleep problems at some period in their lives.

Treatment

Usually no specific treatment for sleep walking is needed. Safety measures may be necessary to prevent injury which may include modifying the environment to reduce the possibility of tripping and falling.

Pharmacotherapy [ See Psychopharmacology Section ] :

In some cases, short-acting tranquilizers have been helpful in reducing the incidence of sleep walking.

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Page Updated
22nd July 2003