Here are 7 things that scientists know about sleepwalking

Little boy sleepingBruce Bennett/Getty ImagesSleep is a weird idea, and sleepwalking is hardly understood by most of us.

Sleepwalking is strange: a person is asleep, but they are also moving around on their feet.

If you know someone that sleepwalks, you undoubtedly have a ton of questions, such as: Should I wake them up? Can they hurt themselves? Can they hurt me?

Somnambulism, as it is called in the medical world, is actually a fairly common disorder. We’ve compiled a list of what scientists know about sleepwalking. Take a look.

1) Almost all children have sleepwalked at some point.

Between 1% and 15% of the US adult population sleepwalks. But almost all children have sleepwalked at some point. This could be because kids experience less REM (rapid eye movement) sleep than adults. The highest prevalence of sleepwalking occurs between ages 3 and 7, and kids that wet the bed are more likely to be sleepwalkers.

2) It doesn't hurt a sleepwalker to wake them up

It's a common misconception that sleepwalkers should be left alone. This idea is believed to come from an old myth that said that a person's soul would leave their body during sleep, so waking them was seen as dangerous (they could become 'souless').

You can, in fact, wake sleep-walkers without causing them harm (though it may be difficult to rouse them from their slumber). However, it is probably best you just coax them back to bed.

3) Waking a sleepwalker might disorient them

Sleepwalkers will likely be very confused or frightened when they wake up. Men have also been known to be violent when waking from a sleepwalking episode.

4) Wake and sleep states are not mutually exclusive.

When someone is sleepwalking, the parts of the brain that are capable of generating complex behaviours are awake, but the parts that store memories and contribute to conscious decision-making are asleep. People don't remember sleepwalking because the action takes place in the part of the brain responsible for remembering heavily practiced movements. This is why sleepwalkers only do things that they have done before.

6) Sleepwalking is partly genetic.

Almost 80% of sleepwalkers have a family history of sleepwalking. And an identical twin is 5 times more likely to sleepwalk if their twin is also a sleepwalker.

7) There are ways to try to prevent sleepwalking.


Sleepwalking can be the result of poor sleep hygiene. To prevent it, avoid stimulants like caffeine and alcohol before bed, try not to take daytime naps, don't eat too close to bedtime, and establish a regular and relaxing bedtime routine.

8) Sleepwalking can be harmful when it is associated with REM-sleep behaviour disorder.

REM-sleep behaviour disorder is associated with neurological conditions, such as Parkinson's disease. During REM-sleep, or the body's deepest sleep, you become functionally paralysed. However, people with REM-sleep behaviour disorder don't fully experience this, and so they can act out their dreams. This can cause sleepwalkers to harm themselves and others.

Be sure to see a doctor if you are concerned about your sleepwalking.

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