Are Sleepwalking and Sleep Talking Dangerous?

Do you have somnambulism? How about somniloquy? There’s a good chance you’re more familiar with the common terms sleepwalking and sleep talking.

Sleepwalking can involve more than walking around the bedroom. Some people walk around the house. Some, on rare occasions, even leave the house and drive cars!

About 3.6 percent of American adults sleepwalk each year — that’s about 8.4 million of us. Almost 30 percent of us have gone for a sleep walk at least once in our lives.

Our sleep happens in five stages from being drowsy to sleeping deeply. Sleepwalking most often occurs earlier at night during a deeper sleep stage.

Sleepwalking can happen at any age, but it’s more common in children ages 5 to 12.

 

Dangers of Sleepwalking

There’s a common misconception that you shouldn’t awaken someone who is sleepwalking. The truth is: You should awaken a sleepwalker before they can accidentally hurt themselves by falling or worse.

Research has found that sleepwalkers injured while sleepwalking may not feel pain. They may continue sleeping.

 

What Causes Sleepwalking?

Children may sleepwalk because of:

  • Fatigue.
  • Lack of sleep.
  • Anxiety.

Adults may sleepwalk because of:

  • The effects of alcohol, sedative or medicines such as sleeping pills.
  • Medical conditions such as partial complex seizures.
  • Certain mental disorders such as an organic brain syndrome.

Sleepwalking tends to run in families.

 

What Happens When People Sleepwalk?

An episode of sleepwalking can last just a few moments or up to a half hour or more. Most episodes last less than 10 minutes.

A sleepwalker may:

  • Sit up and appear awake.
  • Have a blank facial expression.
  • Get out of bed and move around the home or beyond.
  • Perform a detailed activity. Furniture moving, going to the bathroom, dressing or undressing and even driving are among the activities that some sleepwalkers perform.
  • Open eyes during sleep.
  • Not remember sleepwalking once awake.
  • Appear disoriented, confused or aggressive upon waking.

If sleepwalkers are left alone, they’ll typically go back to a more restful sleep. But if they leave their bed, they may not go back to bed. The may end up in an unexpected place.

 

Preventing Injury

Sleepwalker injuries are not common, but sleepwalkers can get hurt while moving about. If you have a sleepwalker in your household, you should move trip hazards — such as electrical cords, toys or small furniture — out of the way. You may need to block stairways with a gate. You may want to lock windows and doors out of their reach.

 

What’s the Treatment for Sleepwalking?

Children will typically outgrow sleepwalking. But a sleepwalker should visit with a health care provider if:

  • The sleepwalker has other symptoms that could reflect a more serious disorder.
  • Sleepwalking is frequent or persistent.
  • The sleepwalker does something dangerous such as driving while asleep.

Since anti-depressants can be related to sleepwalking, sleepwalkers who are on anti-depressants should discuss sleepwalking with a health care provider.

Sleepwalkers who have insomnia should discuss their sleep issues with a provider. Insomnia can affect sleepwalking.

Sleepwalkers should avoid:

  • Alcohol.
  • Sleep deprivation.
  • Stress, anxiety and interpersonal conflict.

 

What About Sleep Talking?

Sleep talking is fairly common. About 50 percent of children and 5 percent of adults talk in their sleep at least once. Most people sleep talk only occasionally and for a short period.

Similar to sleepwalking, sleep talking also tends to run in families. We don’t know of a direct link between sleepwalking and sleep talking, but some people do both.

Sleep talkers usually aren’t aware that they’ve been talking. The “talking” may range from incomprehensible mumbling to an understandable monologue. When a person sleep talks, the way they talk and the wording they use can be different than their waking talk. They may say things they wouldn’t otherwise say.

Sleep talking does not come from the conscious or rational mind, so it’s usually not admissible in court.

Sleep talking is not physically harmful, but it can be annoying for others — or embarrassing, depending on what’s said. But keep in mind that sleep talking does not reflect the person’s rational thoughts.

 

What Causes Sleep Talking?

It can be caused by:

  • Stress/anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Sleep deprivation.
  • Alcohol consumption.
  • High fever.

Sleep talking can happen during any stage of sleep. What’s said is typically more understandable when the talker is in lighter sleep stages.

Sleep talking may occur along side other sleep disorders such as:

  • Nightmares.
  • Confusional arousal (when a person behaves strangely or is confused when they awaken).
  • Sleep apnea (when a sleeping person pauses breathing or takes unusually shallow breaths).
  • REM sleep behavior disorder (sleepers physically act out their dreams).

 

What’s the Treatment for Sleep Talking?

Usually no treatment is needed. However, if sleep talking is severe or continues over a long time, you should visit with your health care provider. Sleep talking may be a sign of an underlying medical condition.

You can reduce the likelihood of sleep talking if you:

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule.
  • Reduce alcohol consumption.
  • Cut back on heavy meals.
  • Reduce stress.

 

Healthful sleep is essential for your well-being. You deserve a good night’s sleep!

If you have any questions about sleepwalking or sleep talking, see your health care provider. Together you can make sure these conditions aren’t symptoms of a more serious health issue.

You can make a provider appointment online. And get more useful health information from the Aurora Facebook page.

Meet the Author

Tracy Slater, NP, is an experienced nurse practitioner caring for adults with pulmonology and sleep disorders.
 

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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