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What Happens When You Sleepwalk

By Christian Roemer
Have you ever woken up in front of the refrigerator, your fingers coated in Dorito dust and a two liter bottle of soda tipped over and half spilt out? Maybe you just happened to find yourself in the middle of your garden at 2 AM wondering how you got there and why your begonias aren’t planted anymore? If either of those things sound familiar, you probably sleepwalked.


Sleepwalking, known scientifically as somnambulism, is a disorder that affects roughly 1-15% of the population according to the National Sleep Foundation. That means a few million people suffer from it. Sleepwalking isn’t always associated with walking. Some somnambulism includes talking, sitting up and looking around, and even driving a car! While the prevalence of sleepwalking occurs mostly in younger children, it can affect almost anybody of any age.


When you sleep, you’re not doing the same thing all night. Your brain goes through different sleep cycles, and it’s in between sleep cycles that the strange magic happens. Sleepwalking happens during the NREM sleep portion of sleep; right between deep sleep and lighter sleep. Scientists say that your brain, instead of going into deeper sleep, goes to wakefulness instead. It’s in that strange transition that sleepwalking happens. Sleepwalking can last from a few seconds to almost an hour. There’s no exact cause of sleepwalking, nor is there really a cure for sleepwalking. Sleepwalking is mostly harmless, and contrary to urban legends, there’s no danger in waking up a sleepwalker.


Scientists aren’t completely sure, but they seem to agree that sleepwalking mostly happens when you’re exhausted, sleep deprived, or you suffer from anxiety. As you probably know, there’s no real cure for those things either, so the best you can do is try to curb any type of action that would mess with your sleep. Reading a book before bed, meditating, and exercising are all things you can try if you feel like you’re not going to make it into a deep slumber. Also, avoid things that cause heartburn right before bed, because scientists also think that can contribute to sleepwalking. Hopefully, you don’t take up the habit of walking 9 miles while you’re asleep like this Colorado woman!
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