Help for Sleepwalking – Michael J. Breus, PhD, DABSM

The National Sleep Foundation estimates between 1 to 15 percent of the general population sleepwalks also called somnambulism, and a 2016 study put its prevalence right in the middle of that range, at just under 7 percent.

Children are more likely to sleepwalk than adults: Between the ages of 4-12, it’s estimated that 15 percent of children will have episodes of somnambulism. This may be because younger children spend greater amounts of time in the deepest stages of non-REM sleep. If you encounter a member of your household sleepwalking, whether child or adult, the best thing to do is to guide them gently back to bed.

There are many everyday habits and common conditions that increase the chances you’ll rise from bed to sleepwalk starting with the following:

1. You don’t follow a regular sleep schedule:

REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep is the lightest stage of sleep, during which a person may wake easily. Sleepwalking is an arousal disorder that takes place most commonly in the first third of the night when you’re in the deepest stages of non-REM sleep. When you sleepwalk, you’re in a mixed state of consciousness, experiencing an incomplete awakening that occurs as you move through non-REM sleep. A regular sleep schedule reinforces circadian rhythms, which regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle. Irregular sleeping patterns undermine your circadian sleep rhythms and can change the flow of sleep among the different stages. You can reduce your risk for this parasomnia—and improve your health and performance—by sticking to a regular sleep routine.

2. You lack enough sleep or have sleep deprivation:

Sleep deprivation also can lead to more complex behaviors during an episode: People may eat, drive a car, or attempt to undertake all sorts of activities. I’ve had patients report they’ve done laundry, re-arranged living room furniture, and cooked food on the stove. The most significant danger from walking in your sleep? Injury to yourself, or to your bed partner.

3. You have a magnesium deficiency

Lots of my patients are unaware of the importance of magnesium to health—and its connection to better sleep. This essential macro-mineral supports physical relaxation and deep, restorative sleep.  A lack of magnesium can lead to insomnia and is also associated with somnambulism. Magnesium deficiency is all-too-common, unfortunately: Research shows nearly half of U.S. adults don’t get enough magnesium in their diets.

Dr. Carolyn Dean notes that “It’s hard to get a good night’s sleep without enough of the mineral magnesium because magnesium facilitates sleep regulating melatonin (sleep hormone) production. Studies have shown that magnesium helps you get a deep and restful sleep.”

“Magnesium also relieves the muscle tension that can prevent restful sleep and activates GABA, the main inhibitory neurotransmitter of the cen­tral nervous system, and activation of GABA(A) recep­tors favors sleep.”

“Research indicates supplemental magnesium can improve sleep quality, especially in people with poor sleep. Magnesium can also help insomnia that’s linked to the sleep disorder restless-leg syndrome. Magnesium increases GABA, which encourages relaxation as well as sleep. Low GABA levels in the body can make it difficult to relax. Magnesium also plays a key role in regulating the body’s stress-response system. Magnesium deficiency is associated with heightened stress and anxiety.”

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