They leave the bed without waking up, and walk around the house – with their eyes open, but without seeing. Some prepare meals, others climb out of the window. Once they wake up the next morning, they can not remember anything about it. Sleepwalkers are not so rare: 1 to 4 percent of adults tend to get active while they sleep. Even more common is the phenomenon in children: Of them sleepwalking a good 12 percent. It used to be thought that it was the light of the full moon that attracts sleepwalkers out of their beds, and there was talk of moonlight. In the meantime this is considered obsolete. How it actually comes to sleepwalking, you understand until today but only in part. Sleepwalking begins at the threshold of low sleep to light sleep Sleep doctors like Inka Tuin can at least describe more exactly what’s going on in our heads. In the sleep outpatient department of the Mainz University Hospital, she regularly measures the brain waves of sleepwalking people. In such a graph, nocturnal actions are preceded by large, even waves: a pattern typical of a phase of deep sleep. Then the image changes to show smaller, less uniform rashes, which makes for easier sleep phases – sleepers become active. “We know that sleepwalking begins at the threshold of deep sleep to light sleep,” says Tuin. It is therefore also considered as a growing-up disorder. Sleep researchers assume that stimuli such as urinary urgency or noises bring the sleepers out of deep sleep, but do not fully awaken them. Instead, they remain in an intermediate state. The problem: The nocturnal activities of the sleepwalkers can be detected by means of infrared video. But as soon as the phase of sleepwalking has begun, the brainwaves can no longer be monitored properly. “They are then usually difficult to recognize,” says Tuin.
With the teddy through the apartment – not a rare picture in sleepwalking children. Source: picture alliance / Jens Kalaene
What you do know: Sleepwalkers play patterns of motion in their sleep that they know from their waking state. “As a rule, most of them therefore perform normal actions,” says the researcher. In other words, instead of climbing on roofs, they sit down in the TV armchair, stand by the stove, clean up, or go to the bathroom. Only that they are not quite in the process. You put the car key in the fridge, try to fry a sneaker, or you confuse the trash with the toilet. “All of these are more complex forms. A simple variant of sleepwalking would be to sit up in bed and talk – without realizing it. For many, it does not go beyond that, “says Tuin. And: “If someone is not very active, then sleepwalking is not bad.” Security measures protect active sleepwalkers In other cases, it can be dangerous. One of Tuin’s patients broke several bones as he fell asleep from the second-floor window. And a young man had started to sleepwalk after his mother’s death. One night he ran through the window of a glass door and suffered unpleasant cuts. If somebody sleepwalks very actively, you should take security measures: windows should not be opened easily, dangerous objects should be removed from the bed and, if necessary, doors should be locked. “Sleepwalkers who endanger themselves or others should also seek treatment – as well as those who are therefore constantly tired during the day and thus impaired,” says Tuin. It is important then to look for possible triggers for sleepwalking. Thus, a certain genetic predisposition to sleepwalking is hereditary. At the same time, one also knows that so-called triggers can cause it. Mental stress can cause sleepwalking These include lack of sleep, alcoholic beverages, certain antidepressants and great professional or private stress. In addition, a physical cause of the symptom can be ruled out in the lab: In some cases, apnea, a breathing disorder during sleep, triggers nocturnal restlessness. If treated successfully, the nocturnal activity disappears. “If mental stress is the cause of sleepwalking, psychotherapy may help to cope better with these stresses. But that does not mean that someone who sleepwalks is mentally ill, “says Tuin. This does not necessarily indicate other diseases.
In a sleep laboratory not only the sleep phases can be measured, but also possible respiratory misfires, which can lead to nocturnal restlessness. Source: picture alliance
This is different in the so-called REM sleep behavior disorder: It often occurs in neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s and in severe psychiatric disorders. People with this disorder also move in their sleep, often being aggressive, beating and kicking because they “live off” bad dreams. But they usually do not leave the bed. Medications can help sleepwalkers True sleepwalking can also be treated with medication if other attempts fail. “We know that antidepressants that increase the level of the body’s hormone serotonin can trigger sleepwalking. However, antidepressants with other mechanisms of action can prevent it and are used for treatment, “says Tuin. However, only very low doses, the mood of the patient does not influence that. For the members of the sleepwalker Tuin has a tip: “Surely everyone has heard before that you should not awaken sleepwalkers rude. That is completely correct, because that only leads to great confusion. It is not necessary either: most of them will find their own way to bed anyway. ”
The problematic sleep
The Germans do not sleep well: According to the DAK Health Report 2017, 80 percent of working people claim to have problems falling asleep or staying asleep. Since 2010, these incidents have risen by 66 per cent among working people between the ages of 35 and 65. The Insomnia, a pronounced insomnia, affects every tenth employee.
Causes for the increasing Sleep problems are deadline and performance pressure. But the computer use or the long television before going to bed leads according to DAK to disturbances.
Every second working person, who does not find adequate or restorative sleep, buys sleeping tablets without a prescription. Experts recommend that you take the problems seriously and seek medical treatment.
By Irene Habich / RND