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SLEEP DISORDERS: SLEEP-WALKING

by admin - May 8th, 2009.
Filed under: Anti Depressants-Sleeping Aid. Tagged as: .

Before the days of sleep laboratories, it was believed that sleepwalking, night tenor, and children’s bed-wetting happened during dreaming. Nowadays, with the help of the sleep laboratories, we know mat these related phenomena occur in the deep sleep stages of NREM sleep, and are not features of dreams at all.

Have you ever dreamed that you got out of bed whilst asleep at night, got changed, did all the naughty things that you normally dared not do, and enjoyed yourself with whatever fantasy you had? When someone knocked on your door and complained of what you had done, you told him you were innocent for you were sleep-walking. What in fact is sleep-walking?

Sleep-walking, technically known as somnambulism, is more common in children, and is estimated to occur in 15 per cent of normal children. They may sit up in their beds or get out of bed and walk around in the bedroom, then go back to sleep. Some sleepwalkers may carry out some simple activity they do daily. Some may get dressed, open doors, open and close drawers, or use the bathroom without knowing it. Their eyes can see where they are going but they are not in focus, and their activities are poorly coordinated and primitive. If they are spoken to, they may reply in single words or just utter some murmur. They carry out simple tasks that do not require any decision or intellectual thinking. One of my patients told me his girlfriend was making a cup of coffee one night whilst sleep-walking. Sleep-walkers appear to be in a trance. However, it is definitely impossible to carry out naughty activities that you normally do not dare do. Any complicated behaviour is not performed by the sleep-walker. After they wake up the next morning, they will not remember that they have been sleep-walking. This is because sleep-walking occurs during NREM sleep, and we have no memory or thoughts during NREM sleep.

What about the mechanics of sleep-walking? Millions of years ago, mankind had a primitive brain that could do simple tasks without much thinking, including activities such as eating, walking, etc. After years of evolution, the brain attained a thinking and much more intellectual part. During NREM sleep, the thinking part is truly at rest, as shown by the EEG. However, the primitive part can still be partially awake. For some reasons unknown to us, the primitive part of the brain carries out these primitive activities automatically during sleep-walking. The sleep-walker appears to have the ability to dissociate the two parts of the brain during sleep. This ability of dissociation is important when a person is going into hypnosis. It is known that a sleep-walker can go into hypnosis much more easily than someone who does not sleep-walk.

Most children who sleep-walk gradually grow out of it. As they grow older, their sleep becomes less deep. Most sleep-walkers are not suffering from any form of serious illness in the brain. If there is a sleep-walker in your house, he should be protected from any possible injury; try to put away sharp objects and block off the stairs at night to prevent the sleep-walker from accidentally injuring himself. If he is found sleep-walking, do not try to wake him up, as he will be quite confused. Just take him back to his bed and he will continue to sleep again. Sleep-walking, in general, does not require treatment, as it generally disappears as a person gets older.

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