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Sleepwalking into danger

Published: Saturday | December 21, 2013 Comments 0

Zanu Gordon, Guest Columnist

"One night my son got up from his bed ... walked to the kitchen, ate half of bun on the microwave and drank the soda in the refrigerator in his sleep. In the morning, he would take God off the cross that he did not do it," shared nonchalantly a woman in a minibus.

She added: "... Same way, my sister's son sleepwalked and opened the door to the house, headed outside and was raking the yard."

All passengers were amused by the stories. But what is sleepwalking? How dangerous can it be? Can it be treated? Sleepwalking, officially called somnambulism, is no joke; it is a sleep disorder that can cause great danger to the individual and others around.

Sleepwalking is a disorder whereby a person leaves his/her bed and seeks to carry out activities while sleeping. This event happens during stage four of sleep, which is the deepest phase, and only loud noises will cause the person to be awakened.

Sleepwalking occurs most commonly in childhood, typically between the ages of four and eight, but it not uncommon in adulthood (Carlson, 2008). Researchers believe that sleepwalking can be caused by genetics (traits that run in families), environment (sleep deprivation, alcohol and stress), and medical conditions.

No recollection of activities

The activities that are performed during sleepwalking are usually routine, and the individual may have no recollection of them in the morning (Sarason and Sarason, 2005). During sleepwalk, there are episodes of complex motor behaviour initiated during sleep, and the individual rises from his or her bed (Carlson, 2008).

With that said, a person who sleepwalks may get up and light a match, open the doors to the house, start the car, clean the house and, God forbid, what else. This is dangerous!

Sleepwalkers may hurt themselves badly or even die during sleepwalk because of the complex task they might perform. Imagine a person sleepwalking from upstairs to downstairs or sleepwalking in a yard where there is an uncovered hole, or even sleepwalk and turn on the stove. How dangerous can that get? If you happen to see a person sleepwalking, wake him or her.

One student at a tertiary institution shared that her house was robbed and there was no forced entry. The possibility exists that some of these reported cases of robbery where there is no forced entry might just be linked to sleepwalkers opening doors.

Risk to others

It might sound very trivial to the ears of some, but sleepwalkers do indeed create potential risks to those around them as well. Let us imagine a sleepwalker whose routine is to prepare cooked meals, and that person turns on the gas and lights a match in his or her sleep. Can you picture the outcome?

Sleepwalking is treatable and curable, depending on the factors. According to Carlson, 2008, most children who sleepwalk will outgrow same, but not in all cases. Cases of sleepwalk that are caused by medication must be reported to the doctor.

According to Louis R. Chanin, MD, Mayo Clinic, "Relaxation techniques, mental imagery, and anticipatory awakenings are the preferred treatment options for long-term treatment of people with a sleepwalking disorder. Anticipatory awakenings consist of waking the child or person approximately 15-20 minutes before the usual time of a sleepwalking episode, and then keeping him or her awake through the time during which the episodes usually occur."

It is high time that we realise that sleepwalking is no joke and we must take actions. If you are a person who has problems with sleepwalking or know someone that sleepwalks, recommend that the person see a sleep therapist, a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Information about finding a therapist to treat sleep disorders can be provided at any local hospital.

Zanu Gordon, president of the Northern Caribbean University Psychology Students' Association. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and zanu@stu.ncu.edu.jm.

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