Q. Is it true that sleepwalkers can't be hurt when they walk in their sleep?

This is a common misconception. Sleepwalkers (aka somnambulists) are often injured when they trip and fall in their sleep.

Another myth is that you should not wake up a sleepwalker. It is not dangerous to awaken a sleepwalker. In fact, it can be quite dangerous not to wake a sleepwalker. The only problem with rousing a sleepwalker is that the person will be disoriented for a while.

The term sleepwalking is defined as a disorder that occurs when people are active while sleeping. The activities are not limited to walking. Some sleepwalkers can perform complex functions. Some can get dressed, walk out the door and drive all while asleep.

Sleepwalking is classified as a parasomnia. Parasomnias are abnormal things that can happen to people while they sleep such as nightmares, sleep paralysis, sleep aggression and sexomnia. Yes, people are capable of performing sex acts while sleeping.

Most sleepwalking episodes last for less than 10 minutes. However, they can go on for a half-hour or even more. Sleepwalking usually occurs during deep sleep, early in the night. Sleepwalking episodes can occur multiple times a night for a few consecutive nights.

Sleepwalking can occur at any age. It is much more common in children than adults. It seems to be an inherited trait.

Fatigue, lack of sleep, and anxiety are all associated with sleepwalking. So are alcohol, medications, mental disorders, sleep-disordered breathing, restless legs syndrome, migraines, head injuries, and sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings.

Occasional episodes of sleepwalking aren't usually a cause for concern. However, consult your doctor if the sleepwalking episodes become more frequent or lead to dangerous behavior or injury.

Most people don't need any specific treatment for sleepwalking. In some cases, short-acting tranquilizers have been helpful in reducing sleepwalking. Treatment for adults who sleepwalk may include hypnosis.

The primary problem with sleepwalking is potential injury. If you are sleepwalking, you should move any objects that are tripping hazards such as wires and small furniture. Expandable gates on stairways are advisable.

The prevalence of sleepwalking in the general population is estimated to be between 1 percent and 15 percent.

If you would like to read more columns, you can order a copy of "How to be a Healthy Geezer" at www.healthygeezer.com [1].

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