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Somnambulism, or sleepwalking, is a common sleeping disorder among children. Not much is known about somnambulism, only that it causes people to move in their sleep. Many theories about somnambulism have been created, a lot of doctors used to think that it was a person acting out his or her dream. Recent studies have shown that sleepwalking does not occur during dreams. No one knows yet what exactly causes somnambulism.

A hereditary predisposition to somnambulism was investigated by researching sleepwalking in twins. Both monozygotic twins and dizygotic twins were used. The study showed that both monozygotic twins sleepwalked 6 times more often than both dizygotic twins. It also showed that thumb sucking and nail biting was more prevalent in sleepwalkers than non sleepwalkers. (Abe)(Bawkin)

Sleepwalking and other sleep related disorders can be a sign of an underlying mental disorder. A recent study showed that sleepwalkers were more likely to have other mental disorders such as, hallucinations or bipolar disorder. Factors found to be associated with sleepwalking were age of 15 to 24 years, a sense of choking or breathlessness at night, sleeptalking and a road accident in the last year. The conclusion found was that sleepwalking and other sleep related disorders are the result of an underlying mental disorder. (Narasimha Pai)

Scientists used electroencephalographic recorders to monitors subjects brainwaves while sleeping. The apparatus used to record the subjects allowed for complete mobility so the subject would not be restricted from walking while sleeping. All subjects were known sleepwalkers, and all recordings were made on nights where sleepwalking occurred. The studies showed that sleepwalking is not related temporally to dreaming, and it does not affect the amount of time a person spends sleepwalking. Dreams occur during REM sleep, but all incidents of somnambulism occurred during slow wave sleep. The subjects reported that their average dream time each night and that time did not change from sleepwalking nights to regular nights. The incidents usually began during stage 3 or 4 of sleep. Typically the EEG showed that brain waves in a sleepwalker were the same as in a normal child, but then the brainwaves displayed a lower amplitude for about 10 to 30 seconds. In almost all the incidents the subjects brain waves after sleepwalking were the same as normal brain waves in a person waking up. During somnambulism incidents the subjects seemed aware of their surroundings but indifferent towards it. Their eyes were open and they had a blank expression on their faces. Activity ranged from sitting up to running or jumping around. Some subjects responded when spoken to, although they typically used one syllable words and they seemed annoyed. When subjects did not return to their bed spontaneously they could be led there easily. Subjects never remembered the incidents the morning after. (Jacobson)

Somnambulism has been studied by many people. Many factors such as genetics, mental disorders, and more may be the cause of sleepwalking. Sleepwalking has been found to be unrelated to dreaming. Not much is known about somnambulism, but scientists are constantly discovering. A cure may be found, but like most other ailments, that will take time and research.



Works Cited

Jacobson, A. Kales, D. Lehmann, J.R. Zweizig. “Somnambulism All-Night Electroencephalographic Studies” Science. n.p. 14 May 1965. 17 Nov. 2011.


Abe, M. Shimakawa. “Predisposition to Sleepwalking” European Neurology. Psychiatria et Neurologia. 1966. 17 Nov. 2011.


Narasimha Pai. “Sleep-Walking and Sleep Activities” BJPsych. n.p. 1946. 17 Nov. 2011.


H. Bawkin. “Sleep-Walking in Twins” The Lancet. n.p. 29 Aug. 1970. 17 Nov. 2011.


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4 responses »

  1. This is an interesting topic! I always thought that sleep walking was related to dreams, but now I know that it could be related to a mental disorder. I think its interesting that individuals that sleep walk have normal brain activity after the incident and that they don’t remember the incident the morning after. Sleep walking seems like a mysterious disorder and I think you did a good job talking about it. Maybe in the future they will find an exact cause of it.

  2. Danielle McCormick

    I read this first because I had no idea what somnambulism was and I was intrigued to find out. I had no idea that it was the technical name for sleep walking. I have never really thought much about sleep walking before as I have not been affected by it, but I’ve realized that it might actually be a serious condition. I had no idea that it could be related to a mental disorder! You need a good job of raising our awareness about something that does not get brought up very often. I wonder why the individuals have no recollection of it the next day, that would be interesting to find out.

  3. Jessica Levetsanos

    I always thought psychological disorders were very interesting, and your topoic automatically caught my eye! I have some friends who have sleep-walked and I thought it was a strange yet funny action. Until now I never realized how serious the matter is. The common misconception that people do not sleep walk because of their dreams was cleared up for me. Overall, I thought this essay was informative and I’m glad that more research is being done to relate sleep walking with mental disorders.


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