I was recently invited to speak to Fox News about sleepwalking from a psychological perspective. Here were my extended thoughts on the issue. We should take any sleepwalking signs seriously and always speak to a provider if we suspect sleepwalking is present!
What is sleepwalking?
I have worked with clients with all sorts of issues, including sleep problems for over a decade. I always partner with medical professionals when this is something a client reports because it could point to a variety of different things that might be happening. A person might have a sleep disorder in which their brain is essentially still 'asleep' while their body is 'up and awake.' This is a terribly frightening thing for many people to experience, as I have seen folks who have woken up with bags of open chips around them and not remembering engaging in night-eating. I have also had clients who have made large purchases or sent texts they do not remember and these things can have negative impacts on their lives. From a psychological point of view, it can create a sense of lacking control and lacking trust in themselves as anyone could imagine.
what causes sleepwalking?
Sleepwalking can be caused by a variety of things. Sometimes a person may be taking a sleeping medication that may be associated with such things as a potential side effect. In this case, if they experience sleep walking, driving, or other actions after trying a new medication they need to immediately inform their provider, as their provider may want to shift the medication or provide additional personalized recommendations. For other people, they may have sleepwalking as a primary issue that is not a side effect of a medication. Often, sleeping issues are 'brushed off' by clients and they are not very specific with medical providers on their symptoms. It is really important to have a sleep diary that you are using to write down everything you are doing around your sleep and symptoms you experienced each night so that when you speak to a provider, they are fully aware of what the entire clinical picture is; it is also important to pair your work with a therapist who can help you manage some of the psychological factors underlying your sleep disorder - as there could be PTSD, depression, anxiety, eating disorders or other diagnoses that could actually be the primary issue and the sleep disorder may be a 'side effect' of the untreated psychological issue. Having a full team in collaboration with one another is key to get the best overall treatment.
how someone can know if they're a sleepwalker, when to see a doctor, and any safety tips regarding sleepwalking?
ISometimes people find out they are sleepwalking because others around them close to them may be the ones seeing it. Listen to them and take it seriously if a partner tells you they saw odd sleep activity or a friend tells you that you called in the middle of the night and you don't remember it. As noted before, I have seen clients wake up with wrappers around them and having no memory of eating in the night or seeing that they charged their credit card without memory. This is serious stuff and it should always be taken seriously because sleepwalking can have dangerous psychological and physical impacts. I always tell my clients to immediately let their providers know what is happening and to ask their provider if a sleep study is appropriate. Sleep studies are excellent ways to have a team of sleep experts monitor a person's sleep and to see what is actually happening. Often it provides information that cannot be found elsewhere and most people do not know those services exist.
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